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A guide for Coffee Cupping

What does a coffee taste like? Although taste has always been subjective and each person is entitled to their own interpretation and description, industry experts rely on a tool that homologates a common terminology that can help them describe the nuances present in a cup beyond any individual bias. It is also a bridge that brings experts and enthusiasts closer together by adding vocabulary to aromatic notes.: Meet the Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel

Painting aromas

Coffee contains more than 900 notes and textures that are perceived through the senses and allow its characteristics to be evaluated in a cupping process. In order to have a glossary that describes all these nuances in a more precise way, Ted Lingle created the wheel in the 90s, when he directed the Association of Specialty Coffees and the Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia.

Since then, The Coffee Wheel has become a key document to easily refer to the qualities of the aromatic. The wheel was updated in 2016 in a combined effort between the Specialty Coffee Association and World Coffee Research (WCR), an institute dedicated to the genetics of coffee plants and which worked on the coffee lexicon, dictionary of coffee flavors. on which the new wheel of coffee flavors is based.

Wheel Features

The updated wheel identifies 110 flavors based on the evaluation of 105 coffees from 13 countries and has three characteristics: 

1. It is descriptive. Includes 110 qualifiers to name the flavors present in a coffee. 

2. It is quantifiable. Assigns an intensity to the flavor (from 1 to 15 points) instead of a number value associated with the quality of the coffee, as is done by cupping.  

3. It is replicable. The lexicon is used by professionals to name a flavor or aroma and reach a consensus, regardless of which country or culture they are from. 

The wheel does not rate the quality of a coffee. There may be two 86-point coffees with different nuances and perfumes, and the function of this instrument is to identify the flavors found in each coffee in order to differentiate one from the other. For example, if it tastes sweet, specify what kind of sweet. If it is sugar, what kind of sugar is established: brown sugar.

Colors, aromas and flavors

It's not uncommon to read tasting notes such as chocolate, berries and caramel, but the deisng and layout of the Coffee Wheel serves also as a map to identify quality defects with descriptors like vinegar, coal or ash. The colors in the Coffee Wheel are an approximation to the flavor they represent; that is, pink for floral, orange for sweet, etc. There are three concentric circles in order to guide tasters to find the main profile family from the inner circle first and then move outwards while interpreting the main tasting note. It is common to find secondary or even tertiary notes that add to the complexity and enjoyability of the cup.

Quick Guide

1.Smell the coffee and try to assess if that smell makes your tongue salivate  - if it does, it is because that particular coffee is triggering an olfactory memory probably related to something that has high acidity. If it does, look at the inner circle and discover Fruity and Floral as the most likely stems to follow in the coming steps.

2.Choose a flavor from the circles placed immediately outwards to further define the flavor. What kind of fruit is it? citrus. What flavor does it remind me of? Orange.

3. Sip the coffee and repeat the process. Try to think wether you are missing something potentially differnt this time. Its is nos uncommon to mix come fruits like peach or guava with flowers, or sweet/caramel-like flavors with almond or hazelnut.

4. If you can't identify the flavor and can only say “it tastes like a berry”, go to the red tones on the wheel to help you identify a flavor. 

Bear in mind that this is an exercise, and it relies on repetitiveness to improve; so it is always a good idea to keep notes of what you are tasting as a journal.


Behind your Coffee: Coffee Taste Practice

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