Maximize Your Coffee: Wydown Coffee Bar

Oh, what a disappointing Sunday it is. I went to The Cake Room to get my coffee this morning. It’s chol ha-moed birthday (that is, the time between my birthday on the Hebrew calendar–the 29th of Shvat–and my birthday on the secular calendar–February 17th) so I thought a cupcake would be a good treat with my coffee. I was doubly disappointed: the holiday flavors they had been advertising that sounded so delicious were no longer on offer (really, it’s February, I shouldn’t be surprised) AND they don’t have syrups for coffee. So I apologized to the person working and decided to go all the way to Wydown, on account of it being sunny and Sunday and I had time.

Let me start by saying that the coffee at Wydown is good. And even better than the coffee are the cherry almond scones. (If The Cake Room had cherry almond cupcakes, I might have forgiven the lack of vanilla or caramel to add to my coffee.) That said, the only flavor option was vanilla, the only size option was 12 ounce, and it was pretty spendy.

If I were to put Wydown’s vanilla latte against Bakery 350’s vanilla latte, Wydown’s would win on taste, but there are at least four additional coffee shops between the two, so if I really wanted a vanilla latte, I wouldn’t go all the way to Wydown. If I really wanted a cherry almond scone, though? Definitely.

Maximize Your Coffee: the ‘bucks

Let me start by saying this: support your local coffee shops.

Let me also say that the worst decision Starbucks has ever made was to stop selling gingerbread lattes during red cup season. I LOVE GINGERBREAD LATTES.

That said, Starbucks has very cleverly roped me in with their sweet sweet fancy coffee and bonus stars. And convenience. (Admittedly, my closest Starbucks, while only 0.2 miles from my house, is further away than two local coffee shops, so is it really that convenient? Yes, yes it is that convenient.)

The key with Starbucks is to evaluate offers for bonus stars with clear eyes. For example, the other week there was an offer: “come twice for 55 bonus stars” but going once got you 40 bonus stars, and the second visit only got you 15 more stars. So go once because you want a caramel macchiato, but save your dollars and your calories on day two.

Speaking of caramel macchiatos, the deal in my inbox right now gave me a bit of a chuckle. The deal has you choose one of three options, and you’ll get 80 bonus stars (just over half of the points for a free fancy coffee) if you complete the challenge. I assume the options are personalized based on what people order regularly. My options:

  • Option 1: Buy three macchiatos, get 80 bonus stars.
  • Option 2: Buy three macchiatos, get 80 bonus stars.
  • Option 3: Buy four macchiatos, get 80 bonus stars.

Definitely not choosing option 3! (Actually I’m opting out of this challenge. I love my caramel macchiatos, but three in a week is a bit much. And I have a free coffee available from Peet’s for my walk to the office on Thursday, though that’s in my email and not the app, so…we’ll see if it works.)

Starbucks is my go-to for randomly gifting coffee to people having not good days because of how easy it is to send an e-gift. All you need is the recipient’s email address. If you’ve read this far, I recommend that you go and randomly send someone $5 for their own fancy coffee fund. (It shouldn’t be me, but if you want to gift me coffee later, my email address is rak at dcdotnerd dot com.)

Can we make the world a happier place this evening?

Maximize Your Coffee: ThreeFifty Bakery

Back when I was in library school and working full time, ThreeFifty Bakery opened and became my home away from home on Sundays. A mug of coffee and a chocolate croissant got me through some long days of homework. There’s not much better than supporting a local business, especially when that business is a two minute walk from your house.

Unfortunately, while it is only two minutes from my house, it is in the opposite direction of almost everywhere I go. And I’m cheap. So after I finished library school (actually, after they got popular enough that it became difficult to find a table to do work–very good for them!, less good for me) I didn’t support them as much as I should have.

Come the pandemic, they developed a good outdoor set-up, and I tried to support them once a week. I bought a gift card back in the period where that was a Thing To Do to support local businesses, got a latte and chocolate croissant every so often, and then lost my job.

Supporting local businesses requires more effort than getting one’s fancy coffee fix at a chain. The chains have apps that send you notifications every other day: come in two days and a row and get 50 bonus points! and other such enticements. Plus, remember what I’ve said about liking my coffee extra sweet? My standard vanilla latte at ThreeFifty Bakery just doesn’t thrill me the way the major chain vanilla latte a block further away does.

BUT! Last time I was there, when I spent the end of my gift card, before getting a job offer (I start tomorrow), I ordered a caramel latte, and all is well with the world.

ALSO! ThreeFifty Bakery may not have the apps and deals that Starbucks, Peets, Panera, and Pret a Manger have, but they, like other local businesses, have a thing with Square, and there is a text message waiting for me on my phone following this morning’s order of a latte and croissant, touting that I have a reward of some sort.

ThreeFifty is my closest coffee, and while they are nowhere close to the least expensive, I am glad that they now have rewards to help me maximize my coffee value while supporting a local business.

PS They also have lots of other baked goods, including a wide variety of quiches. They don’t have indoor seating at the moment, but if you need something a bit more than a baked good and less than a full lunch, I recommend checking them out.

Maximize Your Coffee: Wawa

Here’s the thing about Wawa: Free Coffee Tuesdays.

Wawa isn’t in the half mile radius around my house, but on the lazy-to-cost spectrum, I’m definitely willing to be less lazy in order to get free coffee. On Tuesdays*, that’s Wawa.

Side note: my preferred purchase at Wawa is a soft pretzel and a raspberry coke (hooray for the Coca Cola Freestyle machines).

Back to the topic at hand. Free Coffee Tuesdays. Get the Wawa app. You’ll get a reminder on Monday to go on Tuesday. The deal is good for regular hot coffee (lots of roast level, flavor, caffeine options) or “Handcrafted Iced Coffee.” To be honest, I don’t really know what “handcrafted iced coffee” includes. It’s autumn; just get hot coffee.

*It’s entirely possible that Free Coffee Tuesdays can be redeemed on Monday or Wednesday, but I’m not walking a mile for free coffee if the coffee isn’t going to end up being free, so I haven’t tried it. Do you live near a Wawa? Will you check it out and let us know?

Maximize Your Coffee: McDonald’s

I wrote a rantlet about McDonald’s coffee pricing on Facebook the other day, before starting this blog series. I am rewriting the rantlet here.

As a connoisseur of cheap coffee, I have a fair amount of experience with McDonald’s coffee. In particular, McDonald’s iced coffee has been a better deal than 7-eleven’s, or it was during summer of 2019. You know, last week and last century all at the same time. Coffee is part of McDonald’s dollar menu. Any size, hot or iced, for just $0.99. If you, like me, consume a large part of your caloric intake as sweetener in your coffee, McDonald’s iced coffee is great. A large is 32 ounces (the size of a 7-eleven Big Gulp), and if you are like me, a large iced coffee can last you from your walk to work to lunchtime.

I order my coffee through the McDonald’s app. My rantlet which follows applies to the app; it might not apply if you order in person, but since the pandemic started, I have ordered using the app anywhere I go that has one. Here’s the process for ordering: select “Deals” and scroll all the way to bottom. Select the $0.99 coffee deal. It will take you to the coffee menu. And on the coffee menu, every size and flavor of iced coffee is listed individually. If you order an iced coffee, it comes to you perfectly creamed and sweetened. (Okay, maybe a little too sweetened.) However, if you want hot coffee, the only choices are size and regular or decaf. When you select your size and caffeine level of hot coffee, you then do have the opportunity to customize your coffee with dairy and sweetener. Here’s where my rantlet comes in: 1. you have to know how many creams and how many sugars you want! It took me a week of orders to decide that 2 creams (what’s the volume of “1 cream”? I don’t know) and 5 sugars (see above regarding my calorie intake from sweetened coffee) was a workable combination for a large coffee. And 2. if you want a flavored sweetener, you have to pay extra! I mean, $0.39 isn’t going to impoverish me, but as a matter of principle, I feel like the flavor is the same whether it’s hot or iced coffee, so why is the price different? (Yes, I realize this is a stupid complaint, made more so by the fact that I should just appreciate that the iced coffee isn’t more expensive than the hot coffee, unlike basically everywhere else.)

Bottom line: if you like your coffee “light and sweet,” stick with iced coffee at McDonald’s.

Maximize Your Coffee: 7-eleven

I fell in love with 7-eleven coffee at some point shortly after moving to my current home. 7-eleven is extremely close to my house (not as close as ThreeFifty Bakery, which opened after I moved here, or as close as Starbucks, but still close) and is on my way walking to almost everywhere I go. In particular, it is on my way to both jobs I’ve had while living in my current home. Since I am pretty bad at both making halfway decent coffee and at having milk in my refrigerator that hasn’t turned, getting coffee on my way to work is the rule in my life.

Even before the introduction of the 7-eleven app, coffee deals made 7-eleven a great place to get not only coffee but also various breakfast baked items for cheap. Now, the app is necessary for taking advantage of these deals (and yes, “taking advantage” is really the right phrase), so sign up and download it.

Here’s.Monday of the month, not the first DAY of the month. So if you, like me, were looking forward to an anticipated coffee deal this month, you, like me, may have been disappointed if you expected it on November 1st.

Why are combos the key? I’ll explain. An extra-large hot coffee is $2.39. (It may be less in less expensive markets.) This month’s deal is ANY size coffee and any muffin for $2. So I got a muffin not for free, but for -$0.39. Or, you could say, I sacrificed my opportunity to eat the very delicious homemade banana bread waiting for me on my counter for $0.39.

$2 is not the least expensive coffee around. (That designation belongs to McDonald’s, though for the time, coffee is free at Wawa on Tuesdays–stay tuned for a post about that even though Wawa is a full mile from my home.) However, when you add in the cranberry orange muffin, which is my favorite, or you consider that ANY hot coffee, which includes machine-made espresso drinks, is $2, the value is definitely high.

A few other notes:

  1. Donuts. Often the coffee and baked good combos involve donuts. If the deal specifies a basic glazed ring donut, obviously that’s what you should choose. But if it doesn’t, I and my sweet tooth recommend the chocolate frosted donut. After a long history with Dunkin as my go-to coffee, I can state unequivocally that 7-eleven’s chocolate frosted donuts are far and away better than Dunkin’s. This is because 7-eleven’s are glazed before they are frosted. Dunkin’s are dry when they are frosted, so they are not as sweet.
  2. It turned out that my coffee flop yesterday at 7-eleven was due to my attempt to get a machine-made mocha while the machine was out of hot cocoa powder. I spent about 15 minutes there today while they diagnosed the problem and then tried to solve it. They happened to accidentally make it worse, so I got a regular drip coffee, the kind that one expects for a total of $2. There is absolutely no reason to complain about drip coffee from 7-eleven.
  3. Iced coffee is another ballgame. My 7-eleven got a fancy iced coffee set up shortly before the pandemic and I’ve never used it. If this series is still going strong when it gets back to iced coffee weather, I’ll check it out and post.