Coffee Subscription Review: Angels’ Cup Black Box
Website User Experience7.0/10
- Fun and unique
- Great accompanying app
- Great value/fair price
- Blind coffee samples
- Great customer service
- Excellent coffee
- Great app that continues to improve
- Shipping is a little slow
- App interface could be a little easier to use
- Not recommended for espresso fanatics
- Not recommended for casual coffee drinkers
- Can't see and/or easily change shipment date
There couldn't have been a more perfect coffee subscription service for me to have started with than Angels' Cup. Today, I'm bringing you my review of Angels' Cup Black Box.
Think of Angels' Cup as a gamified, educational coffee service, where you get 4 sample coffees from different roasters across the country, as frequently as you want (well, on a weekly basis at most).
Like many products and services today, this one is linked to a mobile app that's available on iOS and Android devices and for once, isn't overkill. My point is, you will want to use the app in conjunction with the coffee Angels' Cup sends you, because it makes the whole experience that much better.
What's The Black Box?
Angels' Cup currently offers two different packages, literally. The first is “The Cupping Flight,” which is 4, 1-ounce samples from 4 different roasters.
“The Black Box” is the other option. It's basically the same as the cupping flight, but the sample sizes are 2.5 ounces instead of 1 ounce each. The Black Box is what I'm reviewing here today.
Angels' Cup positions the Black Box as the right choice for the coffee lover who loves to experiment with different coffee making apparatus and brew parameters. Since this is basically me in a nutshell, I was immediately sold on the Black Box option.
I've been using Angels' Cup for about 3 months now and finally got around to putting together a video review. The service continues to be great, with only a few shipping issues here and there:
Update 7/5/17: Angels' Cup added a Priority Shipping option about a year ago to speed up shipping times by about 2 days for about $2.50.
The Angels' Cup App
One of the best parts about Angels' Cup is the accompanying app for your smartphone or tablet. It's like a social coffee journal in digital form that will have you thinking about the coffee you drink in a completely different way.
The main purpose of the app is to “review” the coffee you drink, blindly, and compare your notes to those of the roastmaster.
The app is nearly perfect, but there were a few things I hope to see in future iterations:
1) Being able to compare your notes to the average of all other customers would be so awesome.
2) Adding sections for brewers and brew parameters.
I don't even need to ask for this second option though, because their developers are already at work on implementing this feature. Here's my review/walkthrough of the app itself:
While bells and whistles are great, it always comes back to the coffee itself. In this case, I think Angels' Cup is doing things the right way. Let me explain…
All 4 of the coffees in my Black Box had been roasted just about a week before arriving in my mailbox. Anything sooner might have been too soon, and anything later would probably be too late.
After 2 weeks, coffee is already on the decline in terms of quality, mostly because of the inevitable exposure to air.
So I'm not sure if this was a coincidence or not, but I thought Angels' Cup did well to get the coffee to me at the best possible time.
All of the coffee samples are single origins, meaning the coffee beans in each sample are coming from just one geographic region and I believe in some cases, one coffee producer.
So no, you won't be receiving any blends. But there is a good reason for this.
You see, as I mentioned earlier this is a coffee subscription service that is also about educating your palate. By simplifying the coffee to single origins you can actually learn how different growing regions impact the coffee in your cup.
In turn, you start to learn where in the world the coffee you truly enjoy comes from.
Quality, Growing Roasters
Angels' Cup works with budding coffee roasting companies to bring their great coffees more exposure. Angels' Cup takes no cut of the coffee it re-sells to its subscribers either, so roasters are basically getting their coffee additional exposure to the right market.
Angels' Cup benefits by providing its customers with great coffee. Everybody wins.
The Black Box is just over $20 (including shipping), which I think is a decent price for 11 ounces of coffee and a free coffee journal (the app).
It's not unusual to pay this price (or more) for a 12 ounce bag of coffee with shipping not included. So am I willing to pay a small premium to have fun, learn, and drink great coffee?
My First Experience
My first go-round with Angels' Cup was also my first cupping experience.
It took place on a Tuesday night in my coffee dungeon with my girlfriend as an additional participant. While Angels' Cup doesn't explicitly recommend that you sample their coffee through a cupping, I figured it would be a perfect opportunity to do so considering I had 4 different coffees on hand.
Man, we had a blast.
I ground about 18 grams of all 4 coffee samples and put them into small bowls. I unfortunately had to waste a bunch of coffee because I was priming the grinder with each new sample I added to the hopper.
For the experience though, it was worth it.
We started by sniffing all 4 of the dry, ground coffee samples and taking notes on the aroma of each. Then we added the hot water and let the coffee brew for 5 minutes. As we waited for the coffee to brew we continued to smell all 4 of the samples and jot down our notes.
After 5 minutes, we took some soup spoons and started pushing the coffee crust (ground coffee at the top of each cup) aside and continued to smell as we jotted down more notes.
Finally, we slurped obnoxiously as James Freeman suggests in the Blue Bottle Craft of Coffee. And yes, I used the home cupping guide in this book to setup our cupping.
I'm glad I did this with Vero, because comparing notes with someone else makes it a whole lot more fun. It's definitely a social experience as James suggests in his book.
In the end, we compared our notes for each stage: 1) dry aroma 2) wet aroma 3) brewed aroma 4) flavor and aftertaste.
She described the aroma of one of the coffee samples as “sweaty armpit.” I described the same coffee as wet clay. Definitely got a good laugh out of those descriptions.
Aside from this one coffee though, the other 3 were all really nice across the board. We smelled rose pedals and blueberry, tasted orange and butter. Really, the entire experience was a blast.
How to Get the Most Out of Angels' Cup
While the cupping was fun, I think it's probably best to try one coffee at time through different coffee brewers and brewing parameters.
Why? Because frankly the coffee came out much better when brewed with a good coffee maker. You also waste less coffee when taking this approach, so you get more bang for your buck by going this route.
I may do a cupping with my next shipment, but I will mostly be experimenting with single cup brew methods to get the most out of Angels' Cup. If you decide to give it a try, which you should, I recommend experimenting as much as possible and using the app to take notes every time!
If You Like a Particular Coffee…
Since a big part of Angels' Cup is discovering new coffee, you are given an easy way to buy any of the coffee you've already tried directly through the Angels' Cup website. Again, there are no markups so there is really nothing to lose, aside from the cost of shipping.
Angels' Cup Allstars
As of November 2015, Angels' Cup has a new subscription option called “All Stars” that sends you a 12 oz bag of the highest rated coffees (as voted by users). Currently, it's the same price as the Black Box. The benefit is that you get an extra ounce of coffee for the same price, and it's delivered directly from the roaster for optimum freshness (usually 3 days off-roast)
Tried Angels' Cup? Questions? Comments?
I'd love to hear about your experience with Angels' Cup. I'd also love to know what your questions are, so please leave a question or comment below if this is the case.
If you don't want to sign up for a subscription just yet, you can also try out one delivery of the Black Box on Amazon. Hey, if this were an option when I was first starting out it's probably what I would have done.