Are Caribou Coffee drinks gluten-free?

Gluten is a protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. For people with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, consuming gluten can cause serious health issues. As a result, these individuals must follow a strict gluten-free diet and avoid foods and drinks containing gluten.

Caribou Coffee is a popular coffee shop chain with locations across the United States. Many customers wonder if Caribou Coffee’s drinks are safe to consume on a gluten-free diet. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of Caribou Coffee’s ingredients and preparation methods to help you determine if their offerings are gluten-free.

Does Caribou Coffee Offer Gluten-Free Drinks?

The good news is that many Caribou Coffee drinks are gluten-free. Caribou Coffee states that all of their brewed coffee and tea options are gluten-free. This includes hot and iced coffee, espresso drinks, teas, and flavored drinks prepared with syrups.

Caribou Coffee’s website also indicates that their cold press juices, smoothies, frozen drinks, and lemonades are gluten-free. However, it’s important to note that while these drinks do not contain gluten ingredients, cross-contamination is possible in Caribou Coffee locations.

Risk of Cross-Contamination

Even though many Caribou menu items do not inherently contain gluten, cross-contamination is a concern in their stores. Cross-contamination occurs when an allergen like gluten comes into contact with equipment, utensils, and surfaces used to prepare gluten-free items.

Some ways cross-contamination may happen at Caribou Coffee include:

  • Shared equipment – blenders, pitchers, and scoops used for gluten-containing and gluten-free drinks
  • Shared preparation areas
  • Residues from steam wands used across menu items
  • Airborne gluten particles from baking pastries settling on surfaces
  • Employee hands not washed properly after handling gluten products

Caribou Coffee states that their goal is to avoid cross-contamination but cannot guarantee drinks will be 100% gluten-free. They recommend customers with celiac disease or sensitivity choose drinks that have a lower risk.

Lower Risk Caribou Coffee Drinks

Some Caribou Coffee drinks carry a lower chance of gluten cross-contamination. Options like drip coffee, cold brew, and hot tea have minimal equipment contact. Other safer choices include:

  • Black coffee or Americanos
  • Hot chocolate made with milk and syrup
  • Cold press juices and lemonades
  • Smoothies made with fruit and juice
  • Iced teas
  • Sodas and bottled drinks

Drinks prepared on bar equipment like espresso machines have more risk. Beverages with steamed milk are also riskier since steamed milk has direct contact with steam wands.

Higher Risk Drinks

Some Caribou Coffee drinks have a greater chance of containing traces of gluten from cross-contamination. These higher risk options include:

  • Espresso-based drinks like lattes, cappuccinos, and macchiatos
  • Hot chocolate made with steamed milk
  • Mochas and other drinks with chocolate syrup
  • Frozen blended drinks
  • Frappe drinks
  • Smoothies with gluten-containing ingredients like wheatgrass or malt
  • Oatmeal and breakfast sandwiches
  • Baked goods and pastries

It’s best to avoid these menu items if you are sensitive to cross-contamination with gluten. Stick to the lower risk options whenever possible.

Tips for Ordering Gluten-Free Drinks at Caribou Coffee

If you need to follow a strict gluten-free diet, here are some tips for ordering safely at Caribou Coffee:

  • Opt for drip coffee or tea bags you can steep yourself
  • Order drinks made only with natural ingredients like fruit, juice, milk, and sugar
  • Avoid espresso bar drinks with milk steaming involved
  • Request new pitchers, blenders, and scoops to avoid cross-contact
  • Ask about ingredients if you are unsure if a syrup or sauce is gluten-free
  • Let the barista know you have a gluten allergy so they take extra care
  • Check for safe choices on the Caribou app or website menu ahead of time

Being informed about menu options and preparation methods can help you choose the lowest risk drinks. But cross-contamination is still possible, even with precautions.

Are Bottled Drinks and Pre-Packaged Foods Gluten-Free?

In addition to made-to-order beverages, Caribou Coffee also sells bottled drinks, pre-packaged food items, and snacks. Here’s a rundown of common gluten-related concerns with these products:

  • Bottled Drinks – Bottled drinks like water, soda, iced tea, lemonade, and juices are gluten-free at Caribou Coffee.
  • Packaged Snacks – Many pre-packaged snacks like chips, nuts, protein boxes, and bars may contain gluten or be cross-contaminated. Always check the label.
  • Yogurt Parfaits – The yogurt and fruit are gluten-free but the granola topping may contain gluten.
  • Breakfast Sandwiches – Sandwiches, wraps, and breakfast breads likely contain gluten. Meat, egg, and cheese may be safe but cross-contact is possible.
  • Baked Goods – Pastries, muffins, scones, and loaves often contain gluten sources like wheat flour. They are frequently cross-contaminated through shared cases and tongs.

When in doubt, read ingredient labels carefully and look for gluten-free designations before purchasing pre-packaged Caribou Coffee foods.

Should You Trust Caribou Coffee for Gluten-Free?

While Caribou Coffee does offer some gluten-free options, individuals with celiac disease or sensitivity need to use caution and evaluate their own level of risk. Here are some key takeaways when considering Caribou Coffee:

  • Many menu beverages are gluten-free as prepared, but cross-contamination can occur
  • Customers with celiac disease are unlikely to find Caribou Coffee safe for their needs
  • People with slight gluten sensitivity may tolerate infrequent drinks with lower risk
  • Bottled drinks and plain coffee are less prone to cross-contact
  • There is no separate gluten-free food prep area in Caribou cafes
  • Employees receive some gluten-free training but are not specialists
  • The company cannot guarantee drinks are 100% gluten-free

In the end, it comes down to your personal health needs and sensitivity level. People with celiac disease or who are highly sensitive should use extreme caution or avoid Caribou Coffee altogether. Others with slight intolerance may feel comfortable having an occasional drink but would be at risk for issues with regular consumption.

Other Coffee Shops May Offer Safer Options

If Caribou Coffee does not seem like a safe choice, there are other coffee shops that cater better to gluten-free customers. Here are some alternative places to consider:

  • Starbucks – Offers many gluten-free drinks and detailed allergen information online.
  • Dunkin’ – Provides allergen guides for drinks and food and highlights gluten-free choices.
  • Peet’s Coffee – Uses separate pitchers and blenders for allergen-free requests and marks cups with stickers.
  • Tim Hortons – Indicates gluten-free beverages online and avoids cross-contamination with color-coded utensils.
  • Gregorys Coffee – Has a separate allergen-friendly preparation area and ingredients.
  • Dutch Bros – Uses new blenders and tongs for gluten-free orders and offers flavor syrups.

These chains may be better equipped to accommodate customers needing gluten-free drinks and foods. Checking their allergen policies online can help you find a coffee shop suited for your diet.

Being Gluten-Free at Coffee Shops

Dining out gluten-free comes with challenges no matter where you go. But by being an informed customer, asking questions, and choosing low-risk menu items, you can enjoy coffee shop beverages more safely. Some final tips include:

  • Research the company’s allergen policies online before visiting in person
  • Stick to basic drinks like drip coffee, cold brew, and tea when possible
  • Verify ingredients with staff when unsure about gluten
  • Request new pitchers, blenders, and utensils for preparation
  • Opt for lower risk beverages like iced lattes over hot steamed drinks
  • Check labels carefully for bottled drinks and pre-packaged foods
  • Communicate your needs clearly and politely to staff

While being gluten-free comes with challenges, you can still enjoy your favorite coffee drinks with the right precautions. Do your research, know your options, and work with staff to make sure your needs are met.

The Bottom Line

At Caribou Coffee, many basic beverages like brewed coffee, cold press, tea, and lemonade are inherently gluten-free. However, the risk of cross-contamination makes it difficult for those with celiac disease or high sensitivity to consume their products safely. Individuals with slight intolerance may feel comfortable having occasional low-risk drinks but should take precautions. In the end, your specific health needs and how strictly you avoid gluten will determine if Caribou Coffee aligns with your diet requirements. By being an informed customer, you can make the best choice for you.

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