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The Coffee Sensorium

  • 3 min read

Working at Dear Green, we always like to challenge our senses to develop as coffee professionals by continuously slurping and smelling delicious coffee, as well as undertaking training to challenge and further our coffee knowledge.

Recently, we had the pleasure of welcoming Dr Fabiana Carvalho to our roastery, a neuroscientist and psychologist working closely with the Specialty Coffee Association and the coffee industry, undertaking research to further our collective understanding of coffee and how our minds perceive the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes associated with the beverage.

Fabiana has an impressive resume, with several published scientific articles and 30+ years of research and experience, Fabiana’s presence was incredibly valuable as she was able to talk in depth and at length about the multifaceted sensory systems we have and how these directly influence our perception of flavour.

Despite having various levels of sensory experience, practice and qualifications in our team we weren't entirely sure what to expect, having never attended a ‘Coffee Sensorium’ before. 

Here's what Alex had to say following his Coffee Sensorium experience:

"I was clueless as to what would take place over the two day course. However, after a quick coffee and a chat we got stuck straight into the deep end on the first day. Fabiana introduced us to how taste and flavour is perceived by our sensory system, speaking in detail about the taste cells in our taste buds and the neuronal pathways that send signals to our brain. This was paired with an activity where we tried a solution of each of the 5 basic tastes: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. We were asked to rate each taste on strength and how lasting the finish was. Most interestingly, while the sourness was most sharp, it only lasted a few moments, as opposed to bitter, which was both strong and long lasting (and unpleasant!)


Using our experience of the basic tastes Fabiana introduced us to the idea of cross-modality. This is the concept of using other senses to describe taste or flavour experiences. For example, using shapes or colours (sight), or tactile descriptors such as sharp, round, full, thick (touch) to describe or experience.
My favourite part of the course was when Fabiana spoke of a research paper that explains this idea very well; many flavour experiences can be split into two categories: kiki or bouba. When something is kiki it can be sharp, bright, pointy, thin, light, spritz-y with lighter colours such as pale greens, blues, yellows or pinks. Contrastingly, when something is bouba, it can be full, thick, round, bulbous, with deep, potentially darker colours such as browns, deep reds or purples. 


I loved this. When tasting coffee, often times a colour pops into my mind, I never knew why, I just accepted it. This colour would translate to the flavour I experienced. For example, when drinking a natural African coffee, a coffee with full and punchy fruit flavours, I’ve had really vivid deep reds pop into my head. I’d use this colour to translate to the flavour I was experiencing such as apple or a type of berry. Or perhaps deep yellows or oranges would appear, translating to tropical fruit. To my enjoyment, Fabiana explained this is normal and the reason for it being that the portion of the brain that produces language is separate from the portion of the brain that receives sensory signals such as, sights, smells and sounds. However, the regions for these three senses are clustered together. This is why when experiencing a nostalgic scent from your childhood, such as freshly baked goods, or a specific perfume, your mind produces a vivid image of that experience. This is why I love the concept of kiki and bouba, we can use this to categorise and describe what we are experiencing. Translated to coffee, you can have a flavour experience of dark chocolate and almonds, with a full body tactile experience. This would be very bouba - Round, thick, full, deep browns and golden yellows. Or a coffee with blueberry and lemon notes. Sharp, crisp, blues, purples and yellows. Very kiki."


You can register here to be the first to find out when the next Coffee Sensorium will be!


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