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Coffee Nerd Alert

A Top Coffee Roaster Reinvents the (Flavor) Wheel

Counter Culture Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel.

Counter Culture Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel. Courtesy of Counter Culture Coffee

Since the 1990s, professional coffee tasters have depended on the Coffee Taster's Flavor Wheel, a reference guide to coffee's varying tastes and aromas that was developed by expert Ted Lingle (with a debt to Ann C. Noble, PhD, the UC Davis researcher who invented the Wine Aroma Wheel in the '80s). Now, cutting-edge roaster Counter Culture has introduced its own take on the ubiquitous tasting tool. Aside from a beautiful hand-drawn look, Counter Culture's wheel has an intuitive new format and—most strikingly—a boatload of new flavors. Where the original wheel mentions six fruit and floral notes, the new one offers 50, from tamarind to magnolia. The reason, says Counter Culture's Timothy Hill, is that today's hottest coffees (he sites the Geisha variety and washed Ethiopian beans) tend to be heavy on these sorts of flavors. "The Counter Culture wheel is simply based on our experience as cuppers and the descriptions that we have used," he says. "The frequency of descriptions is based on what is popular in coffee at the moment." Counter Culture wants feedback from the coffee community and aims to frequently update the graphic, which is accompanied by tables of coffee adjectives (like "juicy"), and body terms (like "smooth"). In the works is a wheel for faults ("fishy," "medicinal," "potato defect").

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