What is the sensory map of coffee?

The coffee sensory map or flavour wheel is a glossary of coffee terminology created in the late 1990s by the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) and the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia.

This map is a graphic representation that coffee experts, novices and tasters use to define the qualities of each type of coffee. This scheme organises the elements that can be perceived through the senses, as its design reflects the attributes and characteristics of the cup profile. Below, you will find all the information about this sensory map.

What are the components of the coffee sensory map?

  • Acidity: This is a common characteristic of Arabica coffee. If the beans lacked this component, the taste of the coffee would be flat and watery. The definition of acidity uses references to acids such as: citric (lime, grapefruit, lemon), malic (apple, pear) and vinous (grape).
  • Aroma: This is the fragrance that emerges when coffee is brewed. To define it, its intensity and clarity must be analysed and measured. Then we try to find similarities with specific aromas such as floral, herbaceous or fruity.
  • Body: This component of the coffee sensory map can be felt when the coffee passes from the mouth to the palate. This is to establish the length and consistency of the taste of the coffee when tasted.
  • Sweetness: This is another characteristic of Arabica coffee, obtained thanks to this variety of carbohydrates.
  • Flavour: This is the overall impression obtained from the beverage’s aroma, acidity and body.
  • Residual taste: This component is felt immediately after drinking the coffee. It is also known as an aftertaste.
  • Balance: This results from the sum of all coffee components except for sweetness and aroma.
coffee sensory map

Division of the coffee sensory map

As mentioned above, the coffee sensory map sets out the qualities of the beverage that the human senses can perceive. Therefore, the map’s structure includes aroma, taste and sight.

Smell and aroma

Coffee has particles from which its particular aroma emanates. These aromatic molecules are released in the roasting process, but the aroma varies directly depending on the coffee variety and the beverage’s preparation and quality.

The variety of aromas also changes according to each individual’s perception, ranging from citrus, caramel or chocolate sensations to floral aromas, vanilla and even panela. The qualities of the soil also determine the aroma of the coffee. Fragrances similar to almonds, pepper, wood, nuts, or tobacco can also be perceived.

By brewing coffee correctly, it is ensured that all the fragrances and notes of the coffee are retained in the beverage. It is, therefore, important to know the best preparation method according to your coffee variety.

Taste and flavour

Another important aspect of the sensory map of coffee is the taste, which is captured through the taste buds. The tongue perceives flavours and classifies them according to whether they are salty, bitter, sweet or sour. On the other hand, coffee contains these characteristics in the following proportion:

  • Acidity can be defined as a false fresh taste that produces a tingling sensation on the palate of the coffee drinker. The value of the acidic notes is determined depending on the coffee variety.
  • Bitterness is a taste specific to coffee and is known as the “macro taste”, as it is one of the main characteristics of beverages such as espresso.
  • Coffee’s sweetness is one of its favourite components in its natural state and without additions. The less sugar added to the coffee after preparation, the more its sweet notes can be perceived, as this characteristic is preserved during extraction and grinding.

Sight and perception

The colour and appearance of the coffee can be appreciated by sight. The perception of the colour, the apparent texture of the coffee and the cream covering the beverage distinguish one type of coffee from another. An open texture and a brown cream with shades of grey characterise robusta coffee.

On the other hand, Arabica coffee has dark brown lines and a smooth texture. The body of coffee can also be qualified by perception, as oily emulsions and insoluble substances called colloids produce the density of the beverage. These are visible to the naked eye in coffee extracts.

As you can see, the sensory map of coffee is full of diverse qualities that make up the cup profile of coffee. The preparation of the beverage is decisive in most cases to preserve all the characteristics of coffee, as the flavours and aromas change according to the temperature and time of preparation.