The coffee taster’s flavour wheel is a document developed by the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) and World Coffee Research (WCR), in a collaborative piece of research on coffee flavour. The 2017 version is an amended or updated version of the previous coffee wheel, which was deemed not specific enough to capture the full range of flavours and aromatics present in coffee. It’s one of the most iconic resources in the coffee industry for taste testing.
Flavours on the Wheel
The wheel can be used in professional or casual coffee tasting contexts and is intended as an aid in distinguishing the flavours that are present in a cup of coffee. Use the wheel in tandem with coffee preparation.
You can utilize the wheel at every step of the process; it is not limited strictly to taste. From the fragrance emitted after grinding the beans to the aromas present when water is poured over the coffee grounds, the flavour is considered a combination of taste and smell. Before tasting your coffee, refer to your wheel and try to identify the aromatics.
Once your coffee has been prepared and it’s time to taste, refer once again back to your taster’s wheel. You will start at the centre and work your way outwards. The taste descriptors and smells will start as broad in the centre and become more specific on the outward edges.
The characteristics on the edges are still connected to the building blocks at the centre like sweet, sour, fruity, nutty, or spice notes. Once you’ve identified these notes, you can work outwards to narrow it down a little more precisely.
If you taste the fruit, can you identify what specific fruit notes you’re picking up on? Is it citrus, dried fruit, berry, or perhaps something else? Once you identify a berry taste, per se, then you can get even more specific and attempt to identify the specific berry.
Maybe it was strawberry or blueberry you tasted. Repeat this process with each flavour note you detect in the coffee. You may or may not be able to get this specific depending on your sense of taste and smell and that’s completely okay. The wheel is only there to help you narrow down the specific flavours as much as possible.
World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon
The sensory lexicon is the foundation document for the coffee taster's flavour wheel. The lexicon is the industry-standard set of attributes designed to allow dozens of professional sensory panels to evaluate coffees for scientific research.
Even though the vast majority of the population is not trained in this methodology, you can still utilize it to define attributes present on the flavour wheel when their meanings are unclear. Every attribute on the wheel has a definition and ‘reference’ which provides further clarification on what the attributes are specifically referring to.
The lexicon describes the attribute, while ‘references’ are flavours you can taste as a reference for the attribute. The reason for the lexicon and references is because there are too many unfamiliar words to decipher otherwise.
Some are technical and chemical descriptors of flavours, so the purpose of the lexicon is to explain what they mean and the references provide a sensory reference of what is meant by that word.
All attributes in the WCR lexicon have a reference. The references can mostly be found in supermarkets or online. Aromatic references for smell are sometimes recommended to be smelled through snifters which offer greater concentration.
The taster’s coffee flavour wheel and World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon are the largest and most collaborative pieces of research ever completed. It took three years of research to produce this wonderfully useful tool in coffee flavour identification.
It’s accessible to both casual and professional coffee tasters. It resulted in new vocabulary and therefore a new dictionary. If your interest is piqued, brew yourself a cup of coffee. Using the flavour wheel as a guide, smell and taste your cup of joe more thoughtfully.
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