You Can’t Smell Sweet

 
By 29 September 2011
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As we were preparing for a cupping yesterday, an interesting conversation arose while we were taking in the dry fragrance of some Kenya microlots. You can’t  smell sweet. Things also don’t smell sour, bitter, salty, or umami. These five cardinal tastes are things that we perceive with our tastebuds. Our nose, however, is picking up aromatics that we may associate with certain tastes.

Take two coffees, say, a mellow Guatemalan from Antigua, and put it next to a really shimmery Kenyan. Of course you are going to say the Kenyan smells brighter, but you aren’t really smelling these organic acids that contribute to its brightness: you are smelling things that you associate with brightness, and this is probably based on your experience with coffees, stone fruits and gummy bears. Even if you somehow crammed these organic acids up your nose, your smell receptors probably wouldn’t know what to do with them, they are the keys for your tastebud locks. Do us a favor: slice up a lemon, hold your nose, and lick the lemon. It’s still sour. You can do this with salt, soy sauce, granulated sugar, dried citrus peel… and your nose has nothing to do with it.

We’re in the process of developing a feature on the phenomenology of taste and smell to debut next week as we unroll a brand new Sprudge experience. Stay tuned!

 
  • Great job. But just to nit pick (if that’s the right expression) you don’t smell raspberries, caramel og stone fruit in the coffee either. You smell aromatic molecules called crazy things like “3-mercapto-3-methylbutyl acetate” in various amounts and combinations. Your smell receptors are activated by them and your brain puts them together and then you associate them with rasperries, caramel, stone fruit or whatever. There’s people out there actually discussing flavours in those terms and not just in associations. Looking very much forward to your feature!

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  • Joe Marrocco says:

    These are the kinds of things that make me love you all. Taste is so very misunderstood in our coffee community. Thanks for helping us out!

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