A New Flavor Wheel: a Message from Ric Rhinehart

By Ric Rhinehart, SCAA Executive Director

12417926_10153148436941899_8512946063411657841_n-3Just over twenty years ago, Ted Lingle, then the Executive Director of the SCAA, undertook a tremendous project to formally catalog and describe many of the practices and beliefs of the specialty coffee community around the intersection of coffee quality and taste. One of the results of this exercise was the development and publication of the SCAA flavor wheel, a tool modeled on Ann Noble’s 1984 work, the Wine Aroma Wheel.

In creating the original Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel, Mr. Lingle had to overcome a paucity of strong coffee science, and instead rely on more generalized food science and his own logical applications of sensory science to coffee. The flavor wheel that he produced is remarkable on many levels. First and foremost, the flavor wheel, in combination with the Coffee Cupper’s Handbook, gave rise to a repeatable, meaningful and useful approach to assessing coffee quality. Effectively tying coffee quality to price paved the way for millions of producers, roasters and entrepreneurs to benefit economically from the production and delivery of specialty coffee.

Today, more than twenty years after the launching of Mr. Lingle’s remarkable wheel, the SCAA is proud to introduce the first significant revision to this seminal work. As you might imagine, much more is known today both in coffee and in sensory science, and the rigorous research that informs this new edition of the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel came from many quarters. The foundation piece is the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon, a comprehensive look at coffee flavor developed by Edgar Chambers at Kansas State University, validated at Texas A&M and in collaboration with a broad group of coffee industry professionals. This Sensory Lexicon was assessed and sorted using techniques developed at the University of California Davis (home of the original Wine Aroma Wheel) that called again on the talents of sensory professionals from within the specialty coffee industry.

The results of all this work, starting from Ann Noble in the early ‘80s, through Ted Lingle’s groundbreaking efforts in the ‘90s, and continuing today with the work of Dr. Chambers, WCR, SCAA and a host of academics and coffee professionals are manifested today in the new Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel. This latest edition is intended to be an easy to use tool for assessing and categorizing coffee flavors, and will be an integral part of the educational materials of the Specialty Coffee Association from this point on.

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge and thank all of those individuals, institutions and organizations that have committed the thousands of hours of time and effort in the development of this new flavor wheel, and stand back, take in and enjoy the beautiful work of functional art that they created. I encourage all of you to join me in this.