Do you want amazing coffee in your mailbox? I certainly do. Several excellent specialty coffee roasters can make this dream a reality. There are a lot of good options out there, but which companies offer the best value, variety and home brewing experience?
Here are nine specialty coffee subscription services that will deliver delicious coffee and also help you step up your home barista skills. From single origin coffees to blends, I tried them all. The services range in price and frequency but quality is the key across the board.
If you can’t get to one of the San Francisco-based Ritual cafes, a subscription is the next best thing. Ritual’s Last Exit seasonal espresso (a four-bean blend) is one of my favorites of all the coffees I sampled for the article. It’s freshly-roasted and fragrant and makes sweet, delicious espresso. The packaging includes the recommended dose weight, water temp, and brew time, which helped me to improve the shots I pulled, which greatly enhanced my tasting experience.
I also sampled the organic Hama from Ethiopia. The coffee smells slightly peppery and has a rich taste. The package tells the coffee producer’s story. My box came with a helpful stack of cards that explained the recommended brewing methods and instructions. These little things helped to educate me about brewing a better cup.
Cost: Weekly, bi-weekly and monthly subscriptions of one 12 oz bag available from $22. Choose from espresso, roaster’s choice or decaf.
The Angels’ Cup Black Box subscription is a unique concept that helps coffee aficionados train their palettes. The Black Box comes with four 2.75 oz. samples in sleek bags with a code number and tasting card. You grind, brew and taste, then log into the Angels’ Cup app to rate the coffee and write up your notes. Are you tasting the fruity flavor of Costa Rican or Kenyan soil? On your tasting card you can write your guess of the coffee’s origin before turning it over to find out if you’re right.
Angels’ Cup works with an impressive array of specialty roasters including La Colombe, Madcap, Verve and Coava. Angels’ Cup offers an innovative way to learn to distinguish coffee origins while also getting to sample some of the best roasters in the country.
My box included two samples from Quills Coffee and two from Verve Coffee Roasters. The first coffee I tried, Los Naranjos from Colombia, roasted by Quills, came out muddy and nutty in my drip coffeemaker. I compared against the notes on the card and the high praise for the coffee from other Angels’ Cup users and realized the fault was mine. I brewed it again using less coffee and got closer to the fig-y, fruity flavors and smooth taste described. With a Chemex the coffee was even brighter and the fruit flavors were more clearly pronounced.
The Verve sample I liked best was the Gatomboya from Kenya. It is fragrant, with an aroma of flowers and herbs, and had a slightly sour/sweet taste of caramel and brown sugar. Good for filter coffee or espresso.
Cost: The Black Box subscription is $21.99 per box. Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly subscription options available. Bonus: Free tasting app and Facebook community of like-minded coffee tasters.
Turntable Kitchen’s combination of coffee and vinyl is genius. I love the handcrafted, curated feel of this pairings box. Each month you get a bag of truly refined coffee and a 7” vinyl release.
I sampled the Pinheirinho (Brazil), which was roasted by Slate Coffee Roasters. The nutty and chocolate flavors are deep but not too heavy and balanced with a juicy fruity flavor (the bag says pineapple and grape). The luscious coffee came with a perfect pairing: the Lucius What We Have (To Change) EP.
Brooklyn-based Lucius blends rock, rhythm and blues to create a sound akin to an indie rock gospel record. Listening to this record managed to make watching coffee slowly drip through a filter a pleasant experience. In addition to the coffee and record, each month you get access to a new Turntable Kitchen digital mixtape.
Cost: $25 a month for 7” and 12 oz bag.
This is an elegant coffee experience. Collected Coffee focuses on providing a sustainable supply chain of high quality coffees. I tried the Karimikui from Kenya, which was roasted by La Cabra in Denmark. This coffee smelled like a bag of dark chocolate and tasted smooth, almost silky, and fruity (strawberry) with a pleasant tartness.
Each coffee comes with a brochure detailing the coffee’s backstory and the recommended brewing method with instructions, including brew time, grind setting and expected yield. Each month brings a different coffee and roaster pairing.
Cost: $25 per 250g bag for monthly subscription.
Counter Culture is a go-to specialty coffee distributor for cafes around the country. They provide impeccable coffees through a relationship-driven supply chain. I tried the single origin subscription. My package include the ASUVIM (Guatemala), which has a bright tart berry, grape flavor that works well as a drip coffee and also delivers a tasty espresso shot with a brown sugar fragrance. The Finca El Puente from Honduras is a nice complement to the ASUVIM because of its grape, brown sugar and nut flavors.
Each biodegradable bag tells the story of the coffee’s producers and includes the roast date so you know it’s fresh. Subscription choices vary according to recently released coffees and single origin options.
Cost: Weekly and monthly options for 12 oz bags available starting at $15.
Ruby Roasters from central Wisconsin has gained a national following since launching in 2013. I sampled the Ethiopia Guji Uraga, which is lightly roasted and sweet with a fresh berry flavor. According to the bag, its tasting notes include peach tea and lemon pie. Roasted just days before it arrived, the coffee tasted extremely fresh.
I also sampled the complex Consuelo from Guatemala, which had a crisp, light flavor but also had tones of dark chocolate and raspberry. Brewing both with a Chemex highlighted the high points of these fine coffees. Each bag includes the story of the coffee’s origin, tasting notes and the roast date.
Cost: One pound (two 8oz bags of recent releases) is $22 per month.
Santa Cruz-based Verve on providing freshly roasted, ethical and sustainable coffee. I sampled Verve’s Streetlevel blend of Latin American coffees. Although I rarely buy ground coffee the espresso grind was quite velvety, and much better than my grinder could achieve. With tasting notes of cherry and orange zest as well as chocolate and caramel, this coffee delivers an espresso shot with an even consistency and deep flavor. I tried pulling espresso shots several times according to Verve’s brewing instructions until I got it right, which made a huge difference in the consistency and flavor.
Verve offers 11 subscription options, including a single origin roaster’s choice. You can also choose a Latin American or African single origin subscription.
Cost: Bi-weekly and monthly options available starting at $42 for three months. Bonus: Coffee comes with a newsletter/poster.
Vigilante is another small roaster that is starting to gain distinction for its quality beans, which they source from some of the most respected farms in the world. Established in 2012, Vigilante is based in the Washington, DC area.
I tried the berry-flavored Gathiruini from Kenya. This washed coffee was grown in red volcanic soil, which gives it a slightly spicy taste. I also sampled the El Chalum, a sweet coffee from Guatemala. With a smell like toasted caramel, this coffee produces a delightful morning wake-up call.
Cost: Rotating roaster’s choice single origin subscription starts at $14 and are available weekly.
Stumptown is one of the most well-known specialty roasters and has a robust subscription service. I sampled the Hair Bender blend, which is a strong, deep-flavored blend of coffees from Latin America, Africa and Indonesia with notes of cherry, toffee and fudge. It makes a solid, hearty morning cup and is one of the roaster’s most popular coffees. I preferred brewing it with my drip coffeemaker. It also works well as an espresso.
Stumptown offers several coffees as subscription options, including The Roaster’s Pick; French Roast; and Holler Mountain blend, which is good for espresso drinks.
Cost: Options from one 8 oz bag to three 12 oz bags, starting at $16 per bag.