We Reviewed The Blue Bottle Coffee Club, this is what happened
With coffee, freshness is everything. That’s why you buy whole beans, grind them moments before brewing, and use them up within about a week, right?
Blue Bottle Coffee’s claim: within that period, there is a window of optimum flavor – a best-of-the-best moment, like peak ripeness for fruits or vegetables. And they ship your coffee so that it arrives at the start of that peak flavor window.
Sound like something you want to experience? Read our Blue Bottle review to see if it’s the answer to your coffee-infused dreams…
BEST OF 2020:
The Blue Bottle Review In a Nutshell
Blue Bottle staff blind-taste each individual batch of coffee (different roasts, blends, and single origin coffees) and determine when it’s reached peak flavor (1). Then, they re-taste over the next few days to determine how long each type of coffee stays at that optimum flavor level.
When they ship your subscription, they provide tasting notes suggesting how long the coffee you’ve bought will be at its best. Naturally, they encourage their customers to map out their own preferences.
- The peak of freshness – roasted and shipped only after ordering
- Subscriptions include blends, single-origin beans, and espresso
- Whole bean or pre-ground, called Perfectly Ground
- Pre-ground coffee shipped in vacuum-sealed, single-serving packets
- Each bean individually tasted on a weekly basis to ensure quality and consistency
- A mix of the familiar and the exotic in single-origin offerings
- Smaller selection than some services
- Prices somewhat higher, especially for pre-ground
How to Choose the Right Coffee Subscription Service
Choosing the right coffee subscription service for your expectations is the key to satisfaction. To begin with, consider these main points:
Frequency. How much coffee do you drink in a week or a month? Are you planning for this coffee club to be your primary source of beans, or is it a nice diversion from your regular brew? Consider this when you look at the club’s membership options.
Coffee preferences. What are you looking for – a new favorite coffee for every day? A wide range of coffee from exotic locations? Some clubs are better at nailing your flavor profile and hitting it repeatably. Other clubs are more like a personal Indiana Jones, delivering you coffee from far-off lands. (To the best of our knowledge, no coffee clubs deliver cursed artifacts. That’s probably a good thing.)
Overall cost. If you’re after high-quality specialty coffee, you must know it’s going to run a bit more than bargain beans in a can. But unless you can afford to fly to Guatemala or Sumatra on a weekly basis (in which case you probably don’t need a coffee club), you’re presumably looking to stay within a budget of some kind. Make sure you know the overall cost – shipping, frequency, and price per bag – so you don’t end up with unpleasant surprises on your monthly credit card statement.
Our Full Blue Bottle Coffee Review
Blue Bottle Coffee takes its name from The Blue Bottle in Vienna, central Europe’s first coffee house, founded in the late 17th century (2). Today, Blue Bottle focuses on freshness, flavor, and consistent quality.
Coffee Selection – 4.5/5
Blue Bottle individually taste-tests each coffee they sell – single origins, blends, espresso, every roast level – and you get it when they have determined it’s at the absolute top of its game.
The website’s match quiz recommended their Giant Steps for us – yes, it’s named after the John Coltrane classic. This is a blend of beans from Uganda, New Guinea, and Sumatra.
A blend can tell you a lot about a coffee company – whether it’s being blended down to a price, or up to a quality level.
The bag of Giant Steps that came a few days later perfectly represented the flavors listed in their match quiz: cocoa, toasted marshmallow, and graham cracker in the aroma yield to chocolate and caramel in a cup that delivered rich, deep notes on the palate. Clean and crisp in a pour over, Giant Steps was also wonderful in the Moka pot, where the fines and higher extraction really played to the strengths of the African and Indonesian beans.
Like Peet’s Coffee, which we reviewed here, Blue Bottle loses half a point is in the comparatively limited number of coffees you can order. Blue Bottle currently offers 19 individual coffees and three combination boxes, containing three or five of their favorites.
Compared with some of the clubs we’ve reviewed with 400 or 500 coffees to choose from, 19 is quite a step down. We deducted half a point.
Overall Experience – 5/5
Blue Bottle’s match quiz goes beyond the usual coffee flavor descriptors and gets to the heart of your tastes. It starts by asking you the type of coffee your prefer – French press, pour over, espresso, and more, and lets you select as many as apply.
The quiz then gets deep into the flavors you like – delicate or juicy, bright or deep, florality or earthiness. Somewhat surprisingly, the quiz then asks you what chocolate you prefer, what spices you like, and your favorite salad dressing. Then you’re offered two coffees that fit the image they’ve developed of your favorite flavors and aromas (3).
It’s coffee that is obsessively sourced, with provenance so detailed that buyers like [Blue Bottle founder] Freeman can not only tell you the names of some of the people who pick it but describe the shade trees under which it grows.
As far as frequency goes, Blue Bottle sends out bags in 6, 12, 24, and 36-ounce sizes. You choose how often to have it delivered, on a one, two, three, or four-week cycle. No matter how much or little you drink, you can set up a frequency that works for you.
Freshness was exemplary: our order was roasted on a Monday, and arrived on Wednesday.
To get fresher coffee, you’d pretty much have to be standing outside waiting for the doors to open
That freshness was definitely noticeable in the aroma and flavor. Our Giant Steps beans arrived with great aroma and brewed up an incredible cup of rich, deeply flavored coffee, both in the Hario and in the Moka pot. That’s flexibility.
Our order arrived sealed in the familiar security-sealed zip-lock bag, airtight and lightproof, with CO2 valve. One minor nit: the zip-lock seal is narrower than used by some other shippers, and didn’t always make a tight seal when we closed it (in our sadly un-caffeinated state). We found the bag had worked its way open one morning. Shame on us for not using a coffee storage canister. Workaround: we folded the bag over and wrapped a rubber band around it to reduce air exposure. But some larger bags don’t give us this problem.
Unique Features – 4.5/5
Blue Bottle have two things going for them: the fine, individually tested freshness window, and the taste and sophistication of their roastmasters. With only 19 coffees to choose from, Blue Bottle can’t rely on sheer volume. They make it up with their knowledge of the roasting process and the characteristics of each bean’s source.
This is what makes their blends in particular a cut above the usual. They offer seven blends, three of them formulated for espresso; the rest of their offerings are single-origin beans. Some of those come from specific plantations in familiar areas – three from different regions in Brazil, others sourced from Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Kenya. Some selections are sourced from off-the-beaten-path locations such as Myanmar and Timor.
But their blends, such as the Giant Steps we enjoyed, are definitely blended up to a standard and not down to a cost. Each of the unique, distinctive notes of the component coffees contributed to the overall character.
Price – 4.5/5
Price is at the higher end of the scale, but you get what you pay for, most noticeably in terms of freshness. Blue Bottle Coffee is notorious for not being cheap. But there’s a reason.
With a subscription, prices drop between $1 and $3 a bag. This is equivalent to getting a free bag of coffee for every 6-10 you buy.
Shipping cost is comparable to other on-line coffee sources – about $5 per package. They also have a free trial subscription, in which you only pay for shipping. You’ll have the chance to opt out after receiving your shipment, of course.
If you prefer to receive ground coffee, Blue Bottle calls their offering Perfectly Ground. Not only is it precision-ground to the exact characteristics for your brewing method (pour over, French press, or coffee maker), but it’s then packaged in single-serve, vacuum-sealed pouches.
The catch? It’s spendy, at $3.50 per serving. Brewed at the SCAA’s Golden Ratio of 55g/liter, whole bean coffee runs you less than fifty cents a cup.
Still, for an occasional extravagance (camping, travel, the occasional sleepover with That Certain Special Someone who’s a tea drinker, etc.), the freshness and grind precision of Perfectly Ground could be a great solution.
Blue Bottle Isn’t for You? Check Out These Other Options
There’s a lot to like about Blue Bottle, but if it isn’t quite for you, here are three subscriptions that consistently rate the highest among our readers and staff. You can find more info about coffee of the month clubs here, but here’s the run down on two of the best:
The Atlas Coffee subscription – Our current top pick for best coffee subscription of 2020. Atlas combines exceptional coffee from around the world with insights into the land, people, and culture that produce it. It’s an educational experience of the world’s coffee plantations.
Atlas Coffee Club offers a ‘world coffee tour,’ where it sends subscribers coffee from a different country every month.
The Angels’ Cup subscription – One for the adventurous coffee drinkers among us. They ship you blind tastings of several varieties of coffee. After brewing and tasting, you use their cool app to rate the coffees and interact with other members of the Angels’ Cup coffee community.
The experience of a blind coffee tasting is a bit more rare. Even more rare is a coffee tasting experience, or cupping as it’s commonly referred to, that’s done via an app.
Blue Bottle’s commitment to quality and consistency is second to none. Their weekly tastings of every bean, not only single-origin but also the beans that go into their unique blends, helps ensure that you always get the same delicacy and nuance from every cup.
- Deliciousness: Blue Bottle Coffee. (n.d.). Retrieved July 7, 2019, from https://www.pntrs.com/t/2-243579-164971-141294
- The Blue Bottle Coffee House. (2019, March 12). Retrieved July 7, 2019, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Blue_Bottle_Coffee_House
- Copeland, M. V. (2014, July 30). Blue Bottle: The best coffee you may ever drink. Retrieved from https://fortune.com/2011/09/23/blue-bottle-the-best-coffee-you-may-ever-drink/