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Buying a cup of coffee no longer just means choosing between a small and a large. In many cafes, coffee is an artisanal import, subject to the same kind of rigorous analysis of taste, texture, and aroma as a fine wine might be. But while you may have a passing familiarity with snooty wine terms—enough to guess about the hints of blackberry or the leathery bouquet—you may not be able to fake your way through a conversation about high-end coffee quite as easily.
A new flavor wheel for coffee can elevate your cafe diction to the next level. Released by the Specialty Coffee Association of America this month, the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel was designed as a way to make coffee tasting more scientific. It was honed over the course of three years, with the help of coffee tasters, sensory experts, and researchers at the University of California, Davis. A survey of more than 70 tasters and sensory professionals helped establish the flavor descriptions seen on the wheel.
So in your next round of small talk about the office coffee, skip the caffeine discussion and go straight to the quality of your single-source light roast, which you may describe as having notes of prune or nutmeg, or, in the worst case, petroleum. Know that it’s also fully acceptable to note that your brew is “meaty brothy,” “hay-like,” and “beany,” though those may not be the flavors we associate most with a cup o’ joe.
All images courtesy SCAA