What is World Coffee Research’s Sensory Lexicon?

Counter Culture’s March 2018 ProDev highlighted World Coffee Research’s Sensory Lexicon. Our quarterly ProDev conversations explore subjects relevant to cutting-edge coffee enthusiasts.

Counter Culture has been partners with World Coffee Research (WCR)—a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting quality coffee while improving the livelihoods of producers—since the organization’s inception in 2012.

“The Sensory Lexicon is basically a dictionary of coffee flavor attributes,” says Tracy Gill, the regional educator who led the ProDev at our headquarters in Durham, NC. “It was put together by coffee professionals and sensory scientists who came up with 110 attributes that they found after tasting 105 coffees from 13 different countries.”

The scientists created a system of different references for aroma and flavor with each reference corresponding to a word like “blackberry.” The references also get an intensity score ranging from 1–15 based on how intense that particular flavor or smell is in the coffees.

ProDev participants were encouraged to taste and smell multiple references during the event.

During the ProDev, participants learned about the history of WCR and how the group is funded. They also got to experience the Lexicon firsthand by tasting and smelling different references.

“It was really fun to see some people guess the references right away or completely miss the mark,” says Tracy. “I liked to remind them that this was put together by trained sensory scientists, so it was ok if they were a little off.”

In addition to being a fun, interactive experience for coffee fans, the Lexicon helps scientists understand coffee quality and what flavors contribute to that quality.

To learn more and view the whole lexicon, visit the WCR website.