Gas station coffee selections in Charlotte, ranked

I’m always in too much of a hurry to go inside gas stations in Charlotte unless I need change for the air machine when my tire pressure is low. But word on the street is, since average Charlotte-area gas prices are at seven-year lows, drivers are spending extra dollars at gas station stores.

Since I spend too many of my extra dollars at coffee shops, I popped into five different station stores in my area to check out the hot drink selections. Let’s start with the best.

(1) QuikTrip at the intersection of Clanton Road/South Boulevard.

QuikTrip has the widest selection of flavored coffees and they know it. The second I walked in with my handy-dandy coffee mug (pictured above) and announced my mission, the woman behind the counter chirped, “Best flavored coffee in town!”

I counted 19 coffee/hot chocolate flavors available, from Vienna Roast, to Dulche de Leche Cappuccino, to Frozen Caramel Latte. With the addition of two “Flavor Centers” to add shots of flavors to a plain cup of coffee, you could pick a different flavor for every day of the month.

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The Amaretto flavor shot from one of the Flavor Centers was a nutty, creamy addition to my sample of the Original coffee.

My main pick, though, was the Peppermint Mocha Cappuccino. Frothy rich chocolate with a hint of mint.

Small cup price: $1.19

(2) The Pop Shoppe/Citgo at the intersection of Park/Woodlawn roads.

This spot has five types of hot drinks ranging from French Vanilla Cappuccino, to Light Roast Breakfast Blend to a pot of black house coffee. Despite the smaller selection, I fell head over heels for the Almond Joy Cappuccino. Somehow it had the same taste satisfaction as Trader Joe’s coconut chips. More, please.

Small cup price: $0.99.

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(3) Circle K at the intersection of Scaleybark Road/South Boulevard.

By the time I got here, it occurred to me that flavored coffees are what gas station stores tend to flaunt. I walked in and the woman behind the counter recommended their top-seller, the Toasted Marshmallow, which was among 13 available hot drink flavors.

And which I didn’t realize until later was actually a hot chocolate variety. Tricky, tricky cappuccino machines.

Regardless, it tasted like a gooey, caramelized marshmallow. The coffee counterpart: Marshmallow Nut Crunch Cappuccino.

Small cup price: $1.39.

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(4) The Shell at the intersection of Park Road/Kenilworth Avenue.

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By far the smallest selection, with three coffee flavors available. But in case you’re craving cookies, the French Vanilla Cappuccino tastes exactly like the icing inside a sugar wafer.

Small cup price: $1.09 for regular coffee, $1.19 for that sugary cappuccino.

(5) The 7-Eleven/Exxon Station at the intersection of Park/Woodlawn roads.

I had high hopes for this spot because of the clever coffee cup promotion: $1 extra large cup that “stays hot while you sit through traffic.” Empathy.

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The seven available flavor selections ranged from French Vanilla to what was labeled as the most popular coffee, the Regular Exclusive Blend “with hints of vanilla.”

Tragic turn of events that knocked this station to the bottom of the list: Although the Regular Exclusive Blend had bright notes, it was ice-cold. Can’t trust those oxymoronic labels.

Small cup price: $1.25.

I recommend trying gas station coffee if you’re craving a flavor adventure on your commute. But I’d also fork over the extra change for a palate-cleansing cup of local coffee any day. Like Enderly Coffee’s Guatemala Antigua roast at Rhino Market.

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Photos: Katie Toussaint