In this electronic age, who doesn’t love a little snail mail? Marry the joy of postage with a steamy cup of quality coffee, and yet another blessing from the gods of modern convenience has arrived. And that’s precisely the feeling a few enterprising online coffee subscription services hope to deliver.
In light of their novel aspirations—and provided coffee drinkers are willing to invite a little technology into the home—good coffee made with near Keurig-level ease has never been closer.
Just five years ago, specialty coffee was so new that home preparation was inadvisable. Less home brew equipment was on the market, and consumers were largely uneducated about proper technique. Shipping freshly roasted beans proved challenging for roasters who were opposed to letting beans stale for a week while in transit (purists believe that one to two weeks off-roast is when a coffee begins to lose its luster). Further, coffee brands had to contend with the fact that people shop online everyday at all hours, but roasters often only roast beans on specific days.
Regardless, slowly, a few roasters began to test home bean delivery to their more loyal and adventurous customers, but really only a select handful of the niche market chose to do so. But as consumers grew more savvy, the necessary tools became more accessible, and companies learned to align shipping frequencies with the rhythms of a roastery. Suddenly, the goal of cafe-quality coffee sent direct to the home seemed infinitely more attainable.
... only now, given the success of the still very much fledgling pioneers listed below, can online bean buying be considered a viable model.
Still, there was a barrier for consumers. While coffee enthusiasts could conceivably shop around and schedule deliveries from all of their favorite roasters online, a handful of companies saw opportunity and set out to streamline the process. Even fewer groups have succeeded at turning this dream scenario for coffee fans everywhere into an affordable reality. Perhaps, only now, given the success of the still very much fledgling pioneers listed below, can online bean buying be considered a viable model.
The following online coffee delivery companies offer subscribers varying degrees of autonomy and interaction. They all aim to introduce buyers to new coffee origins, styles, and brands, giving shoppers a platform to compare several coffees and develop their palate through a central marketplace. Some sites are best for variety, others for interaction, some showcase the farmer, while others focus on the roaster.
Whatever coffee preferences and know-how we each bring to the cup, let all of us—from coffee patrician to coffee plebeian—at the very least, agree to give a thumbs up to the following subscription warriors who, every day, try to wrangle the mercurial beast that is logistics, all whilst being chill enough to include shipping costs in the price.
When it comes to quality java delivery, Craft Coffee is the veritable Pony Express, as the first business to find success in the category. Operating since 2010, Craft Coffee has sourced from the nation’s best roasters, dispatching sampler boxes far and wide. Just last year at their homebase in Brooklyn, they began roasting Flagship blends at Pulley Collective, a multi-roaster collaborative. Factoring in the range of roast levels available through their ten Flagship Blends, Craft Coffee offers ten proprietary blends, one single-origin "Roaster's Choice" coffee, and a three piece coffee sampler (which includes the single-origin plus two selections from small-batch roasters).
Before starting an account, visitors complete a quick price-match survey. After choosing one of their normal go-to coffee brands from a dropdown menu, the site suggests one of Craft Coffee’s Flagship blends, and from there visitors can choose a variety of coffee delivery options. Upon selecting a path, visitors can subscribe and set a shipping frequency ranging anywhere from seven to 84 days.
We decided to try the single-origin sampler box. Last month's delivery included a Colombian co-op, a washed Ethiopian Yirgacheffe from Irving Farm Coffee Roasters in New York City, and a delicious El Salvador from one of the direct trade movement's champions, PT’s Coffee in Kansas. Single-origin coffees change monthly, so subscribers setting the shipping frequency to less than thirty days should be prepared for some repeats.
Price: The $24.99 sampler boxes comes with three 4 ounce sample bags. Meanwhile, 12 ounce bags of Craft Coffee’s Flagship blends are available at various roast levels and price points from $9-$16. Craft Coffee’s single-origin is the priciest of the 12 ounce bags at $20.
User Experience: CEO Mike Horn counts Craft Coffee's website as the company's greatest asset. Horn recently overhauled it to accommodate an increased demand and highlight its new hybrid roasting/sourcing model. Subscribers can rate coffees upon receiving them.
Freshness: Sampler boxes arrive within seven to nine business, and the beans are usually ten days off-roast, with their Flagship coffees closer to a week off-roast.
Overall Assessment: Craft Coffee definitely has the potential to reach a wider demographic thanks in part to its mixed price points. Now that their roasting operation is underway, Craft Coffee appears to be putting greater emphasis on its Flagship blends and single-origin sourcing, perhaps the best way to coax traditional consumers from comfortable household names like Eight O’ Clock, New England Coffee, or Caribou and into the quality realm. The coffee aficionado looking to sift through the highest number of roasts possible from multiple roasters might look elsewhere.
MistoBox came on to the subscription scene at a fast clip. Connor Riley and Samantha Meis started the company as a senior project at University of Arizona in 2011. The following year they completed a successful Kickstarter campaign. In 2013, they made their mark on the burgeoning subscription scene by winning the favor of investor Mark Cuban along with $75,000 on ABC’s Shark Tank. Since then they’ve built quite the catalog of roasters, including many third-wave darlings like Verve, Equator, Ruby, Kaldi’s and Panther, just to name a few.
Upon signing up, MistoBox subscribers can set preferences for roast level, price point, shipment frequency, and coffee type, such as single-origin, blend, espresso, or decaf. For the first shipment, a subscriber has two options. One can pick a single bag of coffee from one's roaster of choice, and from there MistoBox sends a new coffee each shipment based on feedback from the prior bag.
Alternatively, subscribers can start with a discovery box to more accurately gauge coffee preference by sampling four different coffees, each from different roasters, each featuring different flavor profiles. The bags comes in 90 gram samples (enough for about three cups), and list the roaster, origin, and bean processing methods. Knowing which coffees are natural and which are fully-washed, honey, semi-washed, etc. is great help for customers looking to better understand the nuance of flavor profile.
Our discovery box took some time to arrive, but the MistoBox team assured us this was a fluke given inclement winter storms wracking the country in mid-January. This sampler, by virtue of function, only comprises a small percentage of their business.
Once the subscription is off the ground, consumers can also designate preferred roasters and/or request one-off roast-levels or styles. As an extra-curricular option, subscribers can log on to the MistoBox website to order specific coffees received through subscription.
Price: All 12 ounce bags are classified on a quality level tiered system. Basic, Deluxe, and Exclusive are priced at $16, $19, and $22, respectively. Shipping frequency can be set from every five to 45 days.
User Experience: MistoBox’s site is fairly easy to maneuver, with a clean design and stress-free modulation between value preference and shipping frequency. For one-off purchases, coffees are listed in alphabetical order by roaster, with pictures of various fruits and other foods to signal flavor profiles. While we weren’t entirely certain we had successfully ordered the discovery box for our first shipment, the support team was fairly attentive, reassuring us that a discovery box was en route though our account did not specify as much.
Freshness: Discovery box bags do not disclose roast dates, but individual 12 ounce coffees sent by their respective roasters almost invariably show the date a coffee was roasted. All individual bags are sent through drop-shipping, meaning directly from the roaster. The MistoBox teams says subscribers should receive these freshly roasted coffees within three to five business days.
Overall Assessment: As the young team gets more practice in anticipating demand and continues to maintain and build strong roaster relationships, they could prove a formidable opponent in the home coffee delivery game. MixtoBox is poised to gain the respect of the seasoned coffee pro and the curious java novice.
Crema.Co’s inventor Tyler Tate first became fascinated with coffee after spending a summer in Costa Rica ten years back, visiting different farms and meeting with coffee producers. After a stint in London, and some experience with other tech start-ups, he teamed up with software engineer Bryan Rehbein and coffee storyteller Emily McIntyre to launch a new concept. Tate wanted to illustrate the excitement of coffee’s origin by including photos of bean farmers, farm history, and the nuances of specific coffee regions.
The upstart went live late last year following a successful Kickstarter campaign in the spring and beta-period in the fall. Choosy subscribers and the surprise-averse will like this one. As opposed to submitting oneself to the somewhat random process of coffee curation, users can search the different coffees available by preferred roast level, geography, or certification status. Upon opening an account, subscribers can create their own brewlist, a coffee wishlist almost like a Netflix queue. As users peruse the available selections, they learn more about the farmers, regions, and roasters attached to a given coffee, and can add desired coffees to their brewlist. Coffees are shipped at one of the following frequencies: five days, one week, ten days, two week, three weeks, or a month. If all of the selections in a subscriber's brewlist have shipped (and he/she hasn't added any new coffees), the list will cycle back and start over. Subscribers can easily paused and resume shipping at any time.
Price: Coffees are priced on bag-by-bag basis ranging from $16-$20 for 12 ounces.
User Experience: Whenever a user is logged on, his/her brewlist is always easily accessible, and he/she can pause and resume delivery at any time. A subscriber will receive an email notification when a favored coffee is low, when it is gone, or when a new coffee becomes available.
Freshness: By also using the drop-shipping method, coffees arrive within four to five business days from the moment they are sent from the individual roaster. We ordered the Colombia Finca El Faldon from Toby’s Estate, and it maintained its complex flavors for a solid week of brewing.
Overall Assessment: As the newest business in the pack, Crema.Co has some catalogue-building to do, but the site is doing a solid job of hitting their self-professed sweetspot: telling the story of the producer. The drop-shipping model also works in their favor.
Angels’ Cup is for those looking to catch the coffee bug. Subscribers can order a single bag of coffee, but the company pushes its sampler packs, which come in two sizes/price points. From there the consumer can select the frequency coffee is received: weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. Every month the customer receives four different bags of coffee.
Selections arrive in sleek packages—two different roasts from two different roasters. Each bag is marked only by a three-digit serial number and the roast date, allowing subscribers to taste and assess coffees blindly. Roasters and origins are listed on accompanying ID cards stacked and packaged carefully, so as not to reveal a coffee’s identity upon opening. The subscriber can also ditch the cards and conduct blind tasting on the Angels’ Cup app where the user has access to both the roaster’s notes and the general community’s notes for a given coffee. The roastmaster’s brewing parameters for each coffee are available on the application, as well.
With two new coffees collected and shipped out every week, Angels’ Cup has over 100 specialty coffee roasters on its roster, in spite of only being in business since early 2015. CEO Jeff Borack credits co-founder Abby Salazar, whose prior experience as a fashion buyer helped the company’s catalog grow quickly within the space of a year.
Price: The Black Box: Four 4 ounce samples at $22; The Cupping Flight: Four 1 ounce samples at $9. All Stars: One 12-ounce bag at $20.
User Experience: Angel’s Cup is fairly easy to navigate, as the subscription is virtually on autopilot once it takes off. That said, it’s easily the most interactive of the services mentioned herein. Users can also download an application that walks them through either a beginner tasting or an advanced tasting for each coffee without revealing the brew's identity until the end. Subscriber assessments of a given coffee's taste, aroma, and cup profile can be conducted on the app, which is the strongest aspect of Angels' Cup's user experience. If customers like a coffee offered through the flight, they can purchase it on Angels' Cup's website. Alternatively, customers can go straight to the website and see previously shipped coffees complete with Angels' Cup's flavor assessment. These coffees, too, are sold online and shipped direct from the roaster.
Freshness: Angels’ Cup cycles in four new coffees every week, showcasing two different roasts from two different roasters. When I placed coffee orders for the sake of this article, I ordered all at the exact same time, and it's worthwhile to note that Angels’ Cup was the quickest to arrive—in fact, the only one to do so within a calendar week. The four coffees in the two-roaster flight were just a little over a week off-roast.
Overall Assessment: While we received our Angels’ Cup shipments in a timely fashion, Borack counts shipping as Angels’ Cup's top hurdle. He says the company hopes to introduce a priority shipping option in the future. Going forward, Angels’ Cup plans to source from NYC’s abundance of roasters to further cut down on shipping headaches. The company's support team remains exceptionally active, in spite of the team’s small size. If they can keep that enthusiasm as they grow, Angels' Cup promises to become essential to coffee geekdom.