How to use the coffee taster’s flavour wheel

Every coffee is packed with different flavour notes and aromas, but do you know how to describe what it is you’re tasting? The Speciality Coffee Association's flavour wheel is an essential reference guide for any coffee connoisseur, which we have adapted to be easier on the eye and more readable for everyone, not just the specialists.

Not only is it beautiful to look at, it helps you understand why you like what you like, and find other coffees that you might just like as much too. Here’s how to use it:

  1. Look at the colours and words

On first glance the wheel might look complicated, and there might be a few words on there you haven’t used before. Have a look around and see what sits next to what, and what flavour and aroma profiles you might already have spotted in the coffees you enjoy.

  1. Prepare your coffee carefully

Whether you’re experimenting on your own or turning it into an activity, you’ll need a few coffees to try. Observe the coffee at different stages to see what you can smell after grinding, what fragrances escape as you first pour on the water and the flavours you can detect on the first, second and third sip. Some aromas can be tasted, while others might come through your nose only. Jot down what you get at each stage.

  1. Start from the middle

The words at the centre of the wheel are fairly general – things like fruity, sweet and spiced. Once you’ve established where your coffee sits, work outwards to find more descriptive words that pinpoint specific flavours and aromas like berries, chocolate or smoke. It’s likely that you detected a few notes in your tasting so once you’ve explored one area, like fruity, go back to the centre and see where else you end up.

  1. Expand your vocabulary

There might be some words on the wheel you don’t know, or might not have applied to coffee before (newer versions feature adjectives like musty, papery and leathery). For a bit of further reading on what it all means, have a look at the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon so you can talk about what you’re tasting with confidence.

  1. Explore new flavours and aromas in the kitchen… and beyond

There may be some flavours on the wheel you haven’t tasted or smelled before, so for a bit of extra homework, why not add a few new ingredients to your basket on your next food shop. Some might be ingredients you can try on their own then throw in a recipe afterwards, and others might be for sniffing only. There are plenty of aromas you can find when you’re out and about too, like jasmine, sea salt and even petrol, and every sensory experience only helps you understand more about how your coffee smells and tastes.

Want to know more about how to taste coffee? Read our blog on how to host the perfect coffee cupping.


More Posts