Review – Dutch Bros. Coffee

“OMG! My small town is getting a(n) [insert name of regional fast food chain that is expanding]!”

Dutch Bros. is apparently a chain of drive thru coffee shops serving “muffin tops” and Slurpee-like coffee-themed beverages in oversized cups with dome lids. Bremerton was very excited to be getting one. A couple weeks after it opened up, Bremerton still seems to be excited about it.

I tried to visit Dutch Bros. last week, but the parking lot was full, the drive thru line was absurdly long, and after being confused about how to leave the parking lot I made a probably dangerous exit through the entry lane back on to Wheaton Way.

The volume of customers was similarly long this week, but my family was able to find a parking spot. We weren’t sure how we would leave, but we parked and entered anyways.

With its ordering window, two TVs showing loops of Dutch Bros. advertising, and standing level tables with no seats, the music-less lobby clearly communicated a message of “Although we serve walk-in customers, we are not designed to be a ‘third place’ like Starbucks or your favorite local coffee house.”

The menu, featuring a small selection of the usual coffee shop staples along with a few Slushee drinks and Muffin Tops® at reasonable prices, is simple. Considering the drive-thru lines, simple is good. With most of its cafes featuring drive-thrus nowadays, Starbucks could learn a few things here.

Service was friendly. I ordered a “small” (twelve ounce) vanilla latte, my wife ordered a small soy mocha, and my son ordered a kids’ “not-too-hot” chocolate.

Most coffee in Bremerton is terrible. My latte, which tasted like Torani syrup, milk that had been steamed more than once, and a hint of coffee flavor, was not terrible. But it also wasn’t good or even “better than bad.” I will commend Dutch Bros. for not serving a Starbucks-style charry roast. The Dutch Bros. roast is more similar to Starbucks’s “blonde roast.”

My wife had a similar report of her soy latte. She also mentioned that she did not get much of any coffee buzz from it. I agree. Sugar buzz, yes, but not coffee buzz.

Paper coffee cups come in a few shapes. Dutch Bros. opts for the slightly “short and wide” variety. The lid is weird though, with the sippy cup opening being perfectly round and closer to the center of the lid than is customary. I get the impression it is designed with the assumption that the customer will be drinking with a straw. Drinking hot liquid through a plastic straw is not a good idea for the future of the planet or, you know, not getting cancer.

My five-year-old son’s hot chocolate was served in a ridiculous plastic cup with whipped cream covering the already-inserted straw. I would be concerned about the whole “hot liquid in plastic thing,” except it was truly lukewarm. Before finishing the drink my son, who suddenly became lethargic, told me he was feeling sick. When we arrived home he vomited. To be fair this may have had nothing to do with the hot chocolate. But it also might have had everything to do with the hot chocolate. In any event, he is recuperating while watching Paw Patrol at the moment.

During our entire visit a table full of young people were participating in a group interview. Having once been a man in my late teens and twenties, this is an experience I can relate to. I hope every one of the kiddos gets the job.

Which brings up an important point. Just about everyone making the Dutch Bros. motor run today amidst an absurd volume of drive-thru customers is a young person with zero previous industry experience, and nothing that I was unimpressed with was due to this. I know that my latte tasted the way it did because that was the way it was supposed to taste. The lattes in the advertising video loops looked bad, just like mine, with the kind of big bubbles and such that appear when you don’t steam the milk properly. This is coffee for “lovers of Torani syrup,” not people who enjoy the taste of coffee.

Eventually it became time to leave, and for the entire visit we were anxious about how we would actually be able to get out of the parking lot, with the only thoroughfare blocked by three drive-thru lines. I actually stepped out of the cafe to study how this probably worked. I believe what is intended to be a third “thru” line leading to a second part of the parking lot whose existence I was unaware of and the exit was instead being used as a third drive-thru lane with “runners” taking (and probably delivering) orders. The friendly staff explained that we could ask a runner to hold traffic for us so we could leave.

A white Jeep backed up so we could enter the third drive-thru line. After a while a runner came up to the window to take our order and we told him we were waiting to leave. We slowly rolled ahead and waited for every car ahead of us to be served until we could make it around to the other side of the building and squeeze past the other cars in the drive-thru line and make a right-turn onto Wheaton Way.

Even by fast food chain standards, between all the single use plastics, no commercial composting in our community, and idling vehicles, most of which are large, the environmental impact of Dutch Bros. has to be pretty bad.

I once came across a hilarious “Seattle” style coffee shop in Jamestown, ND that featured a fake Space Needle. Everything about today’s vanilla latte reminded me of the one I had there, including being asked if I wanted whipped cream on the drink. Considering that the whipped cream might have made my son sick, I am glad I said no. Who orders whipped cream on a latte? Yes, I did literally compare my drink to one I had in North Dakota. I could imagine Steve Buscemi pulling through a Dutch Bros. drive-thru in Fargo.

Be it Super Mario Bros. 3 or the Cosmic Crisp, sometimes highly-anticipated “releases” absolutely live up to the hype. This is not one of those times. This is one of those times where I am absolutely baffled by why people like the things they like and find myself doubting if popular opinion is ever a barometer I can rely on. Having never been to an In-and-Out Burger, what if everyone is wrong and In-and-Out Burger isn’t any good either?

D

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