There has been an ongoing trend of subscription-based luxury and specialty items for every connoisseur, ranging from beer and cheese, to razor blades and condoms. Having coffee delivered to your door isn't new either, but Regular Coffee provides a roasted whole bean that is guaranteed to not have sat on a storage shelf for weeks -- in fact, it's sealed and shipped directly from the roaster.
"We want really good regular coffee for regular people and we're breaking down those barriers to exceptional coffee," states Kurt Stauffer, co-owner of Regular Coffee.
Stauffer isn't new to the coffee world; he opened ROWSTER New American Coffee
in 2010. Although Regular Coffee shares the same address and is roasted at ROWSTER, it's run separately and operated in off-hours. Whereas ROWSTER markets high quality coffee, Regular Coffee bridges the gap between aficionado and the regular coffee-drinker.
The seed for Regular Coffee is two-fold. Four years ago, Stauffer was purchasing coffee, working with Michigan State University to help rebuild the coffee processing infrastructure of Burundi. Stauffer explains, "I felt it was important to tell their story. I was into labels and wanted to label who farmed it and from where in Burundi. They had suffered horrible tragedy. Genocide. No one really marketed or labeled (coffee) like that."
"But it got to a point where every elitist coffee was labeled this coffee was picked from this special bush in the shade of this particular mountain by this crystal stream using these traditional methods
," laughs Stauffer. He adds, "We believe the bulk of the coffee consumers do not dwell in that stratosphere, and do not want to be bothered with information overload."
It was while joking about the over-promoting of coffee that Stuaffer and ROWSTER VP Stephen Curtis shared a desire for a normal, unpretentious coffee that could broaden their customer base. "People don't come and buy our coffee because they are in a hurry, they don't want to come into this business where they don't know us, aren't an insider," adds employee Adam Foster. "They go to the grocery store. They push their cart, and all they have to do is knock a tin of coffee into their cart."
Curtis explains, "Grocery stores are the antithesis to quality coffee. Grocers are focused on shelf space and low cost. They want bulk that might sit for a year and it's labeled fresh
. While thinking up how to bring great coffee to the people, we stumbled onto an online subscription format. What if we took the grocers out of the equation and maintain freshness?"
Lacking the necessary funding, Stauffer entered a submission for Regular Coffee into Start Garden
, Grand Rapids' venture capital fund for investing in local business opportunities. Regular Coffee won popular appeal and was granted $5,000 in May 2012.
"It was like renting a board of directors that forced us to focus on our business model. We had to report back after 90 days and that drove us to get our ducks in a row," Stauffer says.
Following their success with Start Garden, Regular Coffee turned to the public for investment again with Kickstarter
. Pledge levels included 6- and 12-month subscriptions for backers; the $10,000 goal was breached by $401 and helped cement Regular Coffee's future.
Having just kicked off a large marketing campaign, Stauffer is hoping to attract 500 subscribers by July. As of now, there are over 160 subscribers since service began last December. In the long term, Regular Coffee looks to hook 10,000 in three to five years and, with the steam that is generating, possibly put Grand Rapids on the coffee map.
Currently, Regular Coffee is Huehuetenango whole bean from real mom and pop farmers of Western Guatemala. Due to the small scale of the community Regular Coffee sources, the coffee is not certified as organic or Fair Trade. Such labels and regulations place an unnecessary costly layer to maintain in this case. "Oh, hey, where's the stickers? We can't give out coffee without stickers," jokes Stauffer. He adds, "This is more farmers market quality. Whether its organic or Fair Trade, this is beyond that certification."
A freshly brewed cup of Regular Coffee is chocolate-y with a dried, fruity sweetness and a touch of acidity, but not much; it caters to the predetermined expectation of what can be considered a normal tasting cup of joe. A single, one-month supply is a 1.5lbs tube and costs $20, which includes tax and shipping. It is sized to supply one person with 2.5 cups of coffee per day, which is the average amount consumed by Americans. When this particular Huehuetenango crop is exhausted, Regular Coffee will source another bean and let subscribers know in advance.
to subscribe for as many months of Regular Coffee as you desire.
DISCLAIMER: This article was written over two cups of Regular Coffee.
Matt Simpson Siegel is a Michigan-based writer whose work has appeared in print, film, radio, and television. He is also a coffee addict.