Sun Tzu, The Art of Taste - Flavor Wheel - Part 1

Sunzi 孙子 Introduces the Flavor Wheel

We’re going to kick this topic off with a REALLY old quote. When you live in China old quotes are in abundance - and this one bears a special relevance to our topic: SunZi introduces The Flavor Wheel!
LONG story short, SunZi (孙子) lived around 500 BC. He was a war strategist in the Warring States Period of Ancient China. He spoke the infamous "Art of War" nearly 2,500 years ago.
"In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. Indirect tactics, efficiently applied, are inexhaustible as Heaven and Earth, unending as the flow of rivers and streams; like the sun and moon, they end but to begin anew; like the four seasons, they pass away to return once more.
There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination they produce more hues than can ever been seen.
There are not more than five cardinal tastes (sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter), yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.
In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack -- the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers.
The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle -- you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?”
(SunZi孙子, ch.5 – Energy)
I studied SunZi’s “Art of War” long before I got into the coffee roasting business. However, I remember listening one day to my mp3 recording and thinking, “SunZi was a real keen observer!” He observed nature, music, taste and more all to gain wisdom and apply strategy. I was attracted to the fact that he cared about the details.
SunZi said there are 5 cardinal tastes: sour, acrid, salt, sweet, bitter. The last coffee tasting wheel I saw included all of these, but the main headings omitted acrid. That’s ok, since the word has fallen out of most peoples lexicon anyways.
So, why is it that when you ask a random person, “What do you taste in black coffee?” they likely respond, “it’s bitter.” But in fact, their tongue is communicating much more than only bitter - we just need to learn how to tune into the voice of "sour", "salt" and "sweet" to recognize the subtleties present in coffee.

Either that, or people need to start drinking lighter roasted, fresher coffee. We'll take a look at that in part two of our look at the flavor wheel.

Adam S. Carpenter

ROCC, LLC, 806 Gehr Street, Wenatchee, WA, 98801