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Flavor Wheels

Timothy Hill of Counter Culture Coffee has reinvented the flavor wheel, reports Leslie Josephs in The Wall Street Journal (4/23/14). The traditional flavor wheel for analyzing the taste of coffee is 20 years old and, developed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), is "the industry standard." Timothy’s issue is that this wheel "is too technical," using terms like "enzymatic," which may not mean much to the average (cup of) joe. "It’s … not the most user-friendly wheel," he says.

Timothy’s wheel instead "gives a simpler description relating with the different fruit notes in coffee," such as black-currant or clementine. Sometimes the reference is to a veggie, like snow peas, or "meat-like," if the brew has a carnivorous bite. The same holds true with "the defects that can be found when something has gone wrong in the cup." (apparently ‘meat-like’ doesn’t already cover this). Where the SCAA favors terms like "sweaty" or "hidy," Timothy wheel goes with "Band-Aid" and "stale grain." While this may be more user friendly, some experts say it’s still not quite right.

More important, some say, is the "why" behind the flavor. "You’re not really smelling a nectarine or a clove or leather. You’re smelling an aromatic compound that might be present," says Geoff Kruth, a Master Sommelier. The SCAA says it is revamping its wheel to take the "why" into consideration. Others say the flavor references must be relevant globally. For example, Timothy’s wheel "omits ‘jackfruit’, which is rarely found outside Africa, but he says he plans to correct this. His wheel can be downloaded here (link).