on December 02, 2022
Driftaway Coffee is a Brooklyn-based coffee subscription service that delivers delicious, single-origin, curated coffee directly to your doorstep. While there are other coffee-delivery services out there, Driftaway really stands apart thanks to its unique attributes: it supports individual farmers and long-term sustainability, sources the best beans from a wide variety of small coffee farms, and roasts the coffee right before it is shipped for maximum freshness.
You can even choose your preferred flavor profile:
*Balanced: Typically light-medium roasts that are grown in Central American countries and have flavor notes of citrus and chocolate.
*Bold: The darkest roasts offered by Driftaway with flavor notes of chocolate, nuts, and sweet fruit.
*Classic: Smooth and savory medium roasts that often come from South America, with notes of cocoa and nuts.
*Fruity: These roasts often originate from African countries and have tasting notes of citrus, florals, honey, and vanilla.
You’ll receive the coffee in a stylish, personalized, and practical bag: it has your name and coffee information, along with a resealable interior that keeps your coffee fresh for longer. Each delivery also comes with a picturesque postcard describing the coffee, its origins, and the farmers, while allowing you to build a coffee card collection over time.
However, one of the highlights and most unique aspects of Driftaway is the virtual coffee tasting experience led by James McCarthy, who is a Coffee Expert and the 2013 World Brewer Champion, and I had the pleasure of experiencing this firsthand.
Before the tasting began, Driftaway mailed a package containing six samples of coffee, six glasses labeled with colors corresponding to the mystery coffee samples, and two placemats with flavor notes, a flavor wheel chart, and additional information on it. There was also a separate box labeled “Do not open until after tasting.”
After meeting virtually on Zoom, James led us through the tasting, teaching us unique coffee facts, smelling and tasting techniques, and eventually revealed the coffees that we sampled, going over in-depth information regarding the coffee, such as the roast, taste profile, location, and farm information.
The term used for coffee tastings and evaluations is called cupping, as James informed us. We learned more coffee terminology as the tasting went on, such as dry grounds being referred to as fragrance; and the terms used to describe the taste, such as body, acidity, sweetness, and more.
We began by pre-heating the water to around 198°F in an electric kettle and pouring the six different grounds into each of the color-labeled glass cups. We kept the flavor and tasting notes placemats nearby, along with two mugs filled with water.
The first part of the tasting was a smell test. We took each glass cup and went down the line to sniff the aroma of each set of grounds. What we eventually learned was that the aroma of the dry (or wet) grounds didn’t necessarily match the final taste. My initial impression of the dry grounds were as follows:
Yellow – earthy
Blue – nutty
Green – herbal
Red – chocolatey
Purple – smokey
After this initial test, we poured the pre-heated water into each cup and let it sit for a couple of minutes before inhaling the aroma.
During this time, James explained the concept of “blooming” to us — the layer of carbon dioxide that is released when hot water is added, which is visible as bubbles in the initial stages of brewing. Carbon dioxide has a sour taste, so allowing it to escape by allowing the grounds to bloom is beneficial to the flavor of the coffee. Additionally, water is able to extract the aromatics and oils in coffee only after carbon dioxide has escaped, so the blooming process is beneficial to the taste of coffee. (Bonus: The carbon dioxide is why coffee grounds can be so beneficial to your indoor and outdoor plants!)
Once the coffee was brewed, we did another smell test. James informed us that it was common for brewed coffee to have a completely different fragrance than when it’s dry. This time, I detected the following aromas:
Yellow – nutty
Blue – earthy, nutty, toasty
Green – sweet
Red – chocolatey, sweet
Purple – peppery, smokey
Finally, we began the blind tasting after the coffee was brewed (which was essentially done in French press style). Our first step was to take off the top foam layer with a spoon before we put another clean spoon in to take a sample and slurped the coffee quickly (the proper way to taste test coffee). This time we also had the vocabulary to accurately describe the coffee, such as acidity, body, and types of roast.
Tasting the coffee (as opposed to simply smelling the grounds) yielded entirely new notes and flavors:
Yellow – nutty, high acidity, herbal, floral
Blue – low acidity, toasty
Green – acidic, sweet
Red – medium acidic, nutty, chocolatey
Purple – smokey, nutty
All coffee from Driftaway comes from Arabica beans, which are considered the highest quality coffee beans due to the complex, smooth flavor and lack of bitterness. (Other types of beans are Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa.)
When we were discussing our favorite coffee flavor profiles, and I mentioned that in general, I tend to drink darker roasts with low acidity, and chocolatey notes, and it turned out the coffee I enjoyed the most was exactly that (Driftaway truly does have something for everyone!).
These were the coffees we tasted, and to my surprise, I was actually able to correctly guess the flavor notes of some of the coffees.
* From: Democratic Republic of Congo, South Kivu, Birambo Village
* Tasting Notes: Cherry, Grapefruit, & Toffee
* Coffee Profile: Fruity
* From: Honduras/Copan/Finca Territory
* Tasting Notes: Nutty, Brown Sugar, Milk Chocolate
* Coffee Profile: Classic profile/Medium roast
* From: Peru/Cajamarca/Gallito De La Roca
* Tasting notes: Sweet Spices, Fudge, & Black Tea
* Coffee Profile: Bold/Medium-dark roast
* From: Brazil/São Gotardo/Edson Tamekuni/Natural
* Tasting Notes: Dried Cherry, Lemon, & Roasted Almond
* Coffee Profile: Balanced/Light-medium roast
* From: DR Congo South-Kivu, Colombia Nariño Tablón De Gómez (A blend)
* Tasting Notes: Cinnamon, Dark Chocolate, & Smoked
* Coffee Profile: Extra-bold/Dark roast
Would I recommend trying a tasting from Driftaway? Absolutely! Not only is it a unique experience in which you get to discover new coffees and blends you might not have found otherwise. James is excellent at guiding you through a tasting: he’s knowledgeable and does a great job explaining coffee terms and how to identify flavor notes, even to absolute beginners.
Additionally, James creates informative and delightful videos that feature tips on making coffee, often done with tiny cups and brewing equipment. (I highly encourage everyone to check out their work at @driftawaycoffee on Instagram!)