As I pull the car into the Starbucks drive-thru, my husband says, "Oh, sorry, I thought you said you wanted coffee."
"Close enough," I tell him, and order a grande coffee with cream. He orders a breakfast sandwich. It's a Saturday morning and our family is headed to the beach for the day, about an hour and a half west of Portland.
That's right: we live in Portland, Oregon, hipster capital of the Pacific Northwest, where you can find some of the best coffee in the country. And yet, sometimes, we go to Starbucks. My husband, Neven Mrgan, asked me to please leave his name out of this article.
In most cities, Starbucks is a perfectly acceptable place to go for coffee (or tea, if you're into that sort of thing). But in Portland, it's controversial. On the one hand, the company itself hails from Seattle, so it's semi-local; it also strives to ethically source the coffee it serves. But on the other hand, it's a massive chain, which is inherently uncool in this indie-loving, D.I.Y. city, and the coffee it serves isn't great. Some of it barely even resembles coffee (cough "S'mores Frappuccino" cough). But, on the whole, it's fine.
Yes, coffee nerds: I think the coffee at Starbucks is fine. While Portland is home to a ridiculously high number of small-batch roasters and I prefer almost everything about the Stumptown that's a few blocks from my house, I go there just about as often as I go to our local Starbucks. Now, let me drop some truth about why.
The magic of ordering ahead through iOS
I've been using the Starbucks app for a couple of years, because it's well-designed, tracks my rewards (buy 12, get 1 free!), and lets me reload my card and pay via the app. Pretty cool. About six months ago, though, I also began using the "order ahead" feature, which is still in beta; Portland is the test market.
So far, it's been great. I can choose my Starbucks (yes, I have a few "favorite" locations saved, including the one nearest our house), place my fully-customized order in advance, pay within the app, and then just pick up my coffee at the chosen location. I have two kids, a job, and too many hobbies, so this is incredibly handy.
While I love the Stumptown that's down the street, I usually only treat myself to coffee there when I'm working (I work remotely, designing Mac and iOS software), or if I happen to be taking a leisurely stroll over the weekend.
Because here's the thing: Stumptown, like a ridiculously high number of independent coffee shops in this town, serves great coffee. And great coffee takes time. There's almost always a line. And if I'm in any kind of hurry, as I often am, I'm not likely to stand in it. Stumptown does have an honor-system collection can for self-serve drip coffee ($2 for a 12 oz. cup), but I rarely carry cash. So even if I just want a regular cup of coffee, not an exquisitely-crafted latte or a Chemex pour-over, I'm looking at standing around for 7-10 minutes to get it.
Since you're reading this on iMore, you can also likely appreciate that tingle of nerd-pride I get when I walk into a Starbucks directly past the line of people waiting to order, asking for my coffee at the the pick-up counter and notifying the barista that I ordered via the app. I am insufferable.
Super Value Combo: Apple Watch and the Starbucks drive-thru
While the order-ahead feature is really great, I don't always have the foresight to use it. That's where the combination of the drive-thru and the the Apple Watch really shines.
The Apple Watch component of the Starbucks iOS app only shows you information about your account and recent purchases — like all third-party apps, it's very limited for now. But you can use your Starbucks card via the Passbook app, and the result is almost exactly like using Apple Pay.
Instead of double-tapping the side button and then holding your Watch near the reader, though, the barista just scans the bar code on your watch face. You can even leave a tip via the app on your phone when you get a chance; I've done it up to an hour later. It's super fast and really, really convenient.
I'm often driving around with one or both kids in the car, and being able to just pull through a drive-thru and pay with a scan of my wrist, without touching my wallet or even my phone, is amazing. The appeal of higher-quality coffee from Stumptown (or Coava or Water Avenue or Heart) drops substantially when I consider parking the car, extracting a four-year-old and an 11-month-old from car seats, and standing in line for ten minutes.
When it comes to convenience, the coffee is fine
So back to that Saturday, at the drive-thru: I get my coffee, Neven gets his sandwich — which he admits is "actually pretty good" — a woman scans my watch, and just like that, we're on our way to the beach. The coffee is fine.