Delivery options: Two or four weeks
For Blind Taste Testing
Out of all the coffee subscriptions we’ve tried, Angel’s Cup has my favorite twist: blind taste testing. Every time a coffee arrives, it’s in an unmarked black bag. After you’ve decided whether you like a coffee or not, you can look it up in the Angel’s Cup app—that’s when you’ll find out what you’re drinking. It’s a good way to see what you really like without preconceived notions getting in the way.
Angel’s Cup is more like a distance-learning coffee school than a box subscription service. WIRED senior reviewer Scott Gilbertson strongly recommends giving the Black Box subscription a try. You will learn what you actually like and dislike about coffee, along with some education through the app, roaster’s notes, and notes from fellow tasters.
Delivery options: One, two, three, or four weeks
For Animal Lovers (Yep)
Grounds and Hounds offers small-batch roasted blends and single-origin coffee, with 20 percent of its profits going to benefit animal shelters. The brand has some of my personal favorite coffees, especially the dark roasts. (Try the Snow Day Winter Roast when it’s available.)
There are two kinds of subscriptions at Grounds and Hounds—a traditional plan where you pick what you’d like to try, and a gift plan if you’re buying for someone else. We tested the former, opting for whole bean (ground and single-serve pods are also options), and its “Roaster’s Select” beans, which let us sample a few different varieties. As soon as we found what we liked, we switched the subscription to that bean.
When you sign up, Grounds and Hounds will let you know how your money is helping animal shelters. In the case of a single bag, a weekly subscription provides roughly 800 meals per year to shelters.
Delivery options: One, two, four, or eight weeks
Subscription Beans vs. Locally Roasted Beans
These subscription services all produce killer coffee beans, and they all taste great. But none of them taste better than coffee roasted locally. For the most flavorful coffee that has a direct impact on your community, you’re best served by looking up local coffee roasters—whether that’s a café in the same city, state, or geographical region.
Coffee is at its best shortly after roasting. The longer it stays on a shelf or on a delivery truck, the less flavorful it’ll be. Plus, ordering coffee locally minimizes the environmental impact of having stuff shipped from across the country (or across the continent). The best way to do that is by heading to your local coffee shop and having a look at what coffee they serve. (They might even roast and sell their own!)
How We Tested, and How You Should
To test these subscriptions, we brewed each bag in different ways to see which beans were best suited to which brewing method. It’s worth doing the same if you have access to different brewing methods, especially if you opt for a subscription that offers a lot of variety. A roast that makes a great shot of espresso does not necessarily make the best pour-over coffee.
In the same vein, take notes on what you like and dislike. Several of these services have very nice websites where you can record your notes and mark particular coffees you liked. Take advantage of these features, because you will probably forget. The coffee never stops coming with these subscriptions, which is both a blessing and a curse. If you’d like some more pointers, be sure to read our guide to brewing better coffee at home.
Let’s Destigmatize Decaf
Coffee aficionados are a fickle bunch, and they tend to like dunking on people who drink decaf. But here’s the thing: Decaf can be good. Yes, the decaffeination process changes the flavor, and yes, you often miss out on delicate floral notes. It’s unfair to exclude people from enjoying coffee, period, and talking smack about decaf coffee can also be ableist. Drinking caffeinated coffee all day can seriously impact your sleep, and some people can’t tolerate caffeine for medical reasons or just don’t like the way it makes them feel or the way it interacts with certain medications.
Coffee is for everyone! There is such a thing as good decaf, and three of our favorite services on this list offer a selection of decaffeinated coffee (Trade, Mistobox, and Cometeer). Even if you’re a caffeine fiend, it can be nice to unwind with a cup of decaf in the evening—it’s especially well suited for mixed espresso drinks, where typically bold chocolatey and smokey notes can really bring a mocha to life. Even in a French press or pour-over context, decaf (or a blend of decaf and caffeinated beans) is a good pick for afternoon coffee service. No need to worry about afternoon jitters or insomnia.