Starbucks introduces high-end coffee subscriptions


“You think about Blue Bottle and Stumptown and Intelligentsia; they’re doing marvellous things around coffee. [But] we’re not perceived to be in the group [and] that’s really not fair,” said Major Cohen, a member of Starbucks’ coffee engagement team.

All we have to do is decide how we want to be in that group: We have the coffee, we have the people, we have the sites. It’s just a matter of what we want to focus our attention on.”

It appears that the globally recognised chain has found what they have been looking for:Premium subscriptions.

In Seattle sits Roy Street Coffee & Tea, an unbranded Starbucks store that could well be the future of the company if it decides to lurch wholeheartedly towards the third wave. For a while, this dalliance seemed – logically- that it was a precursor to something bigger. If Howard Schultz’s declaration of love for the Clover machine didn’t capture public attention then the introduction of a brand new state-of-the-art coffee laboratory and tasting centre certainly did.

But they’ve been pretty low-key projects in comparison to their global reach.

It’s the worst kept secret that Starbucks has been eyeing up their upmarket competition for a long, long time. And so their first major step in that direction has caught many by surprise because it wasn’t a small chain of specialist coffee shops. It was the introduction of a small batch coffee subscription.

Of course all steps are relative and the American based company has been taking plenty of baby steps in recent years. Late last year the company began selling a number of single-origin coffees in supermarkets in an attempt to branch out and win (back?) custom. And of course in certain regions you can already subscribe to certain products.

But we’re talking premium coffee here: The type of stuff that when it’s gone it’s gone; the coffee that fetches big money at market and the coffee that, importantly, people like to pay for.

“Starbucks Reserve Roastery subscriptions are – aside from visiting the Roastery and having our partners scoop the coffee right in front of you – the freshest, fastest and most innovative whole bean coffee experience in the marketplace,” chairman Schultz announced in a pre-prepared statement.

A 12 month subscription costs $288, a rolling one will set you back $24 per month. So what do you get for your hard earned dollars?

At the moment there is – admittedly – a mouth-watering selection available to subscribers. From the Sumatran Peaberry Lake Toba (sweet fruit and cedar spice) to the Nicaraguan Cabo Azul (tangy fruit and sweet maple) through to the Brazilian Nova Resende (complex and uniquely sweet) each individual offering sounds the part.

The good thing is it will probably taste the part too – Starbucks don’t do things by halves.

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