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How to Use the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel

So many of us use a cup of coffee to kickstart our morning, but how often do we take the time to savor that brew truly? Coffee flavor wheel encourages mindful tasting and fruitful conversations around flavor. Whether you’re a coffee professional or an at-home enthusiast, read on to learn how you can put this tool to use with your next cup.

What is a coffee taster’s flavor wheel?

A coffee flavor wheel is a tool first developed in the mid-1990s. (1) Based on the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon (2), the flavor wheel helps coffee professionals and amateurs in describing tastes and aromas of coffee using a common vocabulary. The latest wheel update, created collaboratively with the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and World Coffee Research, is the broadest piece of research on coffee flavor ever completed. (3)

As a tool, it is meant to be intuitive, enjoyable to use, and a benefit to those who seek to analyze and describe coffees.

While it won’t tell you if coffee is objectively good or bad, this iconic coffee industry resource will help you identify subtle tastes and aromas in coffee. Moreover, its beautifully complex design is no accident; it’s supposed to inspire the same awe as a great cup of coffee.

How do you use it?

Before brewing your coffee, familiarize yourself with the wheel. The inner tiles feature general descriptors, like fruity, roasty, or nutty. But as you move outwards, the categories narrow. Is it almond or a hazelnut flavor? Is it a juicy berry or a sour grapefruit?

Our senses are intimately connected, and sometimes a first taste will register as a color.

The wheel is also color-coded, and not just for aesthetics. Something fresh might taste “green,” or something spiced might taste “brown.” Use all your senses to guide you to the right region of the wheel.

coffee taster's flavor wheel on a dark grey background

Applying it to coffee

The choice of coffee is up to you. Still, if you’re planning to savor every flavor note, it’s worth investing in a high-end specialty coffee. Using an SCAA certified coffee maker will ensure you get the best from your beans, as these machines all meet rigorous standards for ideal brewing.

Related: What is Specialty Coffee?

As you make your coffee, pay attention to your senses at each stage. Make a note of the aromas as you grind and brew. Once brewed, take a small sip and note the first flavors that jump to mind. Follow that with a bigger slurp, so the coffee plays over your whole tongue. Swallow the coffee, and note any aftertaste, and how long it lingers.

As you taste, refer to the wheel, and use it to help put a name to the flavors you experience.

Start in the middle and work outwards for each distinct taste and aroma. Repeat the process with several different coffees. Each coffee is unique, and the wheel will help you acknowledge and appreciate the subtle distinctions.

Related: How to Achieve the SCA Golden Cup Coffee Standards

Final Thoughts

Mindfully tasting your coffee will open up new avenues of enjoyment as you develop the skills to pinpoint subtle flavors in your cup. Using the flavor wheel to identify which tastes and aromas your palate prefers might even help you track down a new favorite brew. Give it a try today!

FAQs

Flavor is a spectrum that ranges from tastes to aromas. People perceive tastes with tongue but aromas with a nose. In many cases, our tongue and nose work together to produce a flavor.

The World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon is a tool that was created by coffee sensory scientists. We use it to understand and name coffee’s primary sensory qualities, and to create a replicable way of measuring those qualities. The Lexicon is available online as a free download for anyone.

The main elements of coffee tasting are aroma, acidity, body, and flavor.

References
  1. The Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://sca.coffee/research/coffee-tasters-flavor-wheel
  2. Chambers, E., Miller, R. (2017, October). World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon. Retrieved from https://worldcoffeeresearch.org/work/sensory-lexicon/
  3. How to Use the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel in 8 Steps. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://scanews.coffee/2016/02/05/how-to-use-the-coffee-tasters-flavor-wheel-in-8-steps/
coffee flavor wheel

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