December 5, 2022

How have coffee subscriptions changed in recent years?


It’s undeniable that Covid-19 has significantly influenced coffee consumer behaviour in the long term. With most out-of-home coffee businesses forced to close temporarily in early 2020, many consumers started to prepare their own coffee at home – and began to try different kinds of beans, as well as a range of brewing methods.

As part of this, coffee subscription services became much more popular during the pandemic – and continue to be today, too. In fact, according to research from the Specialty Coffee Association, between 2019 and 2020, coffee subscription sales increased by 109% in the US, while the number of companies offering coffee subscriptions grew by 25%.

So how have coffee subscription services changed in the past few years, and how might they develop in the future? To find out, I spoke with the Director of Coffee at Trade Coffee Maciej Kasperowicz.

You may also like our article on the rise of coffee subscription services.

Bags of roasted coffee on top of wrapping paper

How do coffee subscriptions work? 

Although each coffee subscription service is different, most of them require customers to sign up to receive a specified number of bags of roasted coffee. Beans are then delivered to customers’ homes as often as they choose – typically on a weekly or monthly basis.

Subscriptions with set delivery dates can help to ensure that customers receive freshly roasted coffee when they need it – and brew it when it’s at its best.

Trade Coffee is a specialty coffee subscription service in the US which offers several subscription plans.

“When you sign up to Trade, there are a number of different questions to answer, which helps us decide which types of coffee will best suit your taste preferences,” Maciej says. “We have many options – from light roast to espresso roast, and decaf to single origin coffees.

“We pride ourselves on having more than 450 coffees from 55 specialty roasters – as well as making sure that we recommend coffees that people will enjoy,” he adds.

With subscription services, consumers can customise a number of factors, such as the amount of coffee they want, whether they require whole bean or ground coffee (including grind size), and how often they want to receive their beans.

“Customers can also decide which coffees they want – ranging from fruity and light roast single origins to espresso or medium roast blends,” Maciej explains.

A person using a laptop next to a cup of coffee

In the months since the pandemic, it’s become clear that convenience, flexibility, and personalisation have never been more important to coffee consumers. 

Subscription services highlight all three of these factors. Firstly, for convenience, subscriptions mean customers can make a one-time payment and receive coffee as often as they like rather than having to remember to order whenever they run out.

Moreover, subscription platforms include a wide variety of coffees to choose from – meaning users often have access to many different origins, roast profiles, varieties, and processing methods.

“Many consumers value having freshly roasted coffee from a variety of high-quality local roasters,” Maciej explains. “Roasters can also reach customers in other markets by selling coffee through subscription services, which could otherwise be difficult and costly for them.”

As well as this, subscriptions allow users to personalise their coffee experience by selecting different kinds of coffee which are best suited to their taste preferences. 

For more traditional coffee drinkers, classic flavours such as chocolate, nuts, and caramel may be more suitable. For coffee drinkers who prefer to try new experiences, meanwhile, flavour profiles such as tropical and citrus fruits, as well as floral and more boozy or winey notes, could work well.

Bags of roasted coffee

The benefits of subscription services

Alongside convenience and customisation, there are a number of advantages to using coffee subscription services.

“Customers are able to discover more unique and exciting coffees,” Maciej says. “Trade’s customers often tell us that they value having more of a variety of coffees, and that they enjoy the different stories of the roasters we work with – as well as the different roast profiles available.”

Subscription services like Trade Coffee can provide users with a broader range of roasters to buy from, especially those who may only sell coffee in certain cities or countries. Ultimately, this means they may be able to try coffees from different roasters around the world.

Freshness is also another benefit of subscription services. Ideally, coffee should be ground and brewed a few days after roasting to ensure you experience its full range of flavours and aromas. 

Subscription services generally sell coffee which is roasted to order, and can ensure that customers receive their coffee when they need it. With Trade, for example, coffees are roasted within 24 hours of delivery to ensure maximum freshness.

In addition to convenience, many coffee consumers also want their coffee to be sustainable. Now more than ever, people want to know where their coffee came from, how it was grown, and who produced it. 

Some subscription platforms ensure that the coffee they sell was produced in an environmentally and socially sustainable manner to support producers, as well as safeguarding the environment. Trade Coffee, for example, uses a Roaster Pledge, which guarantees that partner roasters have committed to a number of standards regarding coffee quality, sustainability, and a positive community impact.

Alongside the rise of subscriptions, we have also seen increasing interest in high-quality coffee equipment, including grinders and brewers.

Some subscription platforms, like Trade, also sell a range of equipment – including scales and kettles – so customers can experiment even further. However, it’s important to note that buying specialist coffee equipment isn’t essential for making great-tasting coffee.

Bags of roasted coffee

Choosing the right coffee for your subscription

Once you have found a subscription platform which works best for you, the next step is choosing your coffee.

Although roasters often provide plenty of information about their coffees, it can still be a challenge to figure out which kind of coffee will best suit your preferences.

“With Trade, you can answer some questions about your flavour preferences, and you don’t have to pick a specific coffee – we can provide options based on your responses,” Maciej tells me.

Essentially, these questions help to define which characteristics of coffee you enjoy the most, such as a heavier mouthfeel or more fruit-forward flavours. Alongside this, specific questions can also help to establish your level of experience with brewing coffee, as well as whether you would prefer whole bean or ground and how much coffee you typically drink per month.

“We cup every coffee that we sell to make sure it is high quality, as well as to evaluate its attributes – such as roast level and acidity – in a way that allows us to match each coffee with customers’ preferences,” Maciej explains.

“Customers are also free to browse through our whole selection of coffees and find different roasters, processing methods, and origins,” he adds.

Ultimately, this means you need to ask yourself a number of questions before choosing a coffee, such as:

  • What flavour notes do you enjoy the most in coffee?
  • Do you prefer coffee from a particular origin country? 
  • Which roast profiles do you like best? 
  • Is there a brewing method you use more than others?

Maciej also tells me that Trade Coffee’s experts can help customers to select coffees which are right for them.

“Our customer experience team helps you to understand more about why you liked or disliked a particular coffee, as well as providing brewing tips and finding a subscription plan that works best for you,” he says.

A bag of opened roasted coffee

The future of coffee subscriptions

In previous years, many coffee subscription plans were less flexible than they are now. However, with an increasing focus on convenience and personalisation, subscription services are sure to continue to become popular.

Specialty coffee drinkers ultimately are looking for more choice and control when it comes to subscriptions, and are demanding a more comprehensive selection of coffees.

Moreover, increasing flexibility means that subscribers are able to try new and exciting coffees – and can potentially expand their palates more. And with the demand for higher-quality coffee growing further, this will only serve to push the coffee industry forward.

Trade is working with partner roasters to improve our operational processes and provide a range of excellent coffees for all types of customers,” Maciej says. “We want to make subscription services simpler, while still ensuring that more experienced coffee lovers can have more control over their plans.

“I think providing subscription plans for a range of coffee drinkers ensures that more and more people start drinking specialty coffee,” he adds.

Undoubtedly, this will help to elevate the home brewing experience and give consumers the opportunity to become more educated about specialty coffee.

A person pours water from a gooseneck kettle into a V60 pour over

Subscription services provide consumers with a convenient and flexible way to enjoy coffee, which ultimately adds to their rising popularity. 

Over the years, it’s become clear that demand for a wider range of coffees and roasters, as well as a higher level of personalisation and customisation, is more important to consumers than ever before.

Enjoyed this? Then read our article on personalising the online coffee experience.

Photo credits: Trade Coffee

Perfect Daily Grind

Please note: Trade Coffee is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.

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