Finally, a practical use for Bitcoin? Starbucks might take cryptocurrency for lattes

A Starbucks Reserve Roastery. (Taylor Soper / GeekWire Photo)

For technologies that have been billed as the future of payments, it’s really hard to actually use digital currencies like Bitcoin or Etherium to buy things in the real world. A partnership of tech and retail companies that includes Starbucks and Microsoft plans to back a new company designed to address that shortcoming.

Bakkt is a new company launched Friday by Intercontinental Exchange, a builder of electronic markets for financial services and owner of the New York Stock Exchange. Using Microsoft’s cloud technology, Bakkt intends to build “an integrated platform that enables consumers and institutions to buy, sell, store and spend digital assets on a seamless global network,” it said in a press release.

Several other companies plan to work with Bakkt, including BCG, but Starbucks is the most interesting company to pledge support for Bakkt’s work. “As the flagship retailer, Starbucks will play a pivotal role in developing practical, trusted and regulated applications for consumers to convert their digital assets into US dollars for use at Starbucks,” said Maria Smith, vice president, Partnerships and Payments for Starbucks, in a canned press release quote.

Starbucks has long shown an interest in developing and controlling payment technologies used in its 24,000 stores around the world. It was one of the first retailers to experiment with smartphone payments, and after a few early glitches, now has more people using its mobile payments app in the U.S. than use the Apple Pay technology built into modern iPhones.

Retailers have also expressed interested in digital currencies and other blockchain applications as part of their work with suppliers, as Microsoft Azure CTO Mark Russinovich told GeekWire last May. Exchanges built by Bakkt could also be used to set up digital contracts between vendors and suppliers, which could help Starbucks manage ordering and inventory.

It will probably be some time before you can exchange Bitcoin for caffeine, but at this morning’s prices, you’d need about 0.00049 Bitcoin to buy a $3.65 caffe latte. What a time to be alive.