Like most fine folks here at Roasty Coffee, I consider myself a coffee connoisseur.
Well, okay. Connoisseur might be a strong word. But, I love coffee and am always eager to learn about all things coffee-related. So, when the opportunity to participate in a virtual tasting with Driftaway Coffee presented itself, I jumped at it.
What happens during a virtual tasting session, you ask? Great question; I’m happy to fill you in. But first:
Who is Driftaway Coffee?
Driftaway Coffee was born from Anu Menon and Suyog Moody’s shared passion for creating and the desire to brew the best cup of coffee possible every morning. In 2012, the couple was re-watching Steve Jobs’ Stanford commencement speech and resonated with his words; they wanted to do work that mattered and be proud of what they did. That was the first spark of inspiration for Driftaway.
The two spent the next few months immersing themselves in inspirational stories of those who had paved their path to doing work they loved, and at some point during the year, Moody read God in a Cup by Michaele Weissman. Then, the pair became deeply interested in purchasing and brewing freshly roasted coffee beans. Upon realizing how difficult it was to find those fresh beans, Menon and Moody decided to start a coffee subscription service that would deliver fresh coffee to serious java drinkers much like themselves.
Thus, the Driftaway Coffee subscription service was born.
Driftaway isn’t the only coffee subscription out there (Atlas Coffee Club is another one we’re pretty big fans of, FYI), nor is it the only company to offer virtual coffee tasting services. However, Driftaway did host the virtual event I attended, so I thought it would be a good idea to introduce you, Roasty reader, to the company.
To learn more about the Driftaway Coffee experience, check out our full review here.
How Virtual Coffee Tasting Sessions Work
Step One: Grind and sort the bean samples
Driftaway’s virtual tasting kit arrived at my doorstep with five different bags of coffee for me to try. The bags didn’t have any identifying information on them — no origin, no tasting notes, no farm names, nothing! — so it was all a mystery.
If you ordered whole bean coffee as I did, this is the part where you grind it (preferably with a burr coffee grinder because those are more precise) and put the 12 grams of coffee grounds into five different cups. I color-coded the cups so I could tell the grounds apart easily.
Then, I pulled out the virtual tasting forms and flavor wheel I printed from Driftaway’s website.
Step Two: The Sniff Test
Coffee doesn’t touch your taste buds during the first step of the tasting. This part is all about smell.
This step was extra fascinating because I didn’t know there was a right and wrong way to smell coffee (in case you were wondering: big inhales are bad, little sniffs like a dog are good). I also realized that fragrance and aroma aren’t interchangeable when it comes to coffee; fragrance refers to how dry grounds smell, while aroma describes wet java.
After sniffing the unlabeled coffees (again, little sniffs, not big inhales), I wrote down some of the things I smelled in the joe. I could’ve sworn one of them smelled like blackberries!
Step Three: Brew each batch of coffee
Then, it was time for the fun part: brewing the coffee and trying to identify all the unique coffee flavors! I won’t lie to you: I guessed blindly when I tried to pinpoint farm locations. I’d love to tell you my intuition kicked in, and all my guesses were correct, but that’s not the case — I, unfortunately, didn’t get any of the coffee origins right.
However, I got a lot of information about the coffee’s flavor notes, body, and aftertaste right, so I was pretty proud of myself.
Just as I did after smelling the coffee, I filled out the information sheet, writing down the things I noticed in terms of flavor, body, acidity, and aftertaste. Fortunately, the included flavor wheel was there to help me come up with accurate ways to describe what I was tasting.
Step Four: Time for a coffee lesson!
At that point, I had filled out my tasting form to the best of my ability, and it was time to see how I did. I learned about each of the coffees I tried and where they came from, plus I discovered a lot about where I went right (and wrong) with my guesses about the way they smelled and their taste profiles.
Here’s a fun fact I learned and will pass along to you: coffee farmers don’t grow crops in Italy or France! I assumed the French or Italian roasts I’ve been drinking for years got their names from where they came from, but nope. Those names refer to roast levels. Coffee producers usually cultivate their crops in areas between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, in a region known as “The Bean Belt,” as this area has the ideal climate for growing beautiful green coffee beans.
Not only did my catalog of coffee knowledge grow during this time, but I also learned quite a bit of information about the farmers from which Driftaway sources its beans. It was encouraging to see that Driftaway seems to have genuine relationships with the farmers.
All in all, it was a delightful coffee class, and at the end of the tasting, you have a bag of each of the five kinds of coffee you sampled, plus coffee info postcards with pictures of the farmers that grew the joe and detailed origin notes — pretty cool, huh?
Virtual Coffee Tasting FAQs
Now, to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about virtual coffee tasting classes. But remember, Driftaway hosted the only one I’ve participated in, so I can’t speak for other coffee companies. That said, some of this information may vary depending on from where your coffee tasting kit came.
What’s in the virtual tasting kit?
If you, like me, get a coffee tasting kit from Driftaway (these are called Explorer boxes, FYI), you’ll receive:
- Five Driftaway coffee bags
- A sealed envelope filled with coffee information (it’s tempting, I know, but you can’t peek at this until you’ve finished sampling each batch of joe!)
- A pouch of ground coffee labeled “Sample Grind Size”* for you to calibrate your grinder with
- A link to the Zoom coffee tasting led by 2013 World Brewer’s Champion James McCarthy
Generally, other coffee companies send out similar items: samples of the types of coffee they sell, a flavor wheel and cupping instructions, and access to the online class.
*The grind sample isn’t included if you choose the pre-ground Explorer box.
Is a virtual coffee tasting right for me?
Ultimately, only you can answer that question for yourself. But there are a couple of questions you should use to guide you as you figure that out:
- Are you genuinely interested in learning more about different types of coffee, coffee industry practices, and brewing methods?
- Are you always eager to try new specialty coffee samples?
The chances are, if you answered yes to one or both, you’d have a good time at a virtual coffee tasting.
Are there other people in your social circle who would say yes, too? Then, make it a group activity! A virtual coffee tasting makes a fantastic bonding event for teams, friends, or families that share a love of delicious-tasting cups of coffee.
What other companies offer virtual coffee tastings?
Driftaway isn’t your only shot at experiencing a virtual coffee tasting. A few other brands that offer this service include:
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it does give you a few good places to start as you’re researching.
Many of these companies, Driftaway included, also offer private tastings and classes geared specifically for corporate events. So, if you’re looking for a gift for the resident coffee expert of your friend group or hoping to spur some team bonding at work, you shouldn’t hesitate to see what’s out there.
The Verdict: Are virtual tastings a worthwhile experience?
You might think you need some prior professional experience to get anything out of a virtual coffee tasting. However, the truth is, anyone with a passion for coffee education, whether you’re a longtime coffee lover or brand-new to the world of joe, will enjoy this experience.
If you’re a coffee drinker curious about the contents of your cup and want to learn more about the beans’ life before they make their way to your coffee maker, I highly recommend getting in on the virtual tasting fun.