An Israeli smartphone app offers unlimited joe for a low price.
A new Israeli smartphone app might have the power to revolutionize the way New Yorkers drink coffee.
Cups, created by a group of five Tel Aviv-based friends, is a subscription service that allows users to drink an unlimited amount of coffee all over the city for one flat price.
Subscribers can opt for the “American Classic” monthly plan, which at $45 includes regular drip and pour-over coffee as well as tea, or the “Foreign Flair” option, which tacks espresso-based drinks and iced coffee onto the deal for an additional $40. When Cups users are out and about in the city, they can use their phone to pull up a map of the 50 independent and small-chain coffee shops that currently accept the app; they then go the shop, select their drink from Cups’ menu, display a code for the cashier to enter, and voila: unlimited coffee (Cups users must wait 30 minutes in between drink purchases).
Cups was unveiled in New York just last month, but it began in Tel Aviv in 2012, when over a casual living-room conversation, founders Alon Ezer, Gilad Rotem, Ron Givoly, Ro-E Shani and Michael DeRazon came up with the idea. They felt pretty sure it was a good one, but nonetheless kept their day jobs as they began working with eight local coffee shops.
“Three or four months later, we could see that it was growing fast,” Rotem said. “That’s when we all quit our jobs.”
But even after expanding to include more than 40 Tel Aviv coffee shops, Cups’ founders started feeling the itch to bring its product to a dyed-in-the-wool coffee-loving town: New York City.
“While Tel Aviv is great, it’s too small for us,” Rotem said.
Rotem relocated here in October and began scoping out the coffee scene to determine whether New Yorkers’ java habits differed from Israelis’. A major difference he noted immediately? Brewed coffee is king here. In Israel, Rotem explained, 80 percent of Cups customers drink small cappuccinos; here in New York, people like espresso drinks, but they often order plain old drip coffee,
“We don’t have brewed coffee in Israel,” he said. “At home, we drink instant coffee, and when we go out, we get espresso drinks.”
Back in Israel, there is only one Cups subscription plan, but the company had to add the higher-priced version for its New York app to accommodate this difference in caffeine habits.
It’s no coincidence that Cups is only accepted at small coffee shops: the company sees itself as a direct challenge to the omnipotent presence of Starbucks and New York’s second-most popular coffee chain, Dunkin’ Donuts.
“We partner with shops that we feel we can give value to,” Rotem said. “We see Starbucks as competition.”
Starbucks hasn’t succeeded because of the quality of its product, he said: it’s succeeded because it’s everywhere. But with small coffee shops united through the Cups app, they can attain the same level of proximity and convenience as the big green giant: users will know that, eventually, no matter where they go in the city, they’ll be able to get a great cup of coffee.
“Our goal for Manhattan is to reach over 200 locations,” Rotem said. “And that number isn’t arbitrary: it just happens to be the number of Starbucks locations in Manhattan.”
There’s no question that at $45 Cups’ basic plan is a steal for coffee drinkers: at an average price of $2 per cup, and with most caffeine addicts drinking at least a cup a day, that represents a savings of at least $15. But Rotem said there’s a major incentive for the app’s coffee shops, too: more customers, and therefore more money.
“Our stores are already seeing new foot traffic, people who previously went to Starbucks or another chain,” he said. “We see the app as convenient, and whole, solution.”
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