Man holding a coffee cupHooked on espresso? The CUPS app might be just your cup of tea ... or coffee. (Photo: Kzenon/Shutterstock)

App helps support independent coffee shops in NYC and Israel

Users can drink all the coffee they want with unlimited subscription plans starting at $45 a month.

An unusual upstart in Manhattan’s crowded retail coffee marketplace is determined to help small businesses compete with Starbucks by changing the way Americans buy their coffee.

The new CUPS mobile app offers customers a monthly subscription to dozens of independent coffee shops participating in its network. The app branched out of the emergent coffee chain of the same name, with stores in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

“It’s a similar service,” CUPS co-founder Gilad Rotem told BusinessWeek, comparing the app to Starbucks’ mobile payment system. “We’re offering a mobile app, prepaid plan, but it’s for independent, higher-quality coffee.”

For $45 per month, a New York user receives the equivalent of 22 cups of filtered coffee or tea. And an $85 commitment gets unlimited espresso throughout the month, though some limitations apply. The company even offers a plan for consumers less fond of coffee, with packages for five, 10 or 20 beverages per month. They make money by reimbursing the retailers a discounted price for the coffee.

Coffee lovers in search of a more epicurean taste may download the app from the Apple or Google Play stores. A list of independent coffee shops participating in the network will appear, along with menu items available for purchase by smartphone.

Screengrab of Cups appThe new app can help you find participating coffee shops nearby. (Photo courtesy CUPS)

With the launch of a beta app in April, CUPS hoped to move beyond present business partners – which include Madman Espresso, The Bean, Pushcart Coffee, Bleecker Kitchen & Co. and Wild – and into some 200 locations throughout Manhattan, the city’s most densely populated borough. “It’s not a number we pulled out of a hat,” Rotem said. “It happens to be [about] the number of Starbucks that are in Manhattan.”

Moreover, global market firm IBISWorld projects 5.6 percent growth for the coffee retail industry during the next five years, as innovators such as CUPS take advantage of a growing thirst for a variety of new offerings, from the low-end to the premium.

According to those who’ve gotten a taste of the new service, CUPS represents an innovation in the selling of retail coffee at the epicenter of the world’s largest market. “We see CUPS as a new kind of coffee shop chain,” Rotem told Slate over a cup of coffee. “We’re uniting independent coffee shops together and giving them economics of scale and tools that they cannot get by themselves, but keeping their independent atmosphere. It’s a chain of independence.”

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