Updated 4/1/13 (See below)
I heard about Tonx Coffee on John Gruber's "Talk Show" podcast and decided to give it a try. Every couple of weeks the company roasts a variety and mails it out in vacuum-sealed bags to customers from an address somewhere in Los Angeles.
Now, some people will tell you that it is important to have the freshest roast possible for a good coffee. But other people will tell you that's just marketing, that the beans will keep for quite a while once they are roasted. Tonx's pitch is that you are getting a roast as least as fresh as you would get at a local high-end coffee shop. For that luxury, and the convenience of delivery, you will pay a premium. But I am always interested in giving a new idea a whirl, especially if it involves coffee.
I started with the 6-ounce shipment -- a "half-sack" -- every other week, basically two shipments per month, costing $24 every 28 days. I had to wait for the next roast. The stuff came nicely packaged, with a cute seal on the box.
The beans were roasted on Dec. 16, shipped on Dec. 17 and arrived on Dec. 19. Now, six ounces is not a lot of beans, for me. With my normal consumption of a few espressos or one long cup each morning, I finished these up on Christmas morning. So I have increased my subscription to the 12-ounce bag every other week, for $38 every 28 days. That seems a bit pricey, so I'm not sure how long I will continue with it. It's not like New York is lacking for fine roasted coffee.
The shipment came with a little card that explains a bit about the origin of the beans, as well as a somewhat amusing holiday greeting from the company that touched on the prophesied Mayan apocalypse, among other things.
The beans were identified as subscription coffee #34, Los Eucaliptos, grown in Huila, Colombia. by Edier Cuellar Gutierrez, his wife, Notalba Noriega, and their two children. Their farm has 12,000 coffee trees. Varieties include Caturra, Colombia and, more recently, Castillo variety, in an effort to fend off any threat of coffee leaf rust. The tasting notes predicted a sweet, balanced cup, "with a lot of depth... Look forward to flavors of green apple, molasses and vanilla."
I don't know about the green apple. I'm never good at picking out that sort of thing, but it was a gentle coffee, taken black, and I definitely noted the sweet molasses and maybe a hint of the rest. It was definitely as good as many of the quality coffees available closer to home in New York City. I don't know how much of that has to do with the fresh roasting, since most of the coffees I buy locally are roasted in Brooklyn or Manhattan within a similar timetable (typically Cafe Grumpy, Intelligentsia, Blue Bottle, or Stumptown, all excellent). I'll give this a few more shipments before deciding what to do with my subscription.
Update, March 2013: I've continued to use Tonx to supplement my local coffee buying. It's convenient, and the coffee is pretty good. Is it amazing coffee, a life-changing experience, as some reviewers online have said? Well, no. Some beans have been better than others, and while the roasts are certainly fresh, it's a matter of taste. I am also trying to weigh how "green" this is. Yes, everything entails shipping costs, and packaging, but it does feel mildly decadent to have someone mail you coffee when you can quite easily walk down the block to a good local shop. So, there's that. Let me know your thoughts on Twitter.
Update April 1, 2013: This is probably my last update to this post. I ended my subscription, though that is no reflection on the coffee or the service, which remained spectacular. I am trying to save up for some vacation travel and could not longer justify paying $38 a month for the pound of coffee to be shipped to me, when there are some great (also expensive, but slightly less so) coffee options in New York City. I might feel differently if I lived in another town or out in the suburbs. This is no reflection on the quality of the coffee, which is consistently great, and I would not be surprised if I return as a subscriber to this service down the road.