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Creating a Sensory Lexicon for Coffee

A new tool to measure coffee's flavors
KSU sensory panel

Sensory scientists at Kansas State University spent 150 hours tasting and analyzing 105 coffees to identify 110 key sensory attributes in coffee.

The problem

To increase quality, you must first be able to measure it. To do so, you need an accurate, repeatable and statistically discriminatory sensory analysis method for describing coffee sensory qualities. In order to evaluate the quality attributes of different coffee varieties  and and to account for quality variables in breeding programs to develop new varieties, World Coffee Research needed to determine a better way to evaluate coffee quality than existing industry methods.

The solution

Researchers from Kansas State University identified 110 flavor, aroma, mouthfeel, and "impact" attributes in coffee by analyzing existing sensory research, coffee evaluation tools (such as coffee flavor wheels, and the SCAA Coffee Cuppers Handbook), and through analyzing 105 coffee samples from 14 countries. The list of attributes was reviewed and evaluated by respected coffee cuppers as well as a second sensory panel at Texas A&M University for validation. Each attribute is assigned a definition. References (products against which the attribute can be measured), are given with related intensities. Comparing the coffee against the reference allows tasters to precisely measure the intensity of a given flavor or aroma in a coffee sample to create a map of the coffee’s flavors. The resulting publication (available for free download here) can be used by sensory evaluators of coffee, as well as by industry.

Impact

The Lexicon will give coffee industry professionals a new tool for evaluating coffees and calibrating their analyses. It will allow coffee researchers and breeders to locate specific sensory qualities of coffee and begin to identify correlations between them and the presence of volatile compounds, physical qualities of beans, and gene expression to ensure these factors are taken into account in future breeding efforts to create the highest possible quality in new varieties.

To download the World Coffee Research Sensory Lexicon , go here.

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  • Location: United States of America
  • Leaders: Edward Chambers (Kansas State University), Rhonda Miller (Texas A&M University)
  • Partners: Kansas State University Sensory Analysis Center, Texas A&M University Animal Sciences Department
  • Cost: $120,000
  • Timeline: 2013-2016 (COMPLETE)