From Tasting, To Taste

While your trusty author is caught up in the net of another conference, here’s one from the archives… This first appeared on Bloggle February 7, 2002.

In a recent article on tasting coffee I suggested a ritual that’s both more appealing and less compulsory than the traditional “cupping” form. It’s sparked a number of conversations on the sense of taste — ranging from what flavors we might discern, how we describe them, and, in particular, how we compare them to other flavors — flavors have nothing to do with coffee, or with what we’d generally consider edible things.

You’re no doubt aware that taste and smell are inexorably twined — to taste fully you must be able to smell what you’re tasting. Want to test the idea? Pinch your nose while you’re eating your next meal… you’ll not only experience how tasteless the food becomes, you will also become very aware of the texture of the food. [Interesting how the mind works, isn't it?] Not only is smell bound up in the tasting experience, it contributes to our taste memory. Let’s try another exercise…

Take a deep breath. Release it. Now recall the smell of Scotch tape… it might be jumbled up with other smells of birthdays and Christmas and other gift-giving events. Maybe the memory of the smell is lurking near other school supplies…. Got it? Good. Now… how does it taste? Even if you’ve never had it in your mouth, your sense of smell is talking to your tongue and describing it quite well.

Let’s try some more… Freshly sharpened pencils. Magic markers. Elmer’s glue. Fresh-mowed grass. These are all things that you might have never tasted — never licked, chewed or swallowed — yet still you know their tastes intimately. and consequently, you’re familiar with the tastes of wood and gum rubber, graphite, isopropyl alcohol, and grass. [Green grass, just-mowed on a Summer's day.... I imagine you can even smell the gasoline from the lawnmower.]

So what about things other than food that you have tasted? Dirt? Pebbles? A copper penny? A paper clip? A rubber eraser? Even if you weren’t one of those kids that smelled and often tasted everything he touched —like me— you probably got a mouthful of flavors from unexpected places.

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