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coffee flavor profiles

explained

How do you describe coffees taste?

So you know what key elements make up coffee’s flavor and aroma profile, but how do you accurately analyze, describe, and articulate these in practice?

Never has the proverbial saying ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison’, been so true as with coffee tasting!

Although not literal, the idea puts forward what’s true for one person, may be distasteful to another, and so, the sensory attributes of a cup of coffee are subjective to our own personal experience.  And the very subjective nature of this relationship means our articulation of coffee assessment can be a little complicated.

Sensory science. A timeline

To help us with identifying the plethora of tastes and aromas associated with coffee, the industry has even produced some invaluable research and resources to help us all better understand exactly what we like or dislike in coffee and adjust our purchasing accordingly.

01

1995

SCAA Flavor Wheel

The Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) publishes the first “Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel”, arguably the specialty coffee industry’s most iconic resource.
SCA Flavor Wheel
02

2016

Coffee Sensory Lexicon

World Coffee Research (WCR) published the Sensory Lexicon, the largest collaborative work on the flavor of coffee. The lexicon identifies 110 flavor, aroma, and texture attributes of coffee.
WCR Sensory Lexicon
03

2016

Flavor Wheel 2.0

In turn, the SCAA’s original Flavor Wheel is updated in collaboration with World Coffee Research (WCR).
SCA Flavor Wheel
04

2019

The Digital Flavor Wheel

Today, the digital Flavor Wheel has been translated into 10 languages including English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Spanish, Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese.
Flavor Wheel Digital Translations

Coffee Cupping

Cupping is a method designed to accurately assess the flavor, taste, and aroma of various coffee beans so that roasters, coffee professionals and even enthusiasts can judge their relative merits and make better buying decisions.

Differences between beans can be so minor that cupping is often the best and only way to judge the complete profile of a particular bean, without the differentiation in flavor, aroma, and mouthfeel that the brewing process brings.

The attention to detail involved in coffee cupping is equal to the care and process involved in wine tasting and evaluates coffee beans distinct characteristics starting with its aroma and followed by the cups body, sweetness, aftertaste, balance, and acidity and ending with the uniformity and defect analysis of the whole bean. 

Cupping usually informs a coffee roaster’s tasting notes which they’ll include on their finished bag of roasted beans.

The takeaway

The more information and detail that we can get from a roaster’s tasting notes, the specialty coffee industry’s research and development, and our own coffee tasting experiences, the better we’re able to choose and articulate our own favorite bean profiles. 

Coffee tastes better with friends

Honing your coffee-tasting skills is more fun with friends, so why not host a coffee tasting party! Take two (or more) types of bean and use the SCA coffee cupping standards, to brew, compare and enjoy!

Or, alternatively, look out for open cupping sessions hosted by roasters near you.