Key take aways from the pod – S2E1 – Tasting coffee

After taking a listen to Season2 Eposide 1 of the Science of Coffee – listen here…The episode focuses on how our sense of smell and taste works, and how we can train ourselves to be better coffee tasters. The episode features interviews with experts in sensory science, coffee tasting, and neuroscience, who share their insights and tips on how to improve our tasting skills and enjoy coffee more. I though a summary would help:

Tasting coffee – key take-aways

  • Our perception of flavour is influenced by several factors, such as:
    • the chemical compounds in coffee,
    • the receptors on our tongue and nose,
    • the mucus in our nasal cavity, and
    • the brain regions that process sensory information.
  • Coffee contains over 800 flavour compounds, but we can only detect five basic tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty, and umami. The rest of the flavor comes from our sense of smell, which is more sensitive and diverse than our taste buds.
  • Our sense of smell is not only activated by the aroma of a coffee, but also by the retronasal olfaction, which is the smell that reaches our nose from the back of our mouth when we swallow or breathe out. This is why we can taste different flavours when we sip and when we swallow coffee.
  • Our sense of smell and taste is also affected by our environment, our mood, our expectations, and our previous experiences. For example, we tend to prefer familiar flavours, associate certain colors and shapes with certain tastes, and enjoy coffee more when we are in a good mood or in a pleasant setting.
  • To become a better coffee taster, we need to train our brain to recognize and remember different flavours, aromas, and sensations. We can do this by paying more attention to what we smell and taste, comparing and contrasting different coffees, using descriptive words and references, and practicing regularly.
  • It is important to note that if we taste coffees one after another, without neutralising our “taste buds” we will often not identify flavours and aromas from cup to cup. An example was give of adding the same amount of citric acid into two seperate glasses of water. Then adding sweetner to on. If you tast the one with just the citric acid first, then you do not perceive the acidity in the sweetned cup. However if you clear you mouth out wiuth water between the cups, then you perceive the acidity.
  • A take away about the perception of sugar resolved around what Linda Bartoshuk said: “sugar molecules are actually quite big, weirdly shaped, things. And those scouring pads floating in the sea of saliva are pretty big themselves and have a lot of twists and turns in them. Which is where other molecules, which are not sugar, can come along and get stuck in them too…, so let’s get back to this mystery of black filter coffee tasting sweet. One of the leading theories is that, well, maybe there’s something in good specialty coffee, that, you know, it’s not sugar, it’s not an artificial sweetener, but it’s some kind of molecule, just happens to bind to our sweet receptors”


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