Spicy Coffee? The Spice Notes Section of the SCAA Flavor Wheel


The word alone evokes so much feeling- the color red, delectable culinary delights, Tabasco sauce, or biting into some truly infernal Buffalo wings. While these are all examples of spiciness, they aren’t the most ideal for zeroing in on the flavors, aromas, and hints referred to by the “spice” section of the SCAA flavor wheel.  In general, most people probably don’t associate coffee with spices. So what exactly does the SCAA mean by “spicy” on the coffee flavor wheel? Here’s a hint: think less five-alarm chili and more masala chai!

In this article, we’ll check out a few examples of “spice” notes for a better understanding of this section of the SCAA flavor wheel.  But first- what exactly is the SCAA flavor wheel?

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The SCAA Flavor Wheel and You!

Each category (and subcategory) on the SCAA flavor wheel represents a flavor, hint or note that can be found within coffee. Flavor notes from all over the wheel may be found in a single cup of coffee. For example, a cup may exhibit an aroma that matches more of a floral profile, but with a body that may have a nutty finish. Cupping- preparing and sampling a variety of coffees at once for tasting- can help to grow an appreciation for all of the different flavors in your cup.  Cupping the right set of coffees, brewed the right way to highlight their differences is almost an art form, and certainly worth trying on your own, too!

Variety is the Spice of Life…and Coffee!

As we noted above, when enjoying coffee that has flavors or aromas categorized in the “spice” section of the flavor wheel, think less jalapeno and more your home spice rack. The “spice” section of the flavor wheel is split up into three main categories- brown spice, pepper, and pungent- with “brown spice” containing four subcategories.

Brown Spices

The brown spice subcategory is a real “sweetheart”! As can be seen from its subcategories. “brown spice” coffee flavors are generally sweet.  The “brown spice” subcategories include:


This clove subcategory within the brown spice section refers to a set of flavors resembling a clove.  Simultaneously, spicy, floral, sweet, vaguely minty/herbal and even a bit medicinal tasting. But, in a good way!


Don’t wait for the holidays to check out this category on the flavor wheel. This spicy-sweet, somewhat woody and a tiny bit pungent flavor can be found in a variety of beans, from Ethiopia to Java to Guatemala.


Nutmeg notes are usually strongly aromatic. With a touch of lemon, nutmeg flavors are usually woody, but also slightly pungent.  A peculiar but unforgettable character!


Many may recognize this spice as a key ingredient in many forms of Asian cooking, but it also happens to be one of the subcategories within the brown spice category. Anise is with an aroma resembling caramel but featuring some petroleum, floral and even medicinal hints.


The pepper category of the spice section on the SCAA flavor wheel refers to black pepper, not hot peppers. The flavor profile for this category features aromatic characteristics that are both musty and woody that combine into a profile reminiscent of that beloved accouterment. black pepper.


The pungent category has the reputation for being penetrating, sharp and physically engaging.  It describes a sensation that rings and fires through your nasal cavity. Unfortunately, “pungent” coffee is often an undesirable note that results from overfermenation during natural processing. In other cases, however, pungent flavors are desirable, like in a particularly earthy Sumatra.  When you find coffee which falls into the pungent category appropriately (not from incorrect processing), the result is often a uniquely pleasant experience!

What kinds of beans possess “spicy” notes?

For those hoping to experience coffee with spicy notes, or perhaps even try their own cupping, beans from all over the world feature spice notes and aromas. Guatemala has a few choice beans featuring brown spice notes. Guatemala Antigua is known for smoky notes resembling cloves and cinnamon.  Huehuetenango, also from Guatemala, commonly features baking spice notes like nutmeg.

Some select Indonesian beans have some great spice flavor on offer as well. Java and Sumatra often carry an earthy, herbal aroma that can qualify as the good kind of pungent.

And for those who love a good Ethiopian coffee, you can find some exquisitely spiced flavor hints, too.  Ethiopian Guji often carries a floral spiciness reminiscent of gingerbread. Ethiopian Harrar commonly tastes of cinnamon and cardamom.  


To recap, the spice section on the SCAA flavor wheel is divided into three smaller groupings- pepper, as in black pepper with a woody and bold aroma, pungent, with its strong, petroleum-like scent that be felt in the nose as much as on the tongue, and brown spice, the sweet category that is further divided into the clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and anise subcategories.

Your next move should be to seek out some beans and try your own cupping! This way you can zero in on which flavors and aromas make up your favorite cup of Joe. Perhaps the bean you end up liking the most will have some interesting spice notes!


  • “Coffee Flavour Profiles, Part 3: Spicy and Herbal. Our Recommendations.” DRWakefield, 10 July 2018, drwakefield.com/news-and-views/coffee-flavour-profiles-part-3-spicy-and-herbal-our-recommendations/.
  • “How to Use the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel in 8 Steps.” Specialty Coffee Association News, 20 Sept. 2017, scanews.coffee/2016/02/05/how-to-use-the-coffee-tasters-flavor-wheel-in-8-steps/.
  • “Interactive Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel.” Interactive, notbadcoffee.com/flavor-wheel-en/.
  • Langer, Rachel. “What’s That Flavor? Ask the Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel.” RED ROCK ROASTERS, RED ROCK ROASTERS, 13 Jan. 2020, www.redrockroasters.com/blog/coffee-2/coffee-tasters-flavor-wheel.

Jay Arr

Jay Arr is passionate about everything coffee. What began as a simple interest in the history, production, and brewing of coffee led him to a job as a barista at a national coffee chain. That’s not where Jay’s story with coffee ends, however. Roasting and brewing day in and out, he continued to gather knowledge about all things coffee.

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