What Coffee Drinkers Can Learn From the Art of Wine Swirling

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Imagine this familiar story... 

You’re having dinner with your closest friends in a quaint, al fresco restaurant, enjoying tapas while listening intently to the lively conversation. The waiter arrives with a freshly corked bottle of red wine and pours a sample into your glass to taste before proceeding to pour for your friends. Without a second thought you subconsciously swirl your wine in the glass, smell the aromas, and then take a sip before giving the waiter a nod of approval.

Now let me ask you this. Do you swirl because you know the effect it has on your wine — or is it simply out of following cultural norms? When we enjoy a glass of wine, more often than not, we instinctively swirl and nose the wine from the glass before taking a sip. 

Why do we swirl wine?

But why do we do this? And where does it come from?

Photo from winefolly.com

Whatever your answer may be, there’s much to be said about the art (and subconscious habit) of swirling wine–and even scientific evidence for why we do this. For one, wine appreciation is first and foremost an immersive sensory experience, in which swirling allows the drinker to activate the aromas in the wine. Much of the wine’s flavor (90% in fact) comes from the aroma itself. 

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Coffee is as much a sensory experience as wine thanks to the growing range and depth of processes involved in cultivating, roasting, and brewing to unlock specific flavor profiles. It’s safe to say that coffee drinkers can learn a thing or two about how to reveal the full flavor potential through swirling. 

So here are the key reasons why we swirl wine and why coffee drinkers should start this practice to get the best sensory experience.


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We swirl wine to reveal its aroma.

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The key purpose behind swirling is to reveal a wine varietal’s distinct aromas and scents. Believe it or not, the complexity of a wine’s flavor profile is created through our olfactory sense — with our nose considered as the key sense utilized in tasting and enjoying wine. Notice how sommeliers instantly put their nose directly into the opening of the wine glass right after swirling? This is done to get a whiff of the range of aromatic notes that are present in the wine — is it fruity, earthy, woodsy, or a little bit of everything? It is through the aroma that the origins of the wine are traced and detected.

But how does swirling reveal the aromas in the first place? When wine is poured into a glass, only the lighter aromatic molecules and ethanol vapors are released into the air while the heavier aromatic molecules sit on the bottom. Swirling volatilises the heavier aromatic molecules causing them to diffuse and oxidize more quickly, lifting it from the liquid and up to the glass opening. The more you swirl, the more the aroma molecules attach to oxygen in the air and get released. Secondly, swirling increases the surface area of wine exposed to air by creating mini waves within the glass, but also by coating the inner glass wall with a thin film of wine. Greater surface area further increases the diffusion of aromatics into the glass bowl, which is then focused to your nose at the rim. Suffice to say, the more you swirl the greater the aromatic diffusion, and more the aroma is amplified. 

Want to test this out? You can do a simple experiment by pouring the same wine into two wine glasses. Give one glass a swirl while the other remains stationary. Smell the aromas from the openings of both glasses and notice how the aromas from the swirled glass are more intense. You can also experiment by swirling with different shaped vessels, like a regular straight-walled drinking glass (or even a plastic cup) and a proper wine glass. The wine glass is designed to capture and focus the aromas long enough for us to take a good whiff of its scent, while the regular drinking cup allows the aromas to escape too quickly. 

Should we swirl coffee, too?

Given that coffee is a more complex beverage than wine, with over 1000 flavor and aroma compounds (whereas wine only has 250), the question now stands: should we swirl coffee, too?

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The answer is a resounding yes.

If there’s one key similarity between wine and coffee, it’s that both are immersive sensory experiences, where aroma is the most alluring (if not most enjoyable) aspect when drinking. Reminisce back to those mornings when you wake up to the smell of freshly brewed coffee. Or how you take the time to simply hold your cup and smell it before taking a sip. Taking in the aroma is one of the best aspects of the coffee experience, which is why even competitive baristas have used wine glasses to sample and serve their specialty coffee in competitions like the World Brewers Cup and World Barista Championships. They’ve tested and experimented with dozens of vessels to give judges the best sensory experience.

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Specialty coffee also shares a similar heritage to wine. From its origins to the way it’s harvested, to how its flavor profiles are developed through different processing methods. Much like wine, how the coffee is stored, the brewing method, and the drinking temperature, all affect the perceived aromas and flavors. And just like wine drinkers, the final key in unlocking our coffee’s full spectrum of flavors is in swirling.

How do we swirl coffee like a pro?

So we agree that swirling should be applied to our coffee drinking experience to elevate its aromas and flavors. The question now is, what is the key to swirling coffee like a pro? 

Simple. It’s having the right vessel.

If you look at the classic coffee mug, with a short body and a thick, wide rim, you can see that not much consideration was placed on the design for sensory enhancement. If you try swirling your coffee with this mug, you can expect more than a few aromatic molecules to escape (picture hot coffee all over your table and hands).

It took centuries for wine glass craftsmen and sommeliers to reach the consensus that the shape of the vessel has an impact on the sensory perception of wine. Learning from this rich history, coffee connoisseurs can borrow the same ideas and learnings to reap the same benefits by choosing the right vessel for flavor enhancement.

There’s a certain science that comes into play when you think about the right vessel to swirl coffee like a pro. You have to consider not just the amount of liquid (coffee, in this case) being poured into the vessel, but design factors such as the bowl diameter, shape profile, and rim architecture. For instance, wine glasses are designed with a large bowl and smaller rim, which allows for effective and safe swirling while capturing the aromatic molecules in the glass. Unfortunately, not a lot of traditional coffee vessels are made this way.

The good news is that we’ve already done the work, so you don’t have to. Since the launch of our AVENSI Coffee Sensory Glassware 2 years ago, we’ve had the honor of introducing a completely new way of appreciating and enjoying everyday coffee.

Image from ICOSA Brewhouse

The AVENSI Coffee Enhancing Glassware Collection borrows from decades of science and engineering from wine glass design and was tested and refined with the help of over 90+ coffee professionals, sensory experts, and world champion brewers. 

AVENSI allows for easy swirling to amplify aroma thanks to its specially designed shape which is optimized for coffee. The wide bowl and tall ‘aroma chamber’ captures and delivers the delicate scents to your senses better than any other coffee cup. It also features a ‘perfect pour line’ which serves as a visual indicator to pour your coffee to because it marks the largest surface area for maximum aromatic diffusion.  

Image from Mariam Erin

Following how Riedel created varietal-specific wine glasses to highlight the different flavor profiles of wines, we designed three uniquely shaped glasses named VIDA, SENTI and ALTO as part of the AVENSI sensory collection. Each glass enhances and complements different coffee flavor profiles allowing you to swirl your favorite coffees and discover the full spectrum of flavor notes. 

Since its launch, AVENSI continues to elevate the way coffee enthusiasts appreciate specialty coffee — garnering support from coffee professionals, competitive brewers, and even so far as earning the SCA’s Best New Product in 2021. If you want to truly swirl coffee like a pro and transform your coffee drinking ritual into a sensory adventure, you need to try the AVENSI glassware collection!

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