The sensory perception system remains one of the most fascinating topics to deal with as it constantly influences our emotions and the conditions of our daily lives.

As for the perception linked to tasting, and more specifically, that of espresso, the most exciting thing is the range of aromatic nuances perceptible through the nose, which precisely represent the first “door” of detection, where thanks to the mucosa inside the nasal cavity the odorous molecules are captured by receptors and sent to the olfactory bulb from where the stimulus for decoding in the brain will start.

The phases of perception are as follows:

  • Detection
  • Discrimination
  • Recognition
  • Identification

In a nutshell, it is necessary to understand how much stimulation of the odorous substance will be needed to detect it, recall it and finally be able to give it a label. Training the nose, and therefore the sense of smell, facilitates the discrimination and recognition of olfactory notes, expanding perception from different points of view. This type of training must indeed be implemented and planned continuously since it is the only way to improve your performance effectively.

It is good to focus on some simple exercises to start this practise independently and above all without taking too much time away from your work.

In this regard, I initially recommend that you follow a logical schedule of exercises more than anything else to allow your senses time to refine and respect the right stages of practice. A good method is to use some boxes of coffee essences that can be found on some specialised sites to have a lot of variety and to increase your olfactory background. If you use these aromas, which are basically synthetic products, albeit very similar to natural products, it is good to remember that they have a composition but also an olfactory imprint that does not entirely correspond to that which can be found in nature.

Moreover, some of these scents could prove difficult to recognise, and this factor is inevitably conditioned by one’s own experience and one’s predisposition to recognition; in any case, there is no need to worry as training solves most problems related to perception.

The exercise of identifying the scent can be accompanied by the use of a sensory wheel that will first help with the perception at the macro-family level up to the single olfactory note, thus also avoiding phenomena that lead to a subjectivation of what is detected.

To train in espresso tasting, including both direct and indirect analysis, it can be fun and stimulating to select a series of essences that represents typical scents found in espresso, obviously after selecting a single origin or blend that tends to present those particular scents, and try to match what is perceived in the cup.

Be aware that in choosing the product, in this case, it does not help to read the roaster’s “instruction manual” to identify the hints necessary for the sensory exercise, because you would end up being conditioned by what they report.

To make your task easier, I recommend buying any 100% Arabica to expand your range of options, knowing that Arabica generally has a wider aromatic range than Robusta. Certainly, it would be ideal to divide the initial phase of direct perception that occurs via the orthonasal route from the indirect one, that is, retronasal, but it is also possible to develop a game in which you have all the notes perceived by the nose at the first level and eliminate those that are no longer perceived in the mouth after coughing or swallowing at the second level.

It is not certain that the aromatic notes detected in the mouth correspond to those perceived in the first phase thanks to the nose, because a synergy of sensations occurs within the oral cavity, which has a decisive influence on the global perception of aromas.


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