What is the sensory map of coffee?

The coffee sensory map or coffee 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. In order 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, which is obtained thanks to the carbohydrates that this variety of coffee has.
  • Flavour: This is the overall impression obtained from the aroma, acidity and body of the beverage.
  • Residual taste: This component is felt immediately after drinking the coffee. It is also known as aftertaste.
  • Balance: This is the result of 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 can be perceived by the human senses. Therefore, the structure of the map includes three categories: 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 variety of coffee and the preparation and quality of the beverage.

The variety of aromas also changes according to the perception of each individual, ranging from citrus, caramel or chocolate sensations, floral aromas, vanilla and even panela. The qualities of the soil also determine the aroma of the coffee. Fragrances similar to almonds, pepper or 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 method of preparation according to the variety of coffee you have.

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. Depending on the coffee variety, the value of the acidic notes is determined.
  • Bitterness is a taste specific to coffee and is known as the “macro taste”, as it is one of the main characteristics of the beverage, such as espresso for example.
  • In its natural state and without additions, coffee’s sweetness is one of its favourite components. The less sugar is 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. Robusta coffee is characterised by an open texture and a brown cream with shades of grey.

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 the density of the beverage is produced by oily emulsions and insoluble substances called colloids. 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.