- Insider tested subscriptions in London from Pact, Grind, and Kiss the Hippo coffee brands.
- The market is growing fast. Grind’s director said about 75% of its subscribers joined this year.
- Each brand Insider tried was refreshingly distinct – because of its marketing, as well as its taste.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
During lockdown last year, Martin Gausby, a Danish developer living in London, subscribed to a coffee delivery service and discovered that the bean’s arrival became a weekly highlight.
“I get my coffee from Square Mile Coffee, a company founded by James Hoffman right here in London,” Gausby said a few days ago. “He has a YouTube channel about all sorts of coffee-related stuff, and I enjoy that, so I like supporting him by having a subscription to his coffee.”
Two days, three boxes of coffee
The first two packages – Kiss the Hippo and Grind – arrived three days after the orders were placed. The Pact delivery came the following afternoon.
The boxes from Pact and Kiss the Hippo were slim enough to fit through the mail slot. The first delivery of Grind came with a tin, so it was a bit thicker but the company said the following packages are letterbox-friendly.
Many friendly emails arrived over the next few days. Each company wanted feedback on the coffee.
Of the three companies, Kiss the Hippo sent the most emails. “Look out for the postman,” said a subject line when the coffee shipped. The following day, before the coffee arrived, another email said, “Do You Have Everything You Need?” with a range of coffee-brewing products for sale. When the coffee arrived the following day, an email said, “Something Big is Here!”
In the month following our order, more than a dozen of Kiss the Hippo’s chatty emails arrived, compared to a few each from the other brands. Insider has reached out to the company for comment.
Pact promises ‘rare’ coffees
Each of the three roasters had similar ordering routines. Their websites were flowchart-like, with each answer leading to another. Pact’s had the most questions.
Pact first asked for a choice between regular or decaf. Then asked how the coffee would be brewed – Aeropress, Chemex, espresso machine, etc. After choosing the Hario V60, a pour-over, the site asked whether the order would be wholebean or medium grind. Wholebean for us.
And the final step was choosing your coffee from three options for 250-gram bags. A £6.95 House blend, a £7.95 Select roast, or a £9.95 Micro-lot, which was said to be, “Rare, high-scoring coffees.”
Our La Pederogosa “Micro-lot” beans were grown in Colombia by Mauricio Vega. The packaging said they were roasted on the day of the order, and packaged the followed day in London by Emily, whose last name wasn’t given.
Last year, Pact Coffee CEO Paul Turton told Insider that its subscriber list was growing quickly amid the UK lockdowns. Many of those subscribers have stuck around, he said a few days ago.
“The ‘covid cohort’ as we call it – or those who joined us after March 2020 have stayed loyal to us despite restrictions easing, especially now everyone has had the chance to fully experience Pact’s proposition over a pretty long period,” he said via email.
Grind is Instagram-friendly
Shoreditch-based Grind had the most eye-catching packaging, and the highest follower count on Instagram. The brand got its start in 2011, making it the oldest of the three.
“We’d been quietly working on our coffee-at-home project for about a year when the pandemic forced us to close all of our cafés,” Ted Robinson, Grind’s director, said a few weeks ago.
Between February and May last year, orders grew by a multiple of 30, he said. Growth has continued, with more than 75% of the company’s subscribers joining in 2021.
Grind didn’t say where the coffee had been grown or roasted, but said it was “shipped climate neutral.”
“We’ve offset the carbon emissions of all our deliveries for almost a year, protecting over 40,000 trees in the Jari Pará Forest Conservation Project in the Amazon,” the company said on a little card slipped into the box.
Robinson said the company has “helped over 100,000 people make better, more sustainable coffee at home” during the pandemic. Many of those buyers, he said, have stuck around even as the city reopens.
Kiss the Hippo promotes its farmers
Like Pact, Kiss the Hippo used its packaging to promote the small farms on which the beans were grown.
Our slim bag with a little red hippo logo was full of coffee from El Salvador. A label on the back said the Red Pacamara beans had been grown by The Diaz Family.
The family – Jose Efrin, Jose William, Arnulfo, and Santos – works on a few farms that “sit close together where they pool resources and elevate each other through a collective family bond.”
The coffee itself came with tasting notes: acidity at 4/5 and body at 3/5. It was pitched as having notes of “elderflower, apricot, lemon.” Our single-origin whole-bean option cost £12 per delivery.
Three fresh brews, all very good
Each of the brands had their own distinct flavors. Kiss the Hippo had a lemon zest, light and airy, as its tasting notes said. Grind was richer and darker. Pact was somewhere in the middle, balanced and a little earthy. The beans seemed fresher than what those from high-end grocery store in London, in part because they were roasted within the last few days. All were very good.
What stuck out in the end was not the beans, but the marketing – especially the way that Pact and Kiss the Hippo both promoted the local farmers. The messaging from all three leaned heavily into domestic, eco-friendly, and agrarian messaging, even if the farms that grew the beans were on another continent.
“Most of these small farms have been in the family for generations and we’re lucky enough to share their amazing coffee with the Pact community,” said Pact’s Turton.
Did knowing that the Diaz family grew our Kiss the Hippo beans in El Salvador make the coffee taste better? No, probably not. Did it give us something interesting to think about as we took our first sip of coffee? Yes, it honestly did.
The coffee that Gausby, the Danish developer, gets delivered from Square Mile has also been fresher than what he was used to at the grocery store, he said.
“I will move home to Denmark at the end of next month,” he said, “but I will strongly consider setting up a subscription with a local roastery.”
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