Words: Frieda Dehrmann Infographics: Rosie Davenport

The sensory wheel has never been more prevalent. From its close association with wine, the sensory wheel is now being used for everything from chocolate to mushrooms. And of course, tea and coffee.

These aesthetically pleasing diagrams offer a fascinating visual representation of flavour and have become a useful tool in understanding how we conceptualise the experience of consuming food and drink. They’re visual, captivating, and can prompt sensory recall that helps embed the sensory experience of a product.

But while these wheels appear simple, dig deeper and you will find yourself immersed in an intricate and detailed sensory realm. That’s because the best sensory wheels combine art with technical truth that pinpoint exactly why certain food and drinks have certain characteristics.

We can do this by identifying a “key impact molecule” – the molecule that is the dominant contributor to that character. For example in black tea, one key molecule is a compound called ß-damascenone which is a breakdown product of the carotenoid pathway. While in green/freshly cut grass, cis-3-hexenal is the responsible compound.

In the world of natural beverages, this level of technical sensory understanding is becoming increasingly important from an applications point of view. Not only can we identify these characteristics, but by measuring the key impact molecule (among other things) we can also better understand exactly how an ingredient will work as part of a product. This opens up an exciting world of possibilities.

The Sensory Art of Tea and Coffee Flavour Wheels at Finlays

That’s why Finlays has partnered with a global sensory service provider to help us develop our own tea and coffee flavour wheels. Combining their experience in certified sensory standards with our tea and coffee expertise, our sensory wheels will help us develop a language that will create effective and powerful communication for our ingredients and products. As we embark on this journey, we see the development of sensory science as hugely influential in the future of beverages. Because when you enter the sensory realm, the possibilities are endless.