If you enjoy coffee, then it’s well worth considering subscribing to one of the many coffee delivery services. I’ve found that the coffee available in supermarkets is bland and generic in flavour, probably as a result of large commercial suppliers focusing on consistency and price. But coffee is more interesting than this. Coffee is grown all around the world from Asia (Vietnam being the world’s second largest producer), India, Africa, central and south America. There are many different varieties of the species, Arabica and Robusta. There are differing bean preparation processes (you may see terms such as pulped, semi-washing, natural), and of course there’s the art/science of bean roasting.
Apparently, more aromatic and flavour compounds have been found in coffee than has been found in wine. A coffee subscription can help you to explore some of this diversity, but how to choose one? Hopefully, the following coffee subscription comparison can help.
Irrespective of the variety of coffee, it will be at its best if its freshly roasted and ground. This is where a coffee subscription can be of great benefit. The coffee is often dispatched to your home within a week of the roasting day, meaning that you get the freshest product. Unless you’re lucky enough to live in a town or city with its own roastery (thankfully we are – with Brighton and Hove’s Small Batch), there’s no better way of getting proper freshly roasted coffee than through a subscription. Unless you roast your own! Read my post to find out how.
The right subscription service for you will depend upon what you find important. I have therefore tried to provide a score on the following factors: Price, flexibility, quality and variety of coffees, and convenience. I have researched all the suppliers listed below to ensure that they source their coffee in an ethical way. They all meet the Fairtrade standard, and in many instances pay the producers much more than the fair trade minimum.
Pact were one of the first coffee subscription services I tried. The London-based company launched in 2012, with the aim to roast, grind and deliver coffee to its customers within a week. Possibly the most popular, and well-known service, the ambitious company recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to expand its operations. Unfortunately they didn’t raise the funds required, however I suspect that they will continue to innovate and be successful.
Price: £6.95 / 250g
Flexibility: 9/10 – Deliveries can be made between every 3 to 28 days, and there’s an indefinite pause option
Quality and Variety: 7/10 – 6-7 different coffees are available to chose between (or you can opt for a different coffee each time) with the occasional additional limited edition. My favourite was their fruit and nut espresso blend. The coffee itself is of good quality, but perhaps not exceptional. Many of them are quite bright and fruity.
Convenience: 10/10 – This is where I think Pact excel. Their website is simple and easy to use, they will deliver whole beans or ground (according to brew method), they can supply a decaf option, they’ve even started supplying Nespresso compatible pods. Upon beginning a subscription they send you a informative booklet about coffee, and each coffee is accompanied by a flavour notes post card.
Taylor Street Baristas
Having worked in the City of London for some time, Taylor Street was was my go-to coffee shop. Impressively they’ve recently expanded and opened a shop across the pond in New York near Grand Central station, fingers-crossed it goes well. Taylor Street are very serious about their coffee and they run home barista courses in London if you fancy honing your skills.
Price: £9 or £12 (premium coffee) / 250g
Flexibility: 7/10 – Deliveries made every 1, 2, or 4 weeks, with pause option.
Quality and Variety: 9/10 – I have only tried their £9 standard bags (rather than the £12 premium), and the quality was exceptional. The variety has been good and I’ve received a different coffee each time. They select the coffee they send you, based upon your pre-specified flavour and brew preferences. My favourite was a Ethiopia Rocko Mountain Reserve Filter Roast.
Convenience: 7/10 – I’ve found their website a little confusing to navigate (for example to change personal preferences etc.) They can send you whole beans, or ground according to your brew method. There does seem to be a decaffeinated option (at the time of writing), nor do they supply pods. Each coffee comes with useful information about it (Origin, tasting notes, varietal and process) and a coffee quality score.
Cafedirect – Handpicked
Cafe Direct is a familiar and widely heard of coffee company, who’s subscription service is branded as “Handpicked”. You may well be used to seeing their mainstream coffee, tea and hot chocolate products on shop shelves. They were the early pioneers of the Fairtrade movement, being the first company to distribute Fairtrade coffee in the UK, following the coffee crisis in 1989. Originally their subscription service was branded “Kopi” launched in June 2014, however in October 2015 this was re-branded as “Handpicked”.
Price: £7.95 / 250 g – Discovery Plan
Flexibility: 6/10 – Deliveries made monthly, dispatched on the 14th of each month. Pause option available.
Quality and Variety: 8/10 – A different coffee is promised each month. The first coffee I received was a Brazilian natural processed coffee, which had a good balance of fruity acidity, and chocolatey body. The coffee was accompanied with a booklet providing additional information on the coffee.
Convenience: 7/10 – As a subscriber you can choose between whole beans or ground, and then state whether you brew using a filter or espresso device. You don’t get to choose your coffee, or specify flavour preferences, you just get a different batch each time. Decaffeinated or pods are not available. Due to the simple subscription basis, their website is easy to use and clearly laid-out.
Headquarter in the “capital of the Cotswolds” Cirencester, Rave Coffee offer an almost bewildering array of coffee that can be purchased from their website. This also includes a good selection of green coffees if you fancy roasting your own. On the commercial side, Rave also offer training, support and wholesale coffee to cafes. They are proud of the fact that they roast, grind, pack and post your coffee all in the same day.
Price: £6.15 / 250 g (2nd class post option)
Flexibility: 8/10 – There is choice of frequencies (if not slightly confusing) of subscription of every 1-90 days, weeks or months, and the ability to choose delivery day, each month, and the amount of “bags” each delivery, and bag size (250g or 350g). Also, its possible to opt for a monthly recurring subscription (which can be cancelled), or a single price 3, 6 or 12 month package. Finally you can choose the delivery options at different prices (2nd class, 1st class, parcel force). Choices, choices….
Quality and Variety: 7/10 – The quality of the coffee I have received has been good, if lacking a little character. The selection of coffees on their website suggests that the variety you can expect to receive over the months to be almost endless.
Convenience: 7/10 – All the major brew methods are provided for in grind size (or whole bean). One issue I experienced was that the delivery box doesn’t actually fit through my letterbox. Luckily I was at home for the first delivery, and subsequently the postman has just left the box on my doorstep. Obviously this is not ideal. I had a small issue with their website, in that I inadvertently created two orders in the same month by opting to change the delivery day each month. However, on contacting Rave they explained how the problem had occurred (probably my own fault) and refunded the cost on one of the orders. Given they did this with an hour of me emailing them, this showed impeccable customer service. Other than this episode, I would say they’re website is overall easy to use, however the link to login could be more prominent on their homepage.
On a purely points basis, the scores are: Pact 26/30, Taylor St 23/30, Rave 22/30, and Cafedirect 21/30. Pact also sit in the middle of the range on price, and so they probably come out as winners. However, in terms of the taste and quality of coffee, Taylor Street provided the best in my opinion – justifying the higher price. I roughly get through a 250g bag of fresh coffee a week, so the approach I take is to keep a number of monthly subscriptions with different companies running at the same time, providing even greater variety.
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