The Coffee Flavour Wheel: How to Use it
The amount of coffee that is consumed every day is impossible to count. But often, when consuming coffee, we don’t pay much attention to the taste and flavours as we go about the day. However, we are able to still determine whether your coffee tastes “off” or not, or whether it is too strong, or too weak. Every cup of coffee has its own unique flavour, subtle notes, smells and tastes. All of these reflect the environment in which the beans are grown in. But where does the coffee flavour wheel fit into this? And how do we use it?
It was designed as a tool for coffee tasters to store common vocabulary, that they could all use when coffee cupping (also known as cup tasting). The vocabulary that was used was based on the similar wheel for wine and beer. However, the coffee flavour wheel was not designed to signal if the coffee is good or bad, but to help one savour the flavours and impact of coffee’s aromas and taste.
The coffee flavour wheel was not just designed with experts in mind, it can also be used to help determine which coffee profile you prefer the most.
How to use the coffee flavour wheel
There are a lot of colours and labelling that come with the coffee flavour wheel, however, there is a very simple process to using the coffee flavour wheel. There are parts of the chart that are dedicated to aromas, tastes and also a mixture of both. However, the definition of flavour is important to understand, it is a combination of aroma and taste, making it a multi-sensory practice.
Here are the three steps to using the coffee flavour wheel, so that you are assured to get your preferred flavour of coffee, with each sip. Most coffee tasters use the wheel at the same time as drinking their chosen coffee, this can make the flavour choices slightly easier.
Start in the middle
In the middle of the coffee flavour wheel, is where you will find the broadly grouped flavours. The taste of these at this point may be hard to describe, but this is just the beginning. The wheels design encourages the taster to start in the middle, and then work outwards. The most generic of descriptors are near the centre of the wheel, and as you work outwards, they get more specific.
The middle should help to determine whether the coffee is fruity, earthy, or nutty. There is also a category that is labelled as “other”, which is where descriptors for more unpleasant tastes in defective coffees can be found.
Start from the middle and work your way outwards
From the centre, once you have decided on the flavour group, work your way outwards on the wheel using the coloured strips as a guide. This is where you will notice the flavours on each ring become more specific. Try to taste the fruits in the coffee, are there hints of berries or is it more of a citrus taste? This will help you to decide on the colour, and words specific to the taste.
Focus on the small detail
This is where all the colours and more unique descriptors of the wheel come into play. The colours on the wheel, and the words used to describe the coffee, relate to our sense of taste and smell. Each taste, texture, note, and aroma are grouped together by colour to help the taster link the flavour to where on the wheel it belongs. Therefore, etching closer to the overall taste result of the coffee, whether it is spicey with a taste of pepper, or musty, with a woody taste.
There will also be small, medium and large gaps on the adjacent cells on the chart. These are there as a visual indicator of how close the tastes are together.
Study the words
The best thing about the coffee flavour wheel is that it is the foundation of coffee tasters’ language. It means that coffee tasters can study the same tool, and have it in their tasting labs, workshops and cafés, which all “coffee-lingo” is based on. On the wheel, you will find detailed descriptions of each and every flavour, and can also learn exactly how to replicate it at home. The coffee flavour wheel allowed experts and novices to communicate about coffee in simpler forms.
Being able to compare different coffees through taste and aroma, will become much easier when you understand the way of the coffee flavour wheel. The coffee flavour wheel also allows us to appreciate and understand coffee more.
Enjoy your coffee moments that little bit more with the coffee tasters’ flavour wheel. Now that you know how to get on with using your coffee flavour wheel, why not read up on different types of coffee roast, next?