I take great pride in being a coffee snob, but I’m not one of those people who complies copious volumes of “tasting notes” trying to identify nuanced flavours like berry, or citrus, or caramel, or dark chocolate. But if you want to be that type of person, in any field of gastrononomy, here are some tips.
- Use your nose – “Our tongues are equipped to experience only salty, bitter, sour and sweet flavors, plus umami, a newish term we borrowed from the Japanese to define a savory tasting sensation… Flavor — the citrusy essence of lemongrass, that lusty smokiness of chipotle peppers — comes mainly via our nose, he says, and largely through what’s known as retronasal or orthonasal smelling.”
- Develop a mental flavour bank – “Get in the habit of tasting all the ingredients that go into a dish you’re cooking before it’s made… so you can see what they’re like raw and cooked in certain ways and with certain components.”
- Practice identifying flavours in your own words – “Wine tasting, you might have noticed, is big on cognition of a certain kind: a vocabulary of comparison, all that jazz about wine tasting like oak and petroleum and passion fruit and cat pee. Having “the balls”… to put what you’re tasting into new adjectives is what makes great tasters, great tasters. But the rest of us usually just learn the old adjectives that turn into jargon, usually by tasting something that is already agreed-upon to be apple-y or citrusy or whatever — Merlot and plums, Riesling and petroleum — rather than trying to pick it out ourselves.”