Coffee flavour wheel: everything you need to know
So you heard about the coffee flavour wheel and now have a lot of questions. Maybe you saw it as an exciting poster on your favourite coffee shop wall or noticed a colourful wheel on your barista Instagram account and started thinking about what is it and how can it make your coffee experience better? We got you covered.
As it is often associated with coffee experts, the wheel can be intimidating at first. Fret not. We assure you anyone can benefit from it regardless of where you are in your coffee journey.
What is the coffee tasters flavour wheel?
The coffee tasters flavour wheel is a tool designed to help you analyze and describe the coffee you enjoy. Think of it as a guide to help you explore your brew's complexities at a more intimate level. It offers a foundation from which you can learn how to appreciate more your favourite coffees and even discover elements of them that might go unnoticed without careful examination.
The wheel resembles a kaleidoscope and has carefully picked colours and descriptive words to support your unique analysis of your cup of coffee. Some words might seem unfamiliar or not fitting at a glance, and that is ok; we will talk about them in-depth later.
Who created the coffee tasting wheel?
The coffee tasting wheel is a collaboration between the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) and the World Coffee Research (WCR). It was based on the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon created by several professional sensory panellists, scientists, coffee buyers, and coffee roasters.
Who can use the coffee tasters flavour wheel?
Anyone can use the coffee tasters flavour wheel provided it is not for commercial use. The wheel is licensed under Creative Commons, which dictates how to give attribution and what sort of derivates are allowed.
If your goal is to elevate your coffee experience at home and expand your knowledge, you should be in the clear. But we strongly encourage you to check the license details.
Where to buy the coffee flavour wheel poster?
The stunning coffee flavour wheel poster is available for purchase directly from the SCA online store. When writing this article, it sells for $20, and a portion of profits goes towards supporting the vital work by the World Coffee Research.
It’s essential to say Portfolio Coffee does not make any commissions from this sale and is not affiliated in any sense to the wheel posters or digital files. We do encourage you to go ahead and purchase a copy for yourself as we did and now proudly display it on our roastery’s wall.
How to use the coffee flavour wheel?
We’ll guide you through 4 steps to use the coffee flavour wheel and discover the complexities of your coffee. Note the goal here isn’t to say if the coffee is good or bad; that’s really up to you and your preferences. It is about unlocking your perceptions of aromas and tastes, so your daily cup of joe ritual becomes more mindful.
Step 1: Get familiar with the flavour wheel.
Look at the flavour wheel and notice how it is structured. The colour code is intentional and can help you describe a taste. Sometimes you can’t quite pinpoint what a taste reminds you of, but you might feel it has a toasted, brown note or a vibrant, yellow sensation.
See how the general flavour categories are at the center of the wheel. The more you work your way towards the outer rings, the more specific the tasting notes are. For example, suppose you notice your coffee tastes sweet. In that case, you can then ask yourself and try to decipher if it reminds you of honey or if it is closer to the sweetness of vanilla.
Step 2: Brew your coffee
Pick your favourite coffee and get brewing. If you usually grind your whole beans at home, that’s a great way to sip a fresher coffee, but it’s also okay if you instead buy coffee grounds.
You do not need expensive equipment to start exploring your coffee complexities, and you do not need to brew it a certain way. If you’re a fan of the french press, why not stick to it for this experiment? If you’re an espresso lover and happen to have an espresso machine, you could choose to brew your coffee this way. There’s no right or wrong as long as you’re enjoying your coffee.
Start your experience by paying attention to the aromas. Breath in through your nose while your coffee is brewing and see if you can pick up any notes. Now, look at your coffee crema if it has some - the light layer of dark tan foam found on the surface of your coffee. What is its colour and how thick is it? Let this multi-sensory experience take you in.
Step 3: Take a sip and start at the center
What are the first flavours you identify? Don’t stress about getting overly-specific at this point. Look at the center of the flavour wheel and try to match the taste with the broad categories such as fruity, floral, or nutty.
Step 4: Slurp your coffee
That’s right! Let some air run through your mouth and slurp a bit of your coffee. Slurping will spread the coffee around your tongue in a different way and help you identify more specific notes. Maybe what you noticed as fruity in your first sip now gets more citric and can help you find notes closer to the outer ring of the wheel.
Go beyond the taste with texture and finishing.
For a complete experience, consider how the coffee feels in your mouth. Different coffees taste and feel different, and their textures or bodies are often categorized as light, medium, or heavy. Here are a few pointers to help you identify what type of body your favourite coffee has.
Lastly, swallow the coffee and pay attention to its finish. Does it leave any sensation, or does it quickly disappear as if it was never there? Some coffees develop in the finish, meaning they change in pleasurable ways, and you might be able to identify unique tastes.
Ready to analyze coffees?
You can explore the same coffee multiple times, try different brewing methods, or even different coffees at once. We recommend you select specialty coffees as their higher quality allows you to notice nuanced flavours and sensations. Start by exploring some of our best-selling coffees.