Driven to Espresso: Drive-through Coffee Stands in the Northwest

If you think coffee culture is cool, you have come to the right place. I have loads of information and opinions to share about espresso in the Pacific Northwest, especially the drive-through phenomenon.

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Location: Edmonds, WA, United States

Monday, June 30, 2014

These spaced-out baristas must be driven to espresso, too

If you're like me, you have probably never given serious thought to becoming an astronaut. Especially after watching Gravity. And naturally, like me, the main reason you didn't want to spend a lot of time in outer space, was because of the lack of a decent cup of espresso.

We are all going to be very happy to know, therefore, that some Italians have finally stepped up to the challenge of brewing up some serious espresso in zero gravity.

Argotec, an Italian aerospace firm that is a leader in the space food sector, ASI, the Italian space agency, and—most importantly in my opinion—Lavazza teamed up on the project to deliver actual espresso in space. I suppose there might be a little more to the technical challenges than what I experience every time I try to make decent frothed milk.

I'm so glad astronauts, whether or not they are Italian like Luca Parmitana, will have truly out-of-this-world espresso.

I have two questions on my mind, though. Will there ever be an espresso drive-through (or fly-by) and will they really use recycled urine.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Latte Latte

Here is one of the most unique espresso drive-throughs I have encountered. It is twins. Or they are twins. Besides being more expensive to build two buildings, the owner purchased the lot where they stand, making this a fairly pricey way to start up the business. However, common wisdom tells us that the more architecturally significant a business is, the more recognition it will receive, and normally, the more business as a result.

The location is a good one: the business is located on the side of the Bothell Highway (SR 527), north of Seattle, where thousands of morning commuters pass each morning, as they inch their way from the outer suburbs to a major freeway into town.

When I shot this photo, it (they?) were called Atomic Espresso, however, it (they?) have been purchased by Gourmet Latte.

I was speaking with the barista in one of the stands today, and she told me that having two separate buildings, with only one drive-up window each, is not as much fun for the baristas, because they are not together in the same stand. To make the best of the situation they use walkie talkies to chat with each other. I think it's a fair assumption that this stand is unique in that way as well.

You can find this photo on page 98 of my book, Driven to Espresso.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Say no to coffee commuter mugs! Say no to Starbucks gift cards!

You probably love coffee, if you've come to this blog. And you probably know other folks who love coffee, too. And it's a traditional time of year for gift-giving.

But you aren't really thinking of giving your coffee-lover another mug or commuter cup, are you?

Here's a suggestion from The Stranger newspaper in Seattle:

Driven to Espresso "... would make a wonderful gift for someone who doesn’t live in the Northwest but who thinks coffee is cool. Or someone who misses fishing shacks."

Or, as The Bloomsbury Review put it, "Just the ticket for java lovers and the architecturally curious."

Order a copy (at least one, but why not several?) of Driven to Espresso on today!

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Drive throughs for bikes. Just bikes

Drive through coffee stands are convenient for people because they don't have to get out of their car. Like it's SO difficult to get out of a car!

How about a bike? Is it difficult to get off your bike to drink a coffee? Apparently, in Zurich it may be. Check out this article about the new Velokafi drive through designed just for bicyclers.

The article by Vivian Doumpa on Pop Up City says "In order to further improve bicycle culture and infrastructure, the urban authorities in Zürich teamed up with a team of designers to launch a true coffee drive-in for cyclists."

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sex sells... coffee

The business model of selling coffee along with a cheap thrill is alive and well six years after its conception. Most businesses in any industry stand the chance of losing business to their competition and drive-through coffee stands, even in the coffee crazy Northwest, are no exception. Businesses must continually adapt and seek ways to set themselves apart.

In Driven to Espresso, I explained one reaction to stiff competition in the coffee business: 

Some stand owners try "...a technique older than coffee itself: more and more baristas are wearing less and less. A Seattle Times article in January 2007 publicized the phenomenon of “sexpresso” drive-throughs that employ bikini- or negligee-clad baristas and even an occasional topless barista. Ever since then, a steady number of espresso drive-throughs have adopted this tactic to attract more customers (more men, anyway) to their windows."

As you can see by this article on, this is an ever-expanding and successful tactic in the coffee stand business. The article does not mention the history of community disapproval, controversy, and legal issues surrounding this type of stand, nor bring up the handful of cases where this cheap thrill was heightened by some individuals and were prosecuted as prostitution.

Be that as it may, now that it has been six years and some of the stands have "gone national," it is becoming clear that it is a viable business model.