The Coffee aroma wheel is a force to be reckoned with, especially if you’re an upcoming coffee connoisseur, a cupper, barista or even a coffee lover.

As always, we’ve made coffee-making accessible to everyone because we believe that coffee-making is more an art than a skill or job.

Today you’re going to put on your cupper persona, even if you’re not well acquainted with tasting flavours because you’ll learn to distinguish a coffee’s flavour and aroma with the help of our coffee aroma wheel.

The first step towards becoming an established coffee connoisseur is getting yourself trained in coffee-making. The best place to get your hands-on experience is one of Adelaide’s Top Barista Institutes.

What Gives Coffee It’s Flavour?

The Maillard reaction gives coffee its true flavour by converting a small number of molecules found inside coffee beans into hundreds, perhaps thousands, of aromatic compounds that are responsible for coffee’s distinctive flavours. The coffee cherry tea that is made from cascara emits a fruity aroma and flavour and is slowly gaining popularity in the west. 

Coffees can have a variety of flavours, including sweet, earthy, caramel, and butterscotch, thanks to other chemicals such as aldehydes, furans, and pyrazines. The type of specialty coffee processing influences coffee’s flavours and aromas. 

What Are Coffee Flavour Notes?

Flavour notes are not flavours in and of themselves but rather are an attempt to convey the sensory experience and uniqueness of various beans.

What Makes Coffee Smell Good?

Coffee Aroma Wheel

Science says that one of the most enticing fragrances to humans is coffee. Coffee’s distinct aroma appeals to all pleasant aromas, including sweet, spicy, fruity, flowery, and smokey.

Particularly, every smell has a unique molecule. In addition to producing the bitterness in coffee, phenols also give dark roast coffee its characteristic smokey or earthy aroma.

According to certain investigations, the molecule furfurylthiol is another one that has been linked to the “coffee smell” on its own.

Most people are drawn to coffee because of the aroma of caramel or sweetness, which is caused by hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) (Grote).

How Do You Describe Good Coffee?

Coffee Aroma Wheel

A wonderful cup of coffee will always be centred on the coffee beans. It all comes down to a coffee roaster who can properly bring out the best features in the coffee beans once the beans have been harvested.

Distinguishing Robusta from Arabica, which are the two different types of beans, helps determine how your cup of coffee is going to perform in terms of flavour, taste and aroma.

Arabica beans, which are less bitter and frequently have more flavour than Robusta, which has low acidity and a strong bitterness.

Additionally, the roast has a significant impact on how your coffee turns out. One of the most mysterious reactions in food science, known as Maillard browning, is started during the roasting process.

A flavourful cup of coffee will have a mouthfeel that is smooth and well-balanced in terms of acidity, bitterness, sweetness, and texture.

Factors The Impact Coffee’s Flavour and Taste:

  • The type and blend of coffee beans, the geographic origin, the roasting technique, and the method of preparation all affect the sensory profile of a cup of coffee
  • The molecules and aromatic compounds include the organic acids that give coffee its brightness, such as malic, acetic, and citric acids, to name a few
  • A cup of coffee’s total sensory experience, both during preparation and consumption, will be impacted by variations in these factors

What Are Your Basic Tastes?

Coffee Aroma Wheel

To describe food, we utilise taste. Mr. Briscione defines taste as “the perceptions we experience thanks to the chemical reactions that take place on the tongue when food enters the mouth,” and divides it into six categories: bitter, sour, sweet, salt, umami, and fat.

Separating the concept of taste from flavour is the first step to achieving true food matching nirvana.

Taste only account for 20% of what we consider to be taste, while the remaining 80% is determined by the nose according to Mr. Briscione, which makes aroma very important.

The idea behind Mr. Briscione’s invention is to discover the various volatile substances in food that control flavour and scent. These substances, which are essentially odour molecules, influence how we perceive flavour.

What Is The Aroma Of Coffee?

Coffee Aroma Wheel

Coffee aroma characteristics include bitterness, sweetness, acidity, sourness and saltiness, while scent descriptors are usually floral, herby, nutty and smoky.

Coffee has more than 800 recognised aromatic compounds, and because of improvements in testing technology, the discovery of more aromas are on the rise.

Fresh coffee will have a stronger aroma than older, stale coffee since aroma is the release of delicious components from coffee through the air (which is also why it tastes better!).

In general, the aroma is stronger as a roast goes darker because more coffee chemicals are altered and become perceptible.

A coffee’s aroma is also related to the coffee’s flavour and acidity. For example, if coffee is very rich-flavoured, then the aroma will also reflect that richness, and if coffee is acidic, it will smell acidic.

Some of the advantages of paying more for coffee are eliminated by the roasting process, which especially when done to darker degrees, removes the chemicals that give high end coffee its distinctive characteristics.

Sugar Browning

When the sugars are caramelised (browned) and flavours are developed during the roasting process, the Maillard Reactions, certain fragrances are created. All roasters aim to produce these fragrances.

  • Chocolate flavoured (butter, dark chocolate, vanilla)
  • Toasty flavoured (walnut, toast, peanut)
  • Caramel flavoured (hazelnut, honey, caramel)

Dry Distillation

These fragrances, which are produced when plant fibres burn during roasting, heavily depend on the roaster’s preferences, objectives, and desire to roast to a darker level.

  • Spicy (pepper or clove)
  • Carbon-like (smoke, tobacco)
  • Woody (pine, cedar)


During the growing and preparation of the beans, enzyme reactions occur that result in some of the most delightful and distinctive scents in coffee. These smells are the result of meticulous cultivation and preparation.

  • Floral (cardamom, tea rose)
  • Fruity (apricot, apple, blueberry)
  • Citrus (lemon, lime)
  • Herby (basil, garden peas, cucumber)

Aromatic Taints

The fragrances produced by poor quality or ill-prepared coffee fall under this category. Sadly, because these scents are already there in the beans, a skilful roast can only do so much to remove them.

  • Fermented (spoiled fruit, bad wine)
  • Grass-like (potato, straw)
  • Leathery (beef, leather, rubber)

The Best Smelling Coffee

Coffee smells best when its freshly roasted – roasters quickly lose flavour if the coffee smells stale. Weak scent = no flavour.

The fragrance will have to be purchased from a roaster directly rather than on store shelves.

Ordering coffee in an evaporator sealed bag is best for keeping coffee at its best quality. Buy beans and then grind them at home.

You will be asked at the end if you want strong coffee taste or subtle taste – cheap Colombian or Brazilian coffee has great aroma with no high costs.

What Is The Coffee Aroma Wheel?

The Speciality Coffee Association and the World Coffee Research joined forces to create the Coffee Taster’s Flavour Wheel. This coffee-tasting wheel is fundamentally an attempt to classify and codify the flavours and notes found in coffee by scientific means.

A flavour wheel is utilised with a variety of wines, whiskies, and craft beers in addition to coffee. A tool created by sensory experts is the tasting wheel, which provides precise terminology to describe different flavours.

It is important to note that the various terms used to describe all things, refer to the same sensory experience that includes both taste and fragrance.

Therefore, the sensory experience that results from both together rather than just taste or smell. Although it may sound technical, we routinely use intuition to accomplish this. For instance, the aroma of grilled steak contributes significantly to its flavour and experience.

How To Read A Coffee Aroma Wheel?

Coffee Aroma Wheel

Technically, the tasting wheel has three stages. They start from the inside and progress from general categories to ever-more-specific descriptors.

The Inner Layer – The nine general flavours are listed in the inner layer

The Middle Layer – The so-called umbrella phrases are listed in the middle

The Outer Layer – The specialised descriptions are listed in the outside ring

How To Use The Coffee Aroma Wheel?

Yes, it looks overwhelming, but we’re here to decode it for you as always and we’ll begin with the basics.

  1. Trace The Coffee Bean Origin- This one’s an easy step because all you’ve got to do is go back to your coffee label and identify where the beans have been grown. Its likely that the soil, temperature, climate, harvesting, weather conditions and other geographical factors determine bean performance.
  2. Type of Roast – The best smelling coffee will usually be one that’s freshly roasted. The flavour and aroma of coffee stem from the roasting process. Green coffee beans with a rather grassy flavour are changed throughout the roasting process to a coveted deep coffee flavour.

Research has suggested that lighter roasts preserve the herb and fruit notes, whilst smoky and burnt aromas are increased, and acidity reduced, in darker roasts.
Light, medium, and dark roasts all require different roasting profiles to obtain the finest flavour. Between these three roasts, there may also be levels, such as light-medium or medium-dark. The label on the bag of your coffee beans will help you identify if your roast is light, medium or dark.

  1. Smelling The Fragrance – Smelling coffee can reveal a lot about its flavour when the bag is opened. Identify the whiff of your beans to see if you can gauge nutty, earthy, sour, roasted or sweet fragrances because that will ultimately determine where your coffee sits on the wheel in terms of aroma and flavour.
  2. Comprehending Aroma – 4 major categories are used by the Speciality Coffee Association to classify coffee aromas: sugar browning aromas, enzymatic aromas, aromatic taints and dry distillation aromas. The best smelling coffee is one that leaves you wishing for more and so its important to decipher the one that is going to leave your customers longing for more.
  3. Taste The Acid – Coffee is acidic in nature and is made up of 6 types of acids: malic, chlorogenic, citric, quinic, acetic and phosphoric acid.

Malic acid is probably to blame if a coffee tastes as sharp as a green apple when you first bite into it. It’s definitely phosphoric acid if the coffee leaves your tongue feeling nearly Coca-Cola-like and sparkly, while biting into a lemon is similar to citric acid (Mandelbaum).

  1. Feel The Body – The sensation of “body,” like acidity and bitterness, is always present in a cup of coffee. The body is a mouthfeel that differs from the fundamental flavours and scents, hence most flavour wheels do not include it.
    There is a distinct difference between tastes, smells, and mouthfeel in sensory science, which make them all distinct feelings, each posessing a unique sensory pathway and mechanism (Alstrup).
  2. Decode Aftertaste – Learn the flavour notes first if you’re still unsure of how to distinguish between the various coffee flavours.

Taste the various fruits and nuts, smell the flowers mentioned in the coffee tasting wheel, and get acquainted with the other compounds by inhaling them.
When you’re ready to move on, consider the texture and aftertaste of the coffee in addition to identifying the various coffee flavour characteristics. In your mouth, how does the coffee feel? How is the body?

Use one of the terms light, medium, or heavy to characterise the body or texture of a particular coffee variety. A coffee with a light body is watery or juicy, one with a medium body is smooth or creamy, and one with a heavy body is chewy or bold.

Final Thoughts

Next time you brew or drink coffee, take an extra second to enjoy the coffee’s aroma. Whether light and fruity or dark and smoky, it plays a vital role in the flavour of your coffee. Inhale, exhale, savour the moment – and be grateful for your sense of smell.

It doesn’t take much to enhance your coffee-making skills to become an expert in the field, provided you have the passion that will help you sustain your cafe or coffee business once you have gained the knowledge you need. You can get your nationally accredited barista course in Adelaide and get trained from experts in the field to kickstart your journey.


  • Firman, Tehrene . I’m a Food Scientist and This Is How to Make a Perfect Cup of Coffee. 6 Jan. 2023,Well and good.
  • Grote, Lydia . “The Science behind Why Coffee Smells so Good.” Spoon University, College of William and Mary, 22 Nov. 2015,
  • Mandelbaum, Mariana . “How to Taste Acidity in Coffee.” Blue Bottle Coffee Lab, Accessed 27 Apr. 2023.
  • Oden, Garrett. “How to Taste Coffee: Aroma.” JavaPresse Coffee Company, 27 June 2017, Accessed 27 Apr. 2023.