Be a coffee pro at home: Vertical tastings

We’re excited to present the first guest post on Chicago Coffee Scene. For the home enthusiasts out there, vertical tastings are a great way to learn about your taste preferences without wasting coffee. Samantha Joyce is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear, a site that retails coffee equipment, including home espresso machines.


This year I attended my first coffee cupping event in Seattle. It was conducted by Dana Foster, the Green Bean Buyer for Zoka Coffee, and Celeste Clark, their Head Roaster. Dana has participated in the Cup of Excellence and she offered a thorough explanation of the protocol and evaluation method. I learned enviable cocktail party terminology like “mouth feel” and “ortho-nasal perception.” However, Miss Manners would heartily disapprove of the utter disregard for etiquette.



At the cupping, everyone is offered a soup spoon and asked to try each cup. You hold the spoon parallel to your lips so you slurp with the loudest noise possible. This ensures the coffee hits your taste receptors at the same time to better evaluate the coffee, instead of front to back. It is a different kind of etiquette altogether! Afterward, some people spit while others swallow that coffee. Jeff Babcock, owner of Zoka Coffee and a judge for the Cup of Excellence, said that during the event week, they cup coffees for 8 hours a day. I would definitely spit in that case.



Now imagine three identical cups, which is the protocol, and then multiply that by ten. On a weekly basis, roasters use this method for quality assurance, so three cups can quickly turn into thirty cups at once or however many roasts are ready for evaluation. You can try this at home, but 10 bags of amazing, fresh-roasted, whole bean coffee times $15 is an investment in education rather than recreation. This is also not the best prep for the coffee, as it is for comparison purposes.


For a social gathering at home, I recommend a vertical tasting. A vertical tasting is the same coffee prepped different ways. You need a bag or two of delicious coffee, a quality burr grinder, cups for all of your friends and various coffee making accoutrements. When you select coffee for your vertical tasting try to find one that is currently between day 4 and day 14 post-roast.


Ask the roaster or barista what their favorite prep is for that particular roast. Even if the label says, “good for all coffee brewing methods,” it is likely that the roaster had a preferred method in mind.


Next, ask your friends to bring their favorite brew method over and demonstrate for the group. Have a brew-off with Kalita Wave, Hario V60, Chemex, AeroPress, French press…you be the judge! The brew method will make a difference in the flavor. It is fun to detect these differences and talk about it because people don’t perceive taste in the same ways. It is not unusual for some people to notice a difference as minute as a paper filter versus a metal S-filter in AeroPress coffee preparation. Use the SCAA flavor wheel to help describe the flavors.


In my opinion, a vertical tasting is more fun and more delicious than slurping and spitting in front of your friends. Try them both and see for yourself.


Samantha Joyce is a writer for Seattle Coffee Gear and enjoys sharing her knowledge of all things coffee.

The following two tabs change content below.

Jenn Chen

Editor at Chicago Coffee Scene
Jenn Chen is the editor & founder of Chicago Coffee Scene. She’s a full-time coffee marketer, writer & traveler. On the side, she takes people on coffee crawls, enjoys too many pastries (specifically, donuts), and tweets up a storm. Chicago + coffee are two of her biggest obsessions.