• Todd Souter

Tasting the Flavour

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

This is part two of my previous post: 'Tasting the Texture', in this article the focus will be purely on Flavour and how to identify more specific flavours in coffee.

When we taste coffee, we are relying on our memory to identify the flavours we experience.

90% of what we taste is made up by what we smell. Try clenching your nostrils next time you taste Espresso - you will experience the mouthfeel and the texture, but the flavours will be very difficult to taste, then take your hand away from your nose and you will experience this incredible explosion of flavour!

When we taste our brain has to combine the Aroma, Taste and Tactile Experience together with our memory - in order for us to decide what that coffee tastes like.

The more flavours you have experienced in your lifetime the more flavours you will have in your memory to draw from - think of this like a 'Flavour Vocabulary'.

Chocolatey or Fruity Flavours?

In 2012 I started my first full time Barista job in Specialty Coffee, part of the focus was on tasting and sensory development; in order to help customers decide what retail coffee they would like to take home.

We were trained to ask 'Would you like something Chocolatey or Fruity?' Usually the customer was unsure of what they wanted, so it was up to us (the Barista) to help guide them in their taste preference.

So to begin tasting and identifying flavour, ask yourself: 'is this coffee Chocolatey or Fruity?' from there you can get more specific.

For example:

1. General Flavour:


2. Specific Flavour:

Milk Chocolate

White Chocolate

Dark Chocolate

Bakers Chocolate

3. More Specific:

70% Dark Chocolate

Raw Fermented Cocoa Nibs

1. General Flavour:

Stone Fruit

2. Specific Flavour:





3. More Specific:

Dried Apricot

Ripe White Peach

Flavours as Colours

Some people (myself included) find tasting in terms of colours a more natural approach. Once a colour has been established, then it may become easier to identify specific flavours.

For example let's say I’m tasting a 'Washed Pacamara from Honduras' and the flavours make me think of orange or orange coloured fruit.

Now that the colour has been identified I can go forwards from there and say: “Ok, what kind of orange?” So you could have Orange, Mandarin, Tangerine, but Blood Orange is the correct flavour I can taste.

Think of it like the 'Coffee Flavour Wheel' - by starting with a broad spectrum of colour, a broad spectrum of flavour; you can then move forward to a more specific flavour.

Some examples I use:

Green Fruits


Green Grape

Green Apple

Kiwi Fruit

Yellow Fruits


Yellow Grapefruit



Orange Fruits





Red Fruits



Red Grape


Purple Fruits

Purple Grape


Black Plum

Dragon Fruit

Black Fruits



Black Grape

Black Currant

The Correct Flavour: What is it not?

Taste is subjective and we have all tasted different things during our lifetime; this is why we all have different memories of flavour - a different 'Flavour Vocabulary'.

In terms of gaining experience and developing confidence through tasting, there will come many times when you're tasting, but struggling to name that specific flavour - we've all been there!

One method to try is asking yourself: 'What is it not?', you might be thinking of a green fruit (the green section of the Flavour Wheel), you could say:

"It's not Green Apple, Green Grape or Lime, I know - it must be Kiwi Fruit";

by using a quick process of elimination the correct flavour can be easily identified.

In Conclusion

As Coffee Professionals, our health and our ability to taste is absolutely essential; in order to guide our customers in their flavour preference and flavour experience.

I highly recommend doing a lot of tasting - not just coffee - different fruits, chocolates, nuts, wine, everything! Build up your flavour memory and increase your flavour vocabulary.

#tastetheflavour #flavourmemory #flavourvocabulary

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