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How to learn to distinguish coffee descriptors using the flavor wheel

At first glance, it's just coffee, right? But in reality, coffee is one of the most complex and multifaceted products.

Each of us perceives various notes in the aroma or taste of a particular coffee, and sometimes we can confidently say, "I taste orange/grape/apple here."

A descriptor is a unit of description of the taste and aroma of coffee. For example, when we taste notes of grapes, nuts, or chocolate, these are descriptors.

But it's important to understand that if a beverage has notes of orange, it doesn't necessarily mean that orange was added to the coffee. It simply means that similar flavor and aromatic elements have formed in that particular lot, which evoke associations with oranges.

Descriptors don't always sound as juicy and delicious; they can be diverse: various berries, fruits, flowers, herbs, drinks, beans, nuts, and so on, all the way to rubber, oil, salt, and even concrete.

In 2016, World Coffee Research, together with other coffee roasting experts, created this classification, which we commonly refer to as the flavor wheel. It was the largest collaborative tasting research effort, allowing for the consolidation and structuring of general definitions for professionals in this field.

How to Use the Coffee Wheel Effectively:

  1. First, you need to understand which basic flavors you perceive and classify them into one of the categories in the inner circle;
  2. Once you've identified your group, move on to the second stage: are there any additional notes in the flavor that describe it more precisely?
  3. When you've found them, move on to the next circle, and then to the outer boundary.
  4. The flavor from the outer circle corresponds to the most precise definition and is indicated on the coffee package.

With the flavor wheel of basic tastes and aromas in front of you, you can be confident that you can identify at least one descriptor.

The ability to distinguish descriptors clearly allows you to properly evaluate coffee, identify defects, and uniqueness. This skill is useful not only for those working in this field but also for ordinary connoisseurs of quality coffee. And of course, for those who want to master the intricacies and dream of becoming a Q grader (an expert who evaluates coffee quality and decides which position to consider special).