To subscribe or not to subscribe: the pros and cons of a coffee subscription

Purchasing a coffee subscription is a commitment most of us enter somewhat blindly. In this entry, we are shedding light on subscription nuances, describing what we’ve found — based on our years of offering coffee subscriptions — to be subscription pros, subscription cons, and questions to ask before subscribing.

The Pros

Coffee subscriptions are a wonderful way to explore the world of coffee, to experience different roasting methods, and to try different roasters. In addition to being a passive way to travel the world via your cup, subscriptions also (mostly) have the benefit of saving you a few dollars per bag and are wildly convenient for steady drinkers. Subscriptions are offered by coffee roasters and by a third party, non-roasters. Subscriptions offered by coffee roasters offer the subscribed the option to subscribe to their favorite coffee or to try the roaster’s pick, the coffee the roaster feels is best in class at the time of shipment. The benefit of roaster-based subscriptions is that you know more about your coffee including its origin, processing method, and sustainability. Subscriptions offered by third-party non-roasters offer the subscribed an opportunity to taste different roast techniques and a potentially broader range of coffees. Non-roaster subscriptions can help the subscribed identify roasters, origins, and blends they enjoy.

The Cons

The greatest con of a coffee subscription is lack of control over coffees received. If you have a very defined taste profile, there is a good chance the coffees provided via your subscription won’t conform. Non-roaster subscriptions are also more likely to suffer from inconsistent coffee quality, lack of visibility into bean origin, and higher per pound costs than buying directly from the roaster. Another potential con of coffee subscriptions is timing. Guests, travel, working from home, and intermittent sipping can leave you with either a coffee surplus or no coffee at all.

Key questions to consider before subscribing

Is the coffee high-grown, shade-grown arabica? High-grown, shade-grown coffee almost always produces a good cup. Certifications, with the exception of Rainforest Alliance, focus more on growing / working conditions and generally aren’t meaningful when describing coffee quality. To ensure you are purchasing quality coffee, look for the terms high-grown (HG), strictly-high grown (SHG), shade-grown, and arabica before subscribing.

How much coffee is in each bag? Different coffee subscriptions offer different bag sizes. If you are comparing subscriptions for value, be sure to check how many ounces each bag holds. As a reminder, one pound is sixteen ounces. Many subscriptions are for ten-ounce and twelve-ounce bags.

Can the subscription be customized? Customizations can make the difference between a great and a horrid subscription experience. Common customizations include the ability to request a specific coffee(s), a specific type of coffee (e.g., single origins, Africans only, dark roasts only, flavored coffees only, etc.), and shipping frequency (e.g., weekly, semi-weekly, monthly, or bi-monthly).

Is shipping included? Not all subscriptions include shipping. If you are comparing costs, ensure shipping is included. If shipping is not included, it may be more economical to purchase multiple bags at once over a single-bag subscription. Many subscriptions include a monthly shipping charge.

Is the coffee source, origin, or farm listed? Most quality roasters strive to roast only ethically sourced coffee. If you are purchasing a subscription through a non-roaster subscription service and the source is important to you, ask the provider to confirm the coffee is ethically sourced and not harvested with slave labor.

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