Like many of the categories of the flavor wheel, there is something mysterious, intriguing, and at times downright esoteric about the vegetative flavor section. This section is a maze of flavors that are somewhat hard for the palette to track- seeming to overlap and blend together. But, with a bit of knowledge and perhaps some practice, you’ll soon be familiar with the particular notes you are tasting. Now, let us prepare for a verdant voyage into vegetative flavors!
What the Green/Vegetative Category is NOT
It may go without saying that this category does not refer to green coffee per se; however, if you notice a green/vegetative aroma in their cup, it could be a sign that the coffee beans are too green. Sometimes a vegetative, or “green” taste comes as a result of harvesting coffee cherries that are not fully ripe yet. Think of it as biting into an apple or banana that is still, quite noticeably, green.
Additionally, the vegetative family’s attributes can come as a result of beans that have not been fully or properly roasted.
Your brewing water also can play a significant role in producing a green/vegetative taste. If the vegetative flavor of your cup is particularly unpleasant, take some time to consider the quality of your beans and water.
However, many coffee varieties from Kenya, Rwanda, other parts of Africa and Sumatra possess desirable green and vegetative flavor profiles.
These are often not defects or signs of underdeveloped beans. When exploring a coffee’s flavor catalog, keep an open mind: decide which flavors, aromas, and other characteristics are likely natural, intended, and serve as an ensemble note and which ones are quality defects.
But for the curious cuppers, let’s now turn to the green/vegetative family in a bit more detail. Below is a breakdown of the Green/Vegetative section of the SCAA Flavor Wheel.
Broadly speaking, the Green/Vegetative Family has a leafy, vegetal aroma and a taste palette branching off into more specific flavors. The family is broken down into four subcategories: Olive Oil, Raw, Beany, and a generic Green/Vegetative subcategory. The generic Green/Vegetative subcategory breaks down into 7 different notes: Under-ripe, Peapod, Fresh, Dark Green, Vegetative, Hay-Like, and Herb-Like.
The Beany subcategory, reminiscent of beans, refers to an earthy set of flavors that is musty, earthy, dusty, sour, bitter, starchy, and nutty.
While this description may be somewhat vague, the Raw subcategory evokes uncooked goods. More specifically, the flavor wheel suggests natural almonds as the reference point- not raw meat! Raw meat notes more likely would fall under the animalic notes section of the Papery/Musty family.
- Olive Oil
Olive oil notes are light but buttery, peppery, and slightly bitter. Belissimo!
This subcategory branches off into a whole garden’s worth of flavors and aromas. Broadly speaking, this category includes attributes evocative of plants and vegetables – a real salad of a category! Below are descriptions of the individual notes of this subcategory.
Peapod notes are a combination of raw and earthy notes that are very mildly sweet – and reminiscent of their namesake.
Under-ripe notes include aromas found in green and under-ripe fruit.
A slightly sweet, yet somewhat pungent note- fresh-cut grass, anyone? If you find the scent of a freshly cut lawn delightful and refreshing, these notes are for you!
- Dark Green
The superfood of superfoods, kale is counted among one of the characteristics of this subcategory. Bitter, dusty, and musty are all flavor traits of these notes.
Parsley and spinach are two excellent reference points for Vegetative notes, which are on the whole a bit bitter and earthy.
Hay isn’t just for horses. A dry and dusty aroma with earthy flavor describes this note.
Herb-like notes evoke aromas and flavors similar to those found in your favorite seasonings. A bit sweet, a bit pungent, and very slightly bitter. Bay leaves, thyme, and basil are all reference points.
It’s easy being green. And vegetative!
The green/vegetative family can cause quite a stir when they show up in your morning cup of coffee and, as noted above, some of these notes can be indicative of areas of concern regarding processing. For instance, these notes can show up in coffee beans that are not properly roasted, coffee cherries harvested too soon, or growing conditions-such as soil quality- of the coffee plants themselves. Brewing water quality may even play a role.
However, particular origins can offer desirable versions of these notes and help to create a really interesting, one-of-a-kind cup of coffee. Many coffee varieties from Kenya, Rwanda, and Indonesia exhibit these notes in delicious ways. Remember to keep an open mind with each and every cup of coffee you enjoy!
- “Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel.” Specialty Coffee Association, sca.coffee/research/coffee-tasters-flavor-wheel.
- “Coffee Tasting Vocabulary: Flavor Taints.” Coffee Review, www.coffeereview.com/coffee-reference/coffee-basics/tasting-vocabulary/specific-flavor-taintscharacteristics/.
- “Interactive Coffee Taster’s Flavor Wheel.” Interactive, notbadcoffee.com/flavor-wheel-en/.
- Scott Rao. “Was It the Green? The Roast? The Extraction?” Scott Rao, Scott Rao, 18 May 2019, www.scottrao.com/blog/2019/5/16/was-it-the-green-the-roast-the-extraction.