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Coffee Flights Take Off

Most days, I drink my coffee hunched over the kitchen table, silent and with a scowl. I don’t evaluate the color clarity, aroma, flavors or finish, I’m just trying to wake up and face the day.

And that’s a shame.

There’s as much to analyze and discuss with coffee as there is with wine. Terroir, roasting and brewing methods all affect what ends up in your mug, which can be bright or bitter, fruity or toasty.

It stands to reason that people who like to drink wine and taste through its nuances might like to do the same with coffee. The good news is that you can—and without becoming an over-caffeinated wreck in the process. The method may seem familiar to wine lovers: Try a flight.

You don’t even have to leave your house to enjoy a coffee flight. If you’d rather stay in your pajamas, Angels’ Cup is a good bet. This coffee subscription service will send you four bags labeled only with a number, either in light roast or medium roast, so you can brew your own flight. It also includes offerings from top-shelf roasters like La Colombe and Gorilla, as well as those of some smaller, boutique producers.

“Throughout the year, we’ll also occasionally do some special flights,” says Jeffrey Borack, co-founder and CEO of Angels’ Cup. “For example, we did a Colombia Bourbon [coffee variety] box, where we showcased a Yellow Bourbon, Red Bourbon, and then two Pink Bourbons, which is a hybrid of red and yellow.”

A example of Angels' Cup and their blind tasting kit
A example of Angels’ Cup and their blind coffee tasting kit / Photo courtesy Angels’ Cup

Borack says that while good coffee is important, he also looks to create flights that will teach the drinkers something.

“We want to give our subscribers a chance to accurately identify the origin and processing of each coffee, which is not an easy task,” he says.

If you prefer more guidance, Qualia Coffee, located in Washington, DC, has you covered. You can choose a sampling of the roaster’s beans, and their professionals will brew you three 4-ounce pours. It allows you to try an heirloom bean variety from Ethiopia alongside a fruity brew from Papua New Guinea.

Global exploration at Qualia Coffee, Washington, DC
Global exploration at Qualia Coffee, Washington, DC / Photo courtesy Qualia Coffee

At Fare and Folk in Brooklyn, New York, owner Annette Bruno also does flights of different beans, but she goes a step further. Her company will pair each bean with a different brewing method like drip, Aeropress or pour-over.

“I’m teaching people about which steeping methods work well with which beans, really letting you know what your options are when you go to a coffee shop,” she says.

If you need a little nibble to soak up all that caffeine, Bruno is happy to oblige. A pastry chef, she’ll help you pair the perfect confection with your cup.

The use of flights to sample different preparation methods is also a popular idea. At G&B Coffee and Go Get ‘Em Tiger coffee shops in Los Angeles, ordering their Full Nelson option provides customers a taste of espresso, macchiato and cappuccino, plus a fourth drink of your choosing. This flight teaches more about the effect of different levels of milk and foam than it does the beans themselves, but will hopefully help the next time you stare down a coffee menu.

Whatever route you go, be prepared for your morning cup to look a little different.

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