Understanding the Coffee Flavour Wheel

The picture above is a coffee flavour wheel that SCA(Specialty Coffee Association) released in 1995 (SCA, n.d.) in order to educate people on what flavours can be detected from coffees.

Since then, the whole industry had been improving the sensory skills by being trained with the wheel, and in 2016, SCA released a new wheel with a whole new design and informative chart for individuals' self-training. 

However, there has been some sort of misunderstanding about the flavour wheel. People pretend that the wheel is just a guide or a categorised chart showing kinds of flavours we can find from coffees. Yes, both aspects are right. But there is one thing that we are missing which is how it is organised.

As a food scientist, Dr. Choi explained in his book (2015) that we find flavours from coffee only by less than 0.1% of chemical compounds(which are for flavours). And there are about 0.1% of acids and 0.01% about bitterness we can detect, other than that, nothing is tastable from coffee. Thus, the compounds of the flavour molecules are the most significant for the flavour of the coffee.

When we are talking about the flavour wheel, what we really need to look at are molecule weight and the boiling point. As we all know that those flavour notes are not exactly from its fruit/vegetable/whatever, there should be something related to the notes which are the molecules. Every molecule has its own boiling point and weight hence once its condition meets, it expresses as an aroma. The first version of the flavour wheel was made and was categorised along with the molecules' weight and boiling point, which therefore we can detect those flavours when coffee is being roasted and is reaching the particular point of boiling.

From the top of the wheel, the aromas in the enzymatic are open at first and at a lower temperature as these are lighter in weight and are having a lower boiling point. As the roasting goes further, the sugar browning category comes, and the dry distillation comes at last.

Consequently, for baristas, the flavour wheel can be a guide to understanding how the coffee is roasted, as the structure is sorted by molecules' weight and boiling point. That's why we find more enzymatic category flavours when the coffee is lightly roasted, more browning flavours when the coffee is medium roasted and more spies and smokiness when the coffee is dark roasted.

However, the new version of the flavour wheel is not sorted by the molecules. It just illustrates the whole flavour notes rather than a specific order of molecules. 

Therefore, we should use both wheels wisely. To understand roasting, the previous one should be used, and to understand flavour of coffee, the new one should be applied. 



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