I used to think coffee was bad for me but since quite a lot of recent studies say just the opposite, I drink a cup every morning. I’d like to drink more but then I would be up all night. Now the decision to drink coffee is an easy one but finding coffee beans I like is tougher. In a typical pre-pandemic week, we would buy coffee beans from a local coffee shop like Plowshares and Variety. In a pinch, if I was being lazy, I might pick up a bag at Whole Foods or, if feeling thrifty, a 2 pounder of organic beans at Costco. We had been trying out different roasters across the city (Devocíon, East One, Box Kite with mixed results) to find beans we liked when the stay at home order was issued in March. Since then, we have been ordering beans online. Wow – there is a whole huge world of freshly roasted coffee available to be delivered to your home!
I am happy we can order consistently good tasting beans from local roasters online instead of actually going to their brick and mortar shops, grateful they still roast and ship. (We are just about to try Partners (in Brooklyn) because they offer 20% off your first order). But when a friend recently turned us on to online coffee subscriptions (thank you, Melea), we realized what endless possibilities we have. Now our eyes have been opened to Bean Box (so far we’ve enjoyed 1 out of 3 of their selections), Trade Coffee (2 for 2), Misto Box (0 for 1), companies who will send coffees from different roasters all over the country. Sites like Condé Nast Traveler and Roasty Coffee have descriptions of the various companies but I thought Homegrounds was the most helpful because they actually compare the various subscription services to help you choose. Homegrounds is one of many coffee focused sites (such as The Coffee Compass, Coffee Geek and Perfect Daily Grind) that discuss all aspects of coffee from sourcing to storing to brewing. And, of course, there are many opinionated threads on Reddit that argue the merits and faults of different coffees and subscriptions.
A subscription where you leave the choice up to someone else is always a gamble and a coffee service is no different. You might like what they choose and you might not. The first bag of beans I got from Misto Box (from a roaster in Kentucky) brewed up watery and flavorless, even though the beans had been roasted that week. But that may be true with any beans you buy at a store or order yourself solely based on a description without having tasted them. I said that I liked a medium roast with full body and caramel flavor but that didn’t guarantee that I would like the beans they said tasted that way. Some companies (like Trade) will send a different bag of beans if you don’t like the first selection. Disappointingly, the “coffee curator” at Misto was so slow to respond to my emails requesting a replacement that I debated canceling and trying a different service but, after a week of emailing, he finally agreed to send another bag of beans.
Like beer and wine, choosing a coffee involves knowing the terminology. Coffee is described by its roast level (with, strangely, light having the most caffeine and dark the least) as well as by adjectives like smoky, mellow, fruity, rich and toasty. According to JavaLush, another coffee lover’s site, there are 172 words to describe coffee, even more than to describe wine! I’ve been drinking coffee for decades and am only now beginning to learn a vocabulary to use to explain what I like. Unfortunately, knowing some words doesn’t guarantee I will get something I like. The only real way I know to do that is to taste. And like with beer and wine, I may or may not like someone else’s recommendation. So I take a chance trying new beans, both single origin and blends, and brew and taste them until I find the ones I like. Part of the fun of a subscription is getting new coffees to try that we wouldn’t have chosen ourselves. Sometimes they please us and when they don’t, we try combining different roasts or brewing them a different way (drip or aeropress or cold brew) or changing the grind size or varying the amount we use. If all else fails, they go in the compost. So far that has only happened twice. I continue to look forward to the next bag to arrive, ever hopeful that it will be my new favorite.