You know the horrible moment: You wake up, rub the sleep out of your eyes, stumble toward the kitchen… and realize you’re out of coffee.
Sure, you could go buy some more, but who wants to shop for coffee before they’ve had their coffee?
One way to avoid this unfortunate fate? An in-home coffee subscription. SK Coffee, a new micro-roaster operating out of the Salty Tart’s space in Minneapolis’ Whittier neighborhood, is at the forefront of this business model in the Twin Cities. They’re doing for coffee what Dollar Shave Club does for blades or Birchbox does for sample-size beauty products. You sign up, elect to get a delivery every week, two weeks, or four weeks, and they bring the coffee to you.
“The approach that I was taking early on was essentially trying to make specialty coffee accessible,” says Sam Kjellberg, the company’s namesake.
Trained as a professional musician, Kjellberg laid the foundation for SK Coffee while he was living in Boston. His roasting obsession started at home on his stove with only a Jiffy Pop popcorn roaster; he’d roast five pounds at a time and share the bounty with friends. In February 2016, he got serious, and purchased a 500-pound roasting machine from Hong Kong.
The following year, Kjellberg met Nate Broadbridge, a Wisconsin native who moved to Minnesota a decade ago and eventually started a small-business consulting company. Kjellberg was one of his first clients—and the two clicked. It became clear they should launch the micro-roasting business together.
They launched SK Coffee as an e-commerce coffee subscription service, a strategy that allowed them to build a mobile customer base while Kjellberg made plans to move back to Minnesota, where he grew up. This August, Kjellberg finally rolled a 15-foot U-haul into town, his roaster and 600 pounds of coffee in tow.
SK Coffee’s beans originate from small-scale farmers in African and Central American countries. The flavors are complex and influenced by the soil content, elevation, climate, and night temperatures (among other factors) of the bean’s country of origin. A Peruvian blend from Cusco boasts notes of snickerdoodle and buttered croissant while a Guatemalan blend from Antigua has hints of raspberry dark chocolate. Because SK Coffee’s offerings come in small batches, subscribers know they’re getting a unique, limited-edition brew. “Our subscription service is what the company was built on, and a key tenet of that service was variety,” Kjellberg says.
If subscribers want something different, all they have to do is email the founders with recommendations and preferences. “It’s become a pretty interactive community, one that we don’t see replicated too often,” Broadbridge says.
SK Coffee prides itself on the educational side of the business; the founders like their customers to know about the java they’re drinking. For example, just because one blend of coffee comes from Guatemala doesn’t mean it will taste the same as another blend from that same country. A sun-dried bean results in low, smooth flavor notes, but a natural, in-cherry process will imbue the coffee with bright and high flavor notes.
The company is still in its infancy, with about 100 subscribers at this writing. The duo also makes the rounds at local farmers markets. You’ll recognize the brand immediately by its colorful, geometric Dala horse logo, a nod to Kjellberg’s Swedish ancestry. “We wanted people to feel that it lived outside of coffee, that it spoke on something more universal than just the product that we produced,” he says. Using his initials for the name “suggests intimacy behind the brand.”
SK Coffee’s founders, who are both under 30, have ambitious plans: to quadruple their subscription service in the next year, become a staple brand at more cafes, and engage in events, like pop-ups at offices. Eventually, they hope to be in half of the homes in the Twin Cities.
Lofty goals indeed. But first, coffee.