How to Use the Coffee Flavor Wheel? | Chattanooga Coffee Box

So, what is the coffee flavor wheel and how does one use it? These are questions! At first glance, the flavor wheel can be quite intimidating, but once figured out, it becomes one of the most clever and useful tools. A coffee flavor wheel is a tool that the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the World Coffee Research designed for coffee tasters. Let's dive into the best practices for using this amazing tool.

Step 1: Take a Moment

The flavor wheel is a piece of art. Specialty coffee is complex and the flavor wheel represents that well. Take a moment and enjoy its kaleidoscope picture of all the flavors of coffee. Study the words slowly. Some of those words are familiar but others may not be, but don't worry, we will cover that a little later.

Step 2: Brew up a Cup

Whether the flavor wheel is used casually or professionally, it is meant to be used carefully. Do not rush. From the moment the bag of coffee is opened to the last sip everything should be observed mindfully. After the coffee has been ground, it gives off a certain aroma. Once almost boiling water has been introduced to the coffee it gives off an aroma. Take time to take it in. When the coffee is finally brewed, the flavors will change as it cools.

Step 3: Begin in the Center

 

Let's begin. Now the coffee has been freshly brewed, let's start in the center of the flavor wheel and work our way out starting with aroma. Everyone has a different palette, so don't get frustrated if nothing makes sense at first or is hard to discover. This is a journey that will be different from everyone. Take in the aroma of the coffee. Starting in the center of the wheel, match up the best you can with what comes to mind from sniffing and then take a sip. Be sure to get the coffee all over your tongue with slurping. It is okay to be a little loud with it. Choose which item on the flavor wheel matches the aromas and flavor. After you have homed in on the match, follow it outwards of the wheel until it is specific. There may be several specific flavors that come to mind.

Step 4: Use your Words

The great thing about these tools is that they form a foundational common language for coffee tasters. The existence of an industry-standard wheel means that all coffee professionals can study a common document, have it in our tasting labs and shops, and base our communication on a shared set of terms. While imaginative descriptors and flights of fancy are great, sometimes they make communication more difficult. In certain contexts, therefore, focusing on common language—illustrated in the wheel—is just the thing for those who seek to communicate about coffee.

Step 5: Study the Colors

Our visual sense is strongly connected with our other senses, and the way food look gives us important cues to how they are likely to taste. For this reason, we often use visual terms to describe flavor: a coffee can taste “bright” or “red” or “green”. With this awareness, we paid special attention to the colors on the wheel, trying hard to link the terms with colors that represent the attribute clearly. This might help a struggling taster find a descriptor: if they can only articulate “it tastes like a red fruit of some kind”, the taster can scan the red-colored attributes on the wheel. “Something brown” might send the taster to the left side of the wheel, where the brown territory is, perhaps stimulating the awareness of spice or grain notes.

Practice makes perfect. It takes patience and adding more smells to your memory to become more efficient. The flavor wheel is a fun way to explore not only coffee in-depth but also learn a little about yourself and how to pick up on things better through your senses.  

 

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