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High Street Coffee Chains

All the high street coffee shops offer gluten free beverages but some have more than others same goes for the food. So which is the best to go to?

Added 8th December 2015
Updated 10th November 2020

High Street Coffee Chains
The main three high street coffee shops, Costa, Starbucks and Caffe Nero are slowly starting to appreciate those with dietary requirements, although compared to some independent retailers they are still worlds away, yet it's these high street stores which are predominantly taking over, with hundreds of thousands of customers visiting thousands of branches on motorway services, in airports and usually multiple outlets in each town!

As of May 2014, Costa had over 1,700 branches, I'm sure by now they have way over 2,000, everywhere you turn there seems to be one (there's two in my small town!), with even up to 4 or 5 outlets in bigger towns and cities (or in Manchester's case there was 49 as of August 2014). Starbucks are slowly growing and catching up to Costa but remain behind on less than 1,000 stores UK wide, but they really have started popping up more and more, what was once a predominantly US based coffee company has dramatically increased in popularity (I was on a services the other day with four, yes FOUR, Starbucks on, what the hell is that all about?) Caffe Nero still remain behind with around 500 branches but we keep seeing the odd ones popping up, and we're sure they will soon be catching up with the other two.

Through the year these branches offer a little gluten free, usually enough to have an option for lunch, we think Costa are very, very slightly edging forward with the gluten free as they usually offer a few cake options however in a lot of branches the staff's knowledge tends to let them down, often we have found that they can't even be bothered checking the allergy book and just say "no it's not gluten free", but generally this tends to be an issue with a lot of places, it just comes down to pure idleness for the most part.

However when your wandering round at this time of year what exactly can you have when you want to escape the Christmas crowds and the bitter winds? Take a look at what they all have on offer this Christmas.

Costa Coffee
In the fridge there is always a wrap, only one and it changes every few months, this year saw coronation chicken and chicken and basil and now for Christmas they have Turkey and bacon with cranberry sauce and sage mayonnaise.

In terms of cake, all year round they offer a brownie wrapped by the till, but usually have another option or two, for the last few months it's been cherry bakewells, which have vanished to make way for the Christmas goods. This Christmas sees a vegan option for the first time, Crimbo Crumble, which is basically a mince pie in a bar, along with mini pecan pies. A choice of three is a lot better than some places offer. Yes Starbucks we are looking at you!

Check the allergy guide online and the standard Hot Chocolate is gluten free, ask the managers they will say it is a cross contamination risk, same if you look at the PDF version of the allergy guide online, and I must say, I reacted to it every time when I had it when I was first diagnosed, so I would say a definite contamination risk. However at Christmas the white hot chocolate is fine.

On the normal menu the majority of their coffees are fine as standard, Mocha is a cross contamination risk, as is the standard hot chocolate and cappuccino, other than that all the hot drinks don't contain gluten including all the lattes and teas. In terms of cold drinks which are available all year all the iced coffee based drinks, lemonades and coolers of all descriptions are gluten free. On the Christmas options, the seasonal hot chocolate (white, fudge and black forest) are all gluten free, the mulled fruit hot drink is also fine along with the Christmas tea. Also beware of the chocolate sprinkles on top, I can't find it online but I am sure I was told by a manager more than once that I couldn't have the sprinkles!

I used to love their gluten free wrap, like Costa they only have one option, which used to be a vegetarian falafel wrap, however for Christmas, much like Costa's choice they have changed to a Turkey wrap, complete with cranberry sauce and sweet potato. If you don't like turkey or are veggie, basically you are screwed if you want to eat at either Costa or Starbucks.

Like all year round, the only gluten free cake option is a brownie. Something I see frequently that gets right on my nerves is people complaining the gluten free brownie is unwrapped in the cake case. USE YOUR MOUTH! They actually keep wrapped brownies in the back for us lot so ask for a wrapped brownie, something management told the stores they had to do. They only have them in the cabinets to get all those normal folks to have them too!

In terms of drinks there isn't many that aren't gluten free, they mark their allergy sheet online with either yes or T for trace (or as we are going to take it, contains gluten!) Honestly the only things that really contain gluten are toppings, all coffees and syrups are gluten free, as well as coolers. The following are all marked as having gluten or traces of gluten; Gingerbread Latte, Honey and Almond Hot Chocolate (both off the Christmas menu), Java Chip, Honey Blossom Drizzle, Maple Drizzle, Meringue Topping, Frapp Chips, Shortbread Cookie Crumble, Mocha Cookie Crumble and Waffle Pieces. Apart from the first two they are all toppings and drizzles.

The allergy sheet says the hot chocolates (apart from the Christmas one) are fine, however there has been some controversy before now with them. The signature hot chocolate is known to be fine but I have before heard reports and been told by staff that the regular contains gluten, so best check with that one!

Caffe Nero
Unlike Costa and Starbucks, Caffe Nero actually have a sandwich, but if you are vegetarian, again you are out of luck, it's not turkey's chicken! Chicken, salad and pesto to be accurate and like the other two, that's your only choice

With cakes, Caffe Nero falls between the other two, they do have more than just a brownie, however one of the choices is indeed a brownie, but they have another choice too, that one being coconut and raspberry slice. Two options is better than just a flippin' brownie that's for sure!

In terms of drinks their online allergy advice is a little difficult to understand, some actually say gluten free, others say they contain gluten, others say nothing so I am going to presume these are a contamination risk and/or contain gluten, which compared to Costa and Starbucks narrows their selection down a lot. Going by what actually says is gluten free, these are the choices, Carmelatte, Chai Latte, Hot Chocolate Milano (not the regular hot chocolate), Latte, Luxury Hot Chocolate, Spiced Orange Latte and Winter Berry Latte. Cream, Marshmallow and Vanilla syrup are also gluten free if you want toppings or syrups. In terms of Cold drinks if it has the word "frappe" in it, bypass it as the frappe mix contains gluten, the options you have for cold beverages are Fruit Boosters, Iced Latte (including ones with syrup) or Italian Iced Lemonade. Limited to say the least!

Overall if you have the choice we would probably throw Caffe Nero out the question, their drinks are just too limited and probably more of a cross contamination risk due to the amount that aren't listed as gluten free, whereas the majority of Costa and Starbucks is fine with pretty much just toppings to worry about. As for food they are really pretty much level pegging, though we would probably opt for Costa.

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