How to Taste an Espresso
Tasting Espresso means enjoying it. We start by sniffing it, then we drink it and end the experience by listening to the “music” it leaves on our palate. The closer we follow this advice, the more pleasure we gain.
This is the most misleading sense: a coffee that looks good doesn’t always taste good… just as a coffee that might not look so appealing can be immensely satisfying. Sight transmits 85% of the information carried by our senses to the brain, so it should be excluded during tasting if possible.
If possible, we should sniff our espresso for a few seconds, with our eyes shut: this way, we prevent our most powerful sense, sight, from imposing its information on that received by the nose, and as smell is a very slow sense (with 1% of information that comes from our senses reaching the brain), in doing so, we give it time to tell us what it feels.
Remember that our sense of smell is able to distinguish up to 20,000 different aromas! But slowly.
We know that our taste is made up of sweet, sour, bitter and savoury. For a few decades now, however, we have known that we also have sensors that can perceive umami, the fifth taste, reminiscent of meat and broth. Since 2012, we have known that our taste buds also have fat sensors, taking the number of tastes to six. Knowing this helps us during tasting. Taste is another very slow sense, with less than 1% of information reaching our brain.
No one thinks about touch when tasting, yet full-bodied or watery sensations are merely tactile. When an espresso is very full-bodied and creamy, we find ourselves in the presence of a series of tactile characteristics and a strong fatty sensation accompanied by umami.
The fatty information is not necessarily related to a strong presence of fat, as coffee contains very few calories, but to the liquid’s capacity to reach our senses with the few fat molecules that it does contain.
This is the combination of all the perceptions that linger in the oral cavity after tasting. The bitterness of an espresso without sugar disappears after about a minute, to be replaced by a strong perception of sweetness that lasts about twenty minutes. Then the taste disappears, along with the tactile perceptions, while the so-called “retronasal” aroma that we sense as we breathe out through the nose remains strongly. This aroma, which appears immediately after tasting, can last for over two and a half hours, as a pleasantly scented sensation. I like to describe it as unconscious aromatherapy, which caresses our brain. Perhaps this is why scientific research has proven that coffee “improves our moods”.