Interested in a coffee subscription box, but not sure where to start? That’s how I felt before I tested five of the most popular boxes in the U.S., and now I’m here to give you the skinny.
First, let’s talk about the “why.”
I love the variety of coffee subscription boxes, so you won’t see Panera, Blue Bottle, Onyx, etc. on this list, because those are all direct from the company and come from only one namesake roaster. On the same thread, I love supporting small businesses, and that’s what you do when you purchase from a roaster you’ve never heard of.
Coffee subscription boxes have blown up in the last couple years for an obvious reason: the pandemic. They were gaining in popularity pre-COVID, but now they’re an industry mainstay.
So, here’s what I analyzed for each subscription box throughout 2020-21 and factors into the overall ranking for each...
#5 Atlas Coffee
I love Atlas’s colorful aesthetic, postcards included detailing each coffee and all about the specific origin. But, I found out AFTER ordering for the first time, that they are like many other subscription boxes in that they only have one coffee: theirs. So while it’s not similar in that sense to any of the other boxes I mention in this post, it’s so popular that I felt compelled to rate it anyway.
There’s no choice in coffee delivery, rather it’s a “coffee of the month” and every subscriber gets the same thing each month in a “tour around the world” (Guatemalan - unimpressed, Mexico - unimpressed). As mentioned, they’re all roasted by Atlas so there’s not as much excitement because variety is limited only to the coffee’s characteristics.
As for the emails, they were 99% promotional and rather frequent (but not compared to some other companies), which always confuses me -- you already got me, I’m a subscriber, why are you still marketing to me as if I’m NOT?
Bean Box has a confusing UX, to start. There are weird delivery contingencies, flights are rigid and unpredictable. More than once I received a flight that was different than what I’d ordered and was told by customer service that’s normal and due to seasonal availability. I understand that, but not communicating that in the ordering process is what leaves me unhappy.
They do “coffee of the week” texts for limited-edition/supply roasts -- promotional but cool that they’re on the more techy side (they use QR codes to reorder a coffee, text to order, etc.).
The newsletter is totally promotional with an overwhelming cadence, and overall they put up a very corporate front.
#3 Misto Box
Misto Box has a decent amount of information on each coffee, but has NO info about the roaster.
They use a tiered pricing structure (a deluxe $$ vs. exclusive $$$) and a pay/per, 6-coffee and 12-coffee plan, reducing the price of the individual coffee (but this means you’re locked in like a phone contract). Starting at $10.95+ shipping… Pay per coffee is $17.95 +$5 shipping (standardized prices). You pay before selecting your first coffee, which confused me & made me think I was getting a random selection.
You’re able to “pause” your subscription, but otherwise, the prices are so much higher compared to Crema.co or Trade, especially when they charge for shipping. The newsletter is disappointing as well -- mainly promotional, giveaways, LTOs, and it’s waaay too frequent.
#2 Trade Coffee
There’s only one reason Trade initially fell out of favor with me: I found out it was owned by JAB Holdings which has subsidiaries like Peet’s Coffee, Krispy Kreme, Panera, Einstein Bros. Bagels and more. Otherwise, I liked it, but Crema is simply better! I will mention, I’m not sure if they are a part of JAB Holdings anymore because they have disappeared from the subsidiaries page so I’m not sure about their ownership status anymore...
The biggest issue with Trade was the shipping: It always told me a day or more late that my coffee had arrived (thus sitting in the mailbox losing freshness), and they were constantly changing carriers (UPS/ USPS) without tracking data available, and sometimes there was NO update when it had been delivered from the carrier.
Some of the pros were compostable packaging and extremely detailed profiles about each coffee/roaster/etc. The newsletter wasn’t too bombarding, but when I did get emails they were mostly promotional. At the time I tried them they were just starting their blog, “The Counter.”
Crema has a huge selection of specialty coffees from around the country, and a plethora of details on the roaster, tasting notes, origin, varietal, you name it. And surprisingly enough, I found Crema to be the cheapest of all the other subscription boxes! Cherry on top.
The shipping process is great, transparent and accurate with timely delivery only two/three days after the coffee is roasted.
The packaging is adorable, 100% compostable and the only place (bag and box) where their branding dominates. This is important because some other companies dominate ALL the branding and the roaster is left without much or any credit. They are by far the most personalizable/flexible coffee subscription box company when it comes to every aspect: shipping frequency, coffee selection, “playlist” capabilities and more.
Their pricing structure is simple and straightforward compared to competitors: For instance, Mistobox offers tiered subscription pricing which lends to a lot of rounding up. But with Crema you pay for each bag as it’s shipped and you pay the lowest price with free shipping whether you have a subscription or not.
My one initial (VERY SMALL) complaint was that the “playlist” feature does not have an “undo” button, ex: I accidentally clicked the “fast-track my delivery button” and I wasn’t able to set it back to it’s normal delivery timeline, so I had to delete it and start over. BUT, here’s my favorite part about Crema: They LISTEN to feedback! They send out surveys constantly and they really do take the feedback to heart and make the changes that make for a better customer experience.
Crema has a fantastic newsletter and blog, where employees wax poetic about “coffees of the week” or detail new roasters added to the directory or just show off celebrities drinking coffee, just because they love coffee. Oh and, one of my articles was posted in a newsletter/on the blog, too. :)
They also do lots of giveaways, so they email quite often, but the quality that goes into each newsletter is obvious. It’s never just a promotional email, it always has substance, an educational slant, a personal note from the founder, or a blog post or roaster feature. On 7/12/20 they announced they are ONLY working with independent coffee roasters (bye-bye Intelligentsia, also owned by JAB Holdings), and took a shot at Trade by mentioning they’re owned by JAB Holdings) AND quit social media! A bold move that clearly communicates their values.
Here’s who didn’t make the list:
Hopefully this helps you select the best subscription box for you -- but thankfully, coffee shops are reopening around the world, and as corporate America finds its rhythm in a new hybrid-world, you’ll still have a subscription box to enjoy the best of both worlds.
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