There’s a little known tool that few coffee drinkers, well let’s just say most, do not know about. The Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel is cool and very helpful resource that roasters and coffee enthusiasts use for building coffee flavor profiles. Yes. Coffee beans have their own flavor profiles.

If we want to be get really technical roasters, coffee importers, sensory panelists, scientists, have all collaborated to contribute to this amazing diagram of the many different flavors, both positive and negative, found in varied coffees from around the world. You probably did’t know that the coffee industry has scientists. It does. And it shouldn’t surprise you to know that growing, roasting, and brewing coffee is much more than a creative craft. Even more so, science drives much of the creativity and passion of the coffee bean journey from seed to cup.

As stated on the SCA website, “This is the largest and most collaborative piece of research on coffee flavor ever completed, inspiring a new set of vocabulary for industry professionals.” It is quite the useful tool when deciphering between small hints of flavor notes. If you look closely at the pics provided you can see that is quite the diversity in both negative and positive tasting notes. Some of those positive notes you will see are; cherry, pomegranate, maple syrup, clove, chamomile, jasmine, etc. Negative notes could be ashy, stale, rubber, etc.

The really cool part is that the specific notes are categorized to help order the tastes that are experienced. There are nine larger categories; roasted, spices, nutty/cocoa, sweet, floral, fruity, sour/fermented, green/vegetative, and other. These are further divided into sub-categories:

  • Roasted sub-categories – pipe tobacco, tobacco, burnt, cereal
  • Spices sub-categories – pungent, pepper, brown spice
  • Nutty/Cocoa sub categories – nutty, cocoa
  • Sweet sub-categories – brown sugar, vanilla, overall sweet, sweet aromatics
  • Floral sub-categories – black tea, floral
  • Fruity sub-categories – berry, dried fruit, other fruit, citrus fruit
  • Sour/Fermented sub-categories – sour, alcohol/fermented
  • Green/Vegetative sub-categories – olive oil, raw, green/vegetative, beany
  • Other sub-categories – papery/musty, chemical

Each of the sub-categories are further broken down into the specific flavor notes mentioned at the end of the third paragraph. The organization of this chart allows for tasters to more easily narrow down what flavors they are tasting. Also keep in mind these are most often hints of flavors, not strong, bold tastes like flavored coffee would be. These are the natural flavors coffee projects when roasted a specific way. Many times when people read the flavor notes on our single origins menu they think that the coffee has had added flavoring introduced into it when this is never the case.

The best way to taste the distinct differences in flavor between coffees is to experience a cupping. No not the kind of cupping we saw on the body of the most decorated Olympian in history, Michael Phelps. A coffee cupping is similar to a wine tasting. Some people struggle with cuppings because they want to put into words what they are tasting, but cannot. Flavors aren’t always so obvious when it comes to coffee. One technique I learned while training in Portland is using memories to help pinpoint tasting notes. Often times because smell and taste are go hand in hand when discovering flavor notes in coffee (really anything) our minds pull out past experiences based on those senses. I tell people that in that experience what were familiar smells or tastes that you remember. It may be a memory of sitting in grandma’s kitchen while she cooked bacon which hints at a savory flavor in the coffee. A memory could be the smell of spring in a certain park where the dogwood trees are blooming bringing about a certain floral smell. It is a technique that has helped me specify in my brain what I am tasting.

The flavor wheel is a fun tool. Take a gander at it and next time you have a coffee in front of you see if you can test the flavor. Blessings!