Almost everyone loves the smell of fresh coffee beans. On the other hand, loving the way coffee tastes is a bit of an acquired attribute for many of us. What most of us don't realize is that the part of our brain that processes the smell of coffee is different from the part of the brain that processes the taste. The smell of coffee is processed by a part of our brain called the Limbic System, while taste is processed by the Cerebral Cortex. Interestingly, the Limbic System is the same part of our brain that also processes emotions. Because of this, smelling your coffee in the morning can be a bit of an emotional experience for many of us. The cerebral cortex is also used for functions such as thought and action. Perhaps that is why the taste takes many people more time to develop a love for. It requires some thought and higher level processing to create an appreciation for it.

Enjoying your morning coffee is as much about smell as it is about taste. In fact, coffee experts have developed an aroma and taste wheel that identifies all of the different potential aromas and flavors that you might experience in coffee. Coffee cupping experts use the aromas and flavors identified in the wheel as a sort of objective standard with which to describe the qualities of a given coffee. Leveraging an objective tasting standard along with a standard roast profile for beans enables coffee producers, importers, and roasters to have a standard way to communicate and describe each coffee for the purposes of sourcing and choosing the coffee that best meets the needs of the importer, roaster, and ultimately the consumer. This differs from the approach taken for wine or beer tasting, which is a more subjective approach to identifying flavors in those two fine beverages.

Coffee Flavor Wheel

As you can see from the wheel, the left side outlines an array of potential tastes, while the right side displays the possible aromas. We can further divide up the smell into Fragrance (smell while the coffee is dry) and Aroma (smell once the coffee is brewed with hot water) Next time you brew your coffee, take time to smell it before and after the brew and see if you can identify any aromas and tastes from the coffee wheel above.