Download your own full size pdf version of the Aroma Wheel in the link in the bottom of this blog post
CoffeeMind Aroma Wheel
Flavour wheels has been a really useful tool for coffee professionals for many years and is often an integral part of the walls of coffee labs as a handy inspiration to put words on taste experiences. Starting with Ted Lingles flavour wheel developed two decades ago several other useful wheels have been developed. So why develop our own aroma wheel, when there are already a couple of great flavour wheels existing?
Based on our scientific background and many years of teaching experience we have found a few things to improve to optimize the usefulness for teaching sensory skills.
What is taste and aroma?
Taste is what we perceive in our mouth as the five basic gustatory sensations: bitter, sweet, sour, salty and umami (savory), whereas aroma can be perceived either as orthonasal, through our nasal cavity, or retronasal, through our oral cavity and up to the olfactory epithelium.
What is flavour?
Flavour is a useful word that includes all the sensory impressions.This means that if you describe the flavour of a cup of coffee, you are talking about the perceived combination of taste, aroma and mouth feel.
What we tried to solve with this Aroma Wheel
Well known coffee flavour wheels have subcategories to the basic tastes, which might lead to some confusion. We have been missing a wheel purely with coffee aromas.
With our scientific background we prefer to talk about the five basic tastes as what they are: simply the five basic tastes as we perceive them on our tongue and oral cavity. Therefore we don’t think it makes sense scientifically nor is useful for training to include them in the wheel, as they in our opinion, don’t belong to either a category or a subcategory.
This is one of the main reasons we were excited to see an updated version of the SCAA Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel from 1995. As an example the old wheel had the subcategories to sweet ‘mild’ and ‘delicate’. The main issue with describing sweet taste as mild or delicate is that they are subjective words, impossible to find specific references for, and therefore make the calibration of a sensory panel difficult. The new Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel created by SCA and WCR (©2016) still includes the basic tastes as categories and subcategories, but improved as there are no longer subjective descriptors and you can find the specific references in the belonging WCR lexicon. A great tool based on comprehensive scientific work.
If you take a look at the interactive version of the SCA Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel and WCR Lexicon you will see that salty and bitter are subcategories to chemical and other, and sweet has the subcategories overall sweet and sweet aromatics.
Just by reading the words it might be difficult to understand the difference between sweet, overall sweet and sweet aromatic. Unfortunately the confusion doesn’t get lesser when you look up the descriptors in the belonging lexicon: sweet aromatics has just the same reference as vanillin (2 grams of Fisher Scientific Vanillin). Should vanillin be a subcategory to sweet aromatics?
Also the same cookies are suggested as reference for sweet aromatics and overall sweet. How should we understand the difference between them?
There are more examples of this, which unfortunately doesn’t make the wheel suitable for our teaching of coffee aroma detection.
How we solved it
We wanted our aroma wheel to be easily understandable and the descriptors easily accessible. It is not research based as the SCA Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel, but it is based on scientific definitions of aroma and taste and the experience from years of teaching and training coffee professionals in coffee aroma detection. Hopefully it can be an inspirational training tool.
For that reason we chose to have only two circles. If you are at a beginner level, start by focusing on the inner circle. Prepare yourself a nice cup of coffee, take a sip while you look at the wheel and try to decide which category the coffee mainly belongs to. When you feel confident that you can use these overall descriptors consistently, you can go to the outer circle and try to put some of the more specific aroma descriptors on the coffee you taste. If you are in doubt about how any of the aromas smell, we will recommend you to find them and smell them in their pure form.
The idea is that you should be able to find most of the aromas in the supermarket (maybe except from the floral and industrial category), and thereby practice the detection of them. You can ask a friend to prepare references for you by assessing one category at a time. Smell them blinded. After that you will be an expert in the aroma wheel and it will be a lot easier for you to detect the aromas in coffee as well.
We are inspired by Counter Culture’s Taster’s Flavor Wheel which is also focusing on aromas and is easy to understand. For training purposes we needed to include other aromas in our flavour wheel. We included as many of the aromas from the Le Nez du Café set that we find useful, as we wanted the wheel to be a helpful training tool, when teaching the SCA Sensory Skills courses, where a part of the exam always is to detect Le Nez du Café aromas.