September 9, 2012

Ever Notice Coffee Seems To Smell Better Than It Tastes?

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

Many people consider coffee to be in their top two favorite brewed beverages, but a group of scientists has found that this popularity might be due to a bit of false advertising.

Have you ever noticed that a sip of the freshly brewed beverage can never quite match the smell of roasted beans wafting around your favorite coffee house?

That´s because as the coffee passes your tongue, a puff of aroma molecules stream up the back of your throat and into your nose where olfactory receptors send a much different and less satisfying signal to the brain than the original scent.

According to Barry Smith, founder of the Centre for the Study of the Senses at the University of London, this “second sense of smell” causes differences in perceptions in coffee as well as everything we eat and drink.

“We have got two senses of smell,” Smith told the Telegraph. “One sense is when you inhale things from the environment into you, and the other is when the air comes out of you up the nasal passage and is breathed out through the nose.”

This additional sense of smell, referred to as ℠retronasal´, causes the sensory information that is picked up by the nose to be sent to a different part of the brain and, therefore, it is interpreted differently.

While retronasal smelling can be a bit of a downer when it comes to coffee, although it can make certain ℠stinky´ cheeses like Limberger or Epoisses taste a lot better than they smell.

“Think of a smelly cheese like Epoisses,” Smith said. “It smells like the inside of a teenager´s training shoe. But once it´s in your mouth, and you are experiencing the odor through the nose in the other direction, it is delicious.”

“Then there is the example of when they don´t match in the other direction. The smell of freshly brewed coffee is absolutely wonderful, but aren´t you always just a little bit disappointed when you taste it? It can never quite give you that hit.”

According to research, chocolate and lavender are the only two known aromas that are interpreted in exactly the same way, whether they are detected during inhalation or exhalation.

Smith has also contributed his expertise to the 2007 book “Questions of Taste: The Philosophy of Wine”, which he also edited. In the book, Smith asserts that perceiving the subtle notes of wines like cabernet or Riesling is not purely subjective and is a skill to be refined. He points out that wines have objective qualities that an experienced taster can either get right or wrong.

In the case of coffee, many people strive for that perfect machine or blend of beans to heighten the pleasure imparted by the caffeinated concoction but Smith wryly notes that its taste is hampered by the fact that 300 of coffee´s 631 aroma chemicals are wiped out by saliva, causing the flavor to change before we swallow it. This could make you wonder if the stuff might taste better if we just poured to directly down our gullets.