What's the best upgrade you could ever get for your coffee machine? Whether you prefer filter, pour over or espresso, the answer is obvious: better coffee beans. Or, perhaps, Beanz. Beanz.com is a new subscription coffee service, and it's nothing to do with Heinz and its tinned larder staple. It's coffee beans, brought to you by the coffee nuts at Sage. There have been coffee subscription services before, but this one draws upon the expertise – and beans – of some of the world's best small-batch coffee roasters. It's giving you access to the type of beans you'll find at the very best, most distressed-wood-filled, man-bunned, artisan coffee shops in the UK and America. This is coffee by coffee lovers, for anyone who wants better coffee.
Sage makes some of the best coffee machines you can buy, from the 1,000,000-selling Barista range to the extremely premium Oracle Touch. However, you could spend £1 million – Sage doesn't make any machines that cost £1 million, just to be clear – and buy the most idiot-proof coffee maker in the world and still get rubbish coffee out of it if the beans you're using are no good. Hence, Beanz.com by Sage.
I went to the launch, and boy did I learn a lot about coffee beans. I would say I needed a coffee after that, but I actually had several during. I came away buzzing, and cycled back to the office ever so fast.
First things first: no you don't need to own a Sage coffee machine to sign up for Beanz.com. Sage – known as Breville in the rest of the world, for reasons too confusing to go into here – has magnanimously allowed anyone to buy their prime-quality beans.
While real coffee experts may already know what they prefer like the back of their vintage Japanese denim selvedge jeans, a lot of Beanz.com customers will be like me. In other words, they'll have only the vaguest idea of what they want, but be willing to experiment. So while the option of shopping the entire range is always available, for the less knowledgable and/or decisive, there is Barista's Choice.
With Barista's Choice, the Beanz.com website acts rather like a coffee sommelier, cutting down the huge range on offer to the beans you are most likely to enjoy. It does this simply by enquiring as to whether sir/madam prefers coffee with notes that are fruity, chocolatey or caramel-ish and whether you use an espresso or drip/filter coffee machine.
You can choose to receive from two to five bags, every one to four weeks, with the option of whole beans, to grind yourself, or pre-ground beans done specifically for your choice of a drip machine – Chemex, Aeropress, French press or pour over coffee maker. So in summary: there is a lot of choice. Oh and you can opt for decaff as well, if you like.
What you get each time you receive your subscription will vary, although you can also opt to stick to a bean that you turn out to particularly love. You can also take a questionnaire that asks the same questions as the one for Barista's Choice but adds the most important query for a lot of coffee drinkers: black or white? It then picks what it thinks is the ideal bean for you from the current range.
The idea is that between you and the Beanz.com algorithm, you'll open up your understanding of coffee and never need to go to a coffee shop ever again to get the very finest beverage, tailored to you. Sage/Breville also offers a huge range of online video tutorials to get the best out of each of its large range of different machines. before you know it, you'll be living in a world of tasting notes and exotic blends from all around the world, learning the characteristics of each.
So is Beanz.com coffee any good? Hell yeah. I am not a trained coffee taster so I unfortunately have to drink entire cups of it rather than rinsing a teaspoonful around my mouth, ejecting it into a spittoon and announcing, 'notes of blueberry cheesecake'. So it's going to take me a long time to work my way through what Beanz.com has to offer, probably becoming increasingly agitated and hyper along the way. What I've had so far has all been superb, however.
The website provides helpful tasting notes for every bean as well as info on where it's from. Of course, describing the flavour of coffee can be highly subjective, but Beanz.com makes a pretty good fist of letting you know what it's likely to taste of, and how well it'll work with milk.
As far as I can see, individual, 250g bags of coffee cost from £8 to £11.50 at Beanz.com. I say 'as far as I can see' because the list of what's available seems to scroll on to infinity. However, if you opt for Barista's Choice, whatever you get sent costs a flat £8 per bag, keeping things simple.
If you get at least two bags per delivery – two is the minimum available via Barista's Choice – shipping is free. At the moment you can get 25% off all subscriptions for the first 3 months with the code BETTERBREW at checkout.
In the USA, where Beanz.com launched late last year, pricing is from $16 to $21.50 and it's $16 per bag for Barista's Choice. I dare say at some point the service will come to Breville's native Australia and elsewhere but for the time being, it's America and the UK only.
Is £8 per 250g bag expensive? Compared to supermarket coffee beans, yes. Compared to drinking in the kind of upmarket coffee shops where you'd normally find beans of this freshness, quality and diversity, no. If you've splashed out on a coffee machine from Sage or any other brand, Beanz.com could be the missing part of the puzzle that means you get the quality coffee you wanted when you researched and bought your machine.