Subscription Commerce

Subscriptions That Connect Specialty Coffee Consumers With Local Roasters


When Jeff Borack received a membership to a whiskey tasting club as a gift, he was inspired to start his own venture.

He first considered starting a new whiskey tasting club, but he was turned off by the many challenging legal issues around repackaging whiskey into small samples and shipping it across state lines. Instead, he decided to mimic the whiskey subscription service in the coffee space, providing an excellent user experience that would help consumers develop a sharper sense of taste and refine their coffee preferences. Thus, Angels’ Cup Coffee was born.

Borack also thought he could have a broader audience and a more substantial impact if he worked with coffee instead of whiskey. Today, his subscription service works similarly to the way it did when it first launched. The company offers three subscription options: The Black Box; The Cupping Flight; and the All Stars.

The Black Box and The Cupping Flight are the company’s blind tasting options, which contain four samples each, while the All Stars includes one 12-ounce bag. Subscribers also choose whether the subscription is for themselves or if it is a gift, what grind they would like (whole bean, coarse grind or fine grind), what frequency they want (weekly, bi-weekly or monthly), and what kind of roast they prefer (light, medium or dark.)

The Roasters

By joining the company’s subscription service, consumers can try up to 208 coffees a year, and the service offers two to three different roasters in each tasting flight. Borack said roasters love working with his service because it’s a great way to get consumers to try their coffee. He said roasters are continuously sending the company samples of all the new coffee that they are roasting. Borack estimated that the company gets “a little over a thousand coffees a year” — in the range of, say, 1,200 coffees annually, he told PYMNTS in an interview.

For light roasted coffees, Borack said the company is looking for “maximum complexity” in origin character. That means that the coffee tastes like a good representation of the region it’s from, which lets people get better at tasting a coffee and saying where it’s from.

In that case, consumers can go to a coffee shop, see a selection of coffees on the wall and where they are from, and say they want an Ethiopian coffee because they are looking for something with a bright, citrusy, and floral Ethiopian character. Alternately, they can say they want a coffee from Tanzania because they are looking for a coffee with a dried fruit or raisin flavor.

In a way, it “lets you be an expert on that,” Borack said.

The company searches for pretty much the same characteristics — origin character and complexity — but it is also trying to weed out coffees that are too bright and acidic. And, for dark roasted coffees, Borack said, that is a “completely different segment of the market.” The service aims to show what different roast levels will bring out in a coffee for those subscribers.

The Differentiators 

Angels’ Cup is unique in that it doesn’t sell whole bags of coffee on its site. It sells its samplers, and it has its All Stars. Many of the company’s subscribers, Borack said, are using the service to find a coffee of which they wish to buy more. He said his company, in turn, fills a “marketing need” in the coffee world “to let people try all these different coffees from all these different roasters.” Instead of telling consumers that a coffee is good, his service shows them.

While Borack noted there are many coffee subscriptions on the market, he said that it seems every service is trying to be the place from which consumers buy their coffee. The reason the company doesn’t take that approach is that it doesn’t want to be a middleman in the industry. It doesn’t want to stand between the roasters and the consumers who are drinking the coffee. The best way to buy coffee, the company believes, is from a local roaster with which the consumer has a relationship and whose coffee he or she very much likes.

Borack said the company wants consumers to buy coffee locally “when you need it, on demand.” In the company’s view, its service is supplemental to a customer’s coffee routine. The company also aims to educate consumers with its coffee tasting app that lets them record tasting notes. And, once they register their observations, they can see how the notes compare with the roaster and other members of the community. Even if they couldn’t compare notes, he said, there is value in having them identify what flavors or characteristics of each coffee stand out the most.

In the future, the company aims to reach more consumers. While Borack said he believes the product is in a solid place, he seeks to continue to improve the app, and the community it provides, where consumers can connect and talk coffee.



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