Dear friends and colleagues,

In case some part of your life is related to tasting of coffee or other drinks, this article is for you. Let me introduce you a descriptor’s sensory coding system for sensory evaluation.

An excellent cup is one of the brightest impressions. I have always had a desire to spend as much time as possible for tasting and as little as possible — for recording. In the result the idea of coding information for records appeared. It simplifies and speeds up the process of evaluation. This is not a new idea, many judges use codes and abbreviations for some of their notes. However, all tasters use, as a rule, their individual abbreviations, which are not always clear to others. I made codes for all common descriptors and other characteristics for coffee evaluation and bring them into one table. In this article I will try to describe all the potential benefits of working with codes for tasters.

First of all, I collected descriptors for coding. I took most famous descriptors, including most actively used flavor descriptors from barista championships, and add some local berries and fruits. Also I gathered widely used abbreviation for some points of the form, such as «Taste balance» and others.

I tried to give short, one-letter codes, to the most frequently used descriptors. In the table, I tried to associate color with flavor, as much as it was possible, and I made color of descriptors fields similar to the fruits, flowers, nuts and other products. I tried to place in the table flavors from similar groups close to each other, vertically or horizontally along the lines. By example of Periodic Table, I tried to put in the descriptors logically as much as possible in order to simplify work with the table. The coding is designed to be compact, it is 1-2 letters most of all. At the same time, combinations were selected to be as consonant with descriptors as possible in order to keep the uniqueness of each code.

Sensory Codes TableAs English is the language, traditionally used by tasters, I made my codes in Latin letters.

At the first sight it looks complicated, but its easy to start working with it. It is not necessary to learn it all, you can just  choose several descriptors’ codes, which are most often used in your practice. Even if you use for your personal everyday tasting of your coffee just a few codes, it can save you a lot of recording time (at least it will pay you off the time of reading this article). If you need to share your records in the future, it will be enough to attach a table of abbreviations to them.

In addition to coding words, I applied the simplified principle of noun formation for description. You simply put an apostrophe (’) next to the code. For example, in the table we use “S” for “Sweet”. If you need to write «Sweetness», you just write S’. As soon as you get used to it, it fastens up the process of handwriting. I made codes for the evaluation parameters, which are most frequently used in cupping forms as well, with the use of a colon. For example, to record in the championship forms some information for the point «Good explanation, presentation and brewing» we put a “W:” and after it, all the information will be referred to this point, which allows us better organize the comments. All abbreviations are given in the table. Thanks a lot for judges, who recommended to add to table some of commonly used cupping words.

One more convenient option – quality scoring of descriptors by using degrees of scale from 0 to 6. If you want to mark quality of descriptor, just put a degree number. For example use L² to write about lemon taste of medium quality.

There is no any specific sense in the numbers of columns and lines. They exist just to simplify the process of searching through the table.

What advantages can sensory coding give to tasters?

First of all, it is a significant reduction of recording time and an increase of perception time. According to preliminary estimates, the recording time is reduced by 4-5 times. Given that 15-30% of the tasting time is spent on handwriting, codes allow spent more time on coffee itself for its better evaluation. It is extremely important during championships, as handwriting in codes lets the judge make all notes quickly and reduces the risk of stress from getting huge amounts of information from the participant and from the tasting at the same time. Stress is known for it is ability to reduce the capability of taste perception, thus creating a less stressful environment can positively influence the quality of taste evaluation,

If some tasters get interested in the coding system and begin to practice it, it will be much easier to exchange information. Encoding allows you to minimize the problems of illegible handwriting, since the code is easier to read.

Compact writing will allow to save a lot of paper all over the world. Just imagine, how many sheets of paper are printed out every day for cup tasting. We will be able to fit more samples of coffee for evaluation into one sheet of paper, which will facilitate a comparative analysis of the results of the tasting.

The coding of descriptors in Latin letters will allow to create a language of tasters around the world. For those judges for whom English is not the native language, the use of encodings will greatly facilitate participation in international cup tastings and championships. It will be convenient to apply the coding not only for tasting coffee, but for any tasting.

Encoding will make it easier to read and quickly perceive the description of taste and flavor. We perceive images and words differently. For example, if we see a picture of an apple this immediately gives our brain a general idea of its taste. When reading the words “Red Apple”, we perceive information differently; it goes through a longer associative chain in our brains. 

In perspective, using of the encoding will easily let work out the program for handwriting scanning, which inevitably should appear one day. Just imagine: you make a picture or scan of your evaluation list and the program transfers your codes into a full description, it sums up all the data of all cuppers and lets to use it in a comfortable form for any purpose. For example, print or email the results of the tasting with descriptors in block letters, make statistics etc.

The table can be developed endlessly if the main principle of the every code’s uniqueness are maintained, which will allow to consider peculiarities of any region and of any group of tasters.

I will be happy to get your comments.

If you like the idea and this table, please, feel free to share it with your friends. The table will be distributed for free.

Thank you!

Alexander Tsibaev

Judge of the WCE National Championships since 2008
WCE Certified Sensory Judge of World Barista Championship since 2014
Cup of Excellence judge since 2008
Head of coffee training center «Sense of Coffee»
CEO of «Madian» LTD


Download free for non-commercial use:


Download file with Sensory Codes:


Download file with decoding table:

Download Sensory Codes Cards to learn