Coffee Culture
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Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee: A Site and Source of Bostonian Identity

It’s January 7, which means that many folks must excitedly or begrudgingly head back to work after a wintery escape that began just before Christmas. This day requires a little extra courage and motivation, which might be found in a cup of coffee. If you’re like the 50 percent of Americans who buys coffee at work, I invite you to sip and enjoy this first section from my paper, “Dunkin’ Donuts: A Site and Source of Bostonian Identity.”

The landscape of New England is marked by not only world-famous fall foliage and monuments to America’s history, but also the abundant pink and orange signs of Dunkin’ Donuts, which despite being an international franchise, is a powerful symbol and source of regional pride and identity.


Writing as a local, Mike Miliard links Dunkin’ Donuts with Bostonian identity in his Boston Phoenix article, “Choosing Our Religion: How One Little Post-War Doughnut Shop Became Synonymous with Boston’s Identity,” as he says, “It’s a lynchpin of our identity. It’s a religion. It’s a cult. People in these parts freaking love Dunkin’ Donuts.”

In fact, in 2005 Dunkin’ Donuts paid dozens of brand loyal customers in cities outside of New England (Phoenix, Chicago, and Charlotte) $100 to switch to Starbucks coffee for one week. They offered $100 to Starbucks customers for the opposite switch (Wall Street Journal, April 8, 2006). The results were staggering with coffee devotees from both camps so firmly committed to their brand that Dunkin’ Donuts researchers identified them as “tribes.” Particularly in Boston and greater New England, this tribal affinity eclipses the chain’s local origin story and goes beyond taste preference alone.

Dunkin' Donuts stores are as iconic in Boston as the New England Patriots and the T, which are all included in this photo taken during my many hours of participant observation studying Dunkin' Donuts coffee.

Dunkin’ Donuts stores are as iconic in Boston as the New England Patriots and the T, which are all included in this photo taken during my many hours of participant observation studying Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.

My recent research explores the Bostonian allegiance to Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, elucidating the chain’s unique coffee culture. I demonstrate how Dunkin’ Donuts coffee culture is both a site and source of Bostonian identity in three inter-related ways:

  1. It embodies the Bostonian character, physically, linguistically, and socially.
  2. It represents “the local,” both literally and symbolically.
  3. Dunkin’ Donuts endorses and practices values that Bostonians hold dear, including loyalty, which is related to regional sports fandom, and honor, which is linked to a proud, working class identity that is independent of actual social status or income.

This discussion reveals that Dunkin’ Donuts is a unique case study of coffee consumption as an expression and source of identity, particularly in opposition to Starbucks, that is experienced locally, even within a global context.


  1. Pingback: The Dunkin’ Donuts Origin Story: A Meaningful Beginning « Emily Contois

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