Category • Blog articles

What’s the Specialty Coffee Association Flavour Wheel?

Alex | September 2, 2022

Do you consider yourself to be a coffee connoisseur? Do you know your beans, blends, roasts, brews and different types of coffee drinks? There’s a lot to understand about coffee. Some research actually suggests that its flavour profile is more complex than that of wine.

Similar to a wine sommelier, there are people that make a living from tasting coffee. These professionals are known under titles like Master Taster or Coffee Cupper. It’s a fine art that demands extensive training. It also demands a sensitive palate that’s developed through experience and experimentation with coffee.

What’s coffee cupping?

Coffee tasting or cupping itself can be done by anyone though, and it’s not limited to professionals. There are lots of guides online on coffee cupping for beginners.

Put simply, coffee cupping is the process of analysing and determining the flavour, aroma, and quality of coffee beans. Basic things to look out for when tasting coffee include the following:

Sweetness and bitterness
Body or mouth-feel

What’s the Specialty Coffee Association Flavour Wheel?

If you want to get a bit more technical with your coffee tasting, you’ll want to make yourself familiar with The Specialty Coffee Association (SCA)’s Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel. Developed in 1995, it is arguably one of the most iconic resources in the coffee industry.

It’s been the industry standard for over two decades and has been translated into many different languages all over the world. In 2016, it was updated in collaboration with World Coffee Research (WCR).

It is the product of dozens of professional sensory panellists, scientists, coffee buyers, and roasting companies. This specialist research team tasted around 100 coffees and identified their attributes over the course of a year. Today, the wheel continues to inspire a whole new set of vocabulary for coffee industry professionals.

You’ll likely have seen this iconic bright and colourful kaleidoscope-style wheel online or hung in coffee shops, coffee businesses, roasteries and in homes everywhere. It consists of more than 100 descriptors laid out in a 360-degree diagram, and helps to create a common language around coffee’s aroma, flavour, and texture.

How to use the Specialty Coffee Association Flavour Wheel

As a tool, the Specialty Coffee Association Flavour Wheel is intuitive and enjoyable to use. According to the SCA, the Flavour Wheel can be used either in casual tasting or professional coffee cupping.

The wheel’s design encourages users to start at the centre and work their way outward. The most general taste descriptors are located near the centre, and they get more specific as the tiers work outward. Users can stop anywhere, but the farther outward they go, the more specific the description will be. The inside tier gives the nine general flavours, the middle tier gives what are called umbrella terms, and the outer ring is made up of specific descriptors.

An important point to note is that “flavour” doesn’t just mean taste. The SCA explains, “‘Flavour’ is defined as a combination of taste and smell. The flavour wheel contains attributes on the entire continuum between basic tastes (those things perceived only by the tongue) to pure aromatics (those things that only can be smelled).”

So as you taste your coffee and consider the flavour wheel, make sure that you pay attention to the complete sensory experience.

What do the colours mean?

You should also consider the colours on the wheel. Sense of taste and smell are closely connected to what we see. The colours have been specifically chosen to be evocative of various flavour notes. For example, dark chocolate is dark brown, cherries are red, lemon is yellow, and apple is green. So the more you use this chart, the more you will associate certain tasting notes with certain colours and shades.

At the end of the day, coffee tasting should be fun so just relax and enjoy the process. And finally, you don’t need to take it too seriously – just drink what you enjoy!

What’s the right coffee for my office?

Ultimately what type of coffee you enjoy comes down to personal preference. If you’re choosing coffee for the entire office though, you’ll want to opt for a crowd-pleasing blend. There are lots of great quality beans and blends out there.

We recommend trialling several coffees to understand what’s popular in the office. We have a wide range of premium coffees to choose from. Plus, we’ve colour coded and grouped our coffees into five blend families to help you choose. Lighter on the scale will give you a more fruity and complex coffee experience. And the blends at the bolder end of the scale will have more body and intensity.

Our team is Speciality Coffee Association trained, and we offer free ‘Discovery’ sessions. Choose whether you want to visit our showroom or we can come to your office.

Alternatively, join us for one of our regular Coffee Experience Sessions in London. During these events, you’ll learn a bit about the history of coffee and have machine demos. And you’ll taste coffee of course, and try out some unique office coffee drinks.

Contact us to find out more.