Episode 4: Finding Your Faves – A Guide to the Coffee Flavor Wheel

Hello again! Within blog posts 2 and 3 we learned the basics of brewing, whether with the Chemex, French Press or some other process you’ve chosen. Hopefully, you have had the chance to play around with the coffee to water ratio (anything from 1:14 to 1:18 is reasonable and has an impact on the “strength” of the coffee brewed) and the coarseness of grind for your chosen method. Remember, there really is no right or wrong answer…it’s all a matter of personal preference. Much like our varying preference for food or drink, each of us has our own likes and dislikes in coffee.

To further explore these variations in preference in the world of coffee, I’d like to give you some exposure to the many flavor profiles of coffees. Few realize that Coffee is the most chemically complex food we consume. Coffee contains 2 to 3 times as many flavor compounds as wine! Coffee flavors are influenced by geography, climate, soil and processing type. For this reason, coffees from different parts of the world can taste very differently. In the same way a wine from Napa Valley, CA generally has big, fruit forward flavors and full body coffees from Guatemala, for example, generally have chocolately-cocoa flavors and full body.

Because there is so much to learn in the world of coffee flavors, I want to provide you with a basic outline for speaking the language and identifying common profiles. In fact, there exists a very well defined process for tasting and describing coffee. I have included the Coffee Flavor Wheel, as published by the SCAA (Specialty Coffee Association of America). I find this to be an incredibly useful tool in tasting and evaluating coffees and I think it will open your eyes to the many different experiences available in coffee. Next time you taste your ATL RSTRY Ethiopian single origin, see if you can taste the stone fruit or the honey sweetness.

In addition to the flavor wheel, the SCAA also gives us the Cupping Protocols and the Specialty Cupping Form, which enable the world to speak in the same language when talking coffee. Obviously, the Protocols and Cupping forms get technical very quickly. Most coffee drinkers do not need to understand the details here, but I think it is useful for you to be aware that they exist if you ever wanted to really dive into some specifics and get the most out of your coffee cup.

The world of coffee tasting is not unlike that of fine wine or scotch, there are so many things to learn and try and it is very exciting. This is a huge topic and I have no intention or ability to cover thoroughly this with you here, but I want to simply make you aware and help you start the journey into the world of specialty coffee. My hope is that this new awareness creates a level of curiosity in you that leads to further exploration and appreciation. Each time you try a coffee, take a minute to really taste it and see what flavors you can find. This process will help you dial in on your perfect cup of specialty coffee. Lastly, always remember that if you’re not drinking coffee freshly roasted, you’re missing out on the pleasant flavors and aromas of the coffee bean and you’re left only with flat, stale and boring!

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