STiR coffee and tea magazine

Volume 3, Number 1

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64 STiR tea & coffee industry international I travelled a long and bumpy road accumulating the knowledge required of a profes- sional coffee taster. My journey has taken me to the top of the mountain where it has been lonesome at times, but the view is good. Here is what I learned. ensory skills are multidimensional and the only eternal truth in coffee sensory science is that there are no eternal truths, although some like to think so. First of all: We are born different. We are as different inside as outside. Some people are born with more and better taste buds and more sensitive olfactory centres than others. But, this can to some extent be compensated by the dimension of training, more training and some study. A third dimension is your degree of interest, or passion for this product. It can be a huge advantage. But passion is also a threat. You risk becoming a one-dimensional nerd no longer able to see that there are other aspects of life that have a greater influ- ence on your customer's perception of taste than sensory technicalities. Quite often the analytical sensory experience is completely overshadowed by sociological and psycho- logical aspects. There are plenty of examples. The extended sensory understanding Taste. We experience taste through taste buds on our tongue and in the mouth. Sensors detect: salt, sweet, sour/acid, bitter and umami. So why then do half of the fi- nalists in the World Barista championship claim their coffee tastes like dark chocolate? That is impossible. They have no taste buds to register that. "Smells like" would make more sense. Literally! Aroma/smell. This registers in our olfactory centre located in the brain (right behind our nose). The vaporised aro- matic molecules reach the centre partly through the nose, but more important through our inner tunnels between the mouth and the nose. During that process the air and aroma are heated by the body making differences easier to detect. When the impressions from the tongue and the olfactory centre are blended in the brain we get a flavor. It is something more than taste. We need to invent a new word to avoid misunder- standing. Flavor is not even a word in several languages. It is not the same as "taste" which has several meanings: "She dressed in good taste"?!? When we sip coffee the various sen- sory impressions reach our brain and the brain exclaims: Coffee! Well, most of the time. But when we try to identify indi- vidual flavor components it gets trickier. We risk falling into a trap by just repeat- ing what others or flavor wheels tell us. Luckily within our brain is a huge store room of aromatic impressions between 6000 and 8000 depending on previous experiences and the individual ability to recall and express. That said this ability is also depend- ing on cultural background. When I first looked at the flavor wheel I noticed "Dutch Chocolate" but had no idea how that might taste. Even the Dutch had no idea. It had meaning in only a few regions in the U.S. So, do not despair if you do not recognize every flavor on the wheel. Do not feel inferior, rely instead on your own memory and use your own words to describe the flavor you experience. Sound. Next is what we hear. Sound influences consumer's perception of taste, smell and flavor. Russian physi- ologist Ivan Pavlov demonstrated it with dogs. Using bells he triggered reflexes built on previous positive experiences. When the bell sounded the dogs started to dribble as they knew food was com- ing. We have similar expectations when we hear the sound from the grinder or the steam handle in the coffee bar. The aromatic expectations are lower when we are met with a silent finger depressing an "on" button on a full automatic machine. Consider also the "person" making the sound. It is not just what we say, but how we say it that lends credibility to our statements. Emotional argument still By Alf Kramer S Confessions of a Coffee Taster

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