Wake up and smell the coffee. Then do it 9,999 more times and then maybe you’ll be a master at waking up and smelling coffee. Luckily, if you just want to be more adept at half of that equation—the smelling of the coffee part, not the waking up part—new research suggests that all you have to do it drink a lot of coffee.
According to an article in ZME Science, “regular coffee drinkers can perceive the smell of coffee with surprising alacrity” and do so much faster than non-coffee drinkers.
Before those who cup coffee on a daily basis let out a resounding, unified “no shit Sherlock,” this phenomenon appears to be more than just a simple “practice makes perfect” scenario. In a paper titled “Higher Olfactory Sensitivity To Coffee Odour In Habitual Coffee Users” published in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, lead author Dr. Lorenzo Stafford of the Psychology Department at the University of Portsmouth argues that it is due in part to craving/addiction.
To reach this conclusion, Stafford et al performed two experiments. In the first, 62 individuals were divided into three groups: non-caffeine drinkers, light drinkers (70-250mg daily, roughly 1-3.5 cups), and heavy consumers (300mg, 4+ cups). With their eyes covered, the participants were asked to detect as quickly as possible small amounts of coffee added to an odorless substance. They were then asked to do the same task with lavender essential oil as a control. The heavy coffee drinkers were able to distinguish the smell of coffee at lower concentrations than the other two groups and were able to do it more quickly.
For the next test, 32 individuals were grouped by coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers. They were asked to perform a similar experiment as the first but with a non-food odor as the constant. Yet again, the coffee drinkers were more adept as identifying the coffee smell, which was not the case for the non-food odor.
These findings suggest, according to ZME Science, that “sensitivity to particular smells is linked to cravings,” and as Dr. Stafford explains, the more the craving, the more receptive a person is to the smell:
We also found that those higher caffeine users were able to detect the odour of a heavily diluted coffee chemical at much lower concentrations, and this ability increased with their level of craving. So, the more they desired caffeine, the better their sense of smell for coffee.
This research is the first step in what some hope will be a way curb drug use (caffeine is a drug after all). It has already been shown that creating an association between an odor and something unpleasant has led to “greater discrimination to that odor.” Combined with the idea that we can perceive the smell of things better the more we want it, the idea is to use that heightened sense to then attach the odor to something unsavory.
So if you too want to be good at smelling coffee, whatever that means in this context, Science says to just keep doing what you are presumably already doing anyway. Keep drinking lots of coffee. And maybe attend a few cuppings, too. It can’t hurt.
Nose mug by Rafael Cacharro Muciño