For dedicated coffee lovers, the smell of those freshly-roasted coffee beans in the grinder or the scent of that first cup of coffee, wafting through the kitchen, is an integral part of the morning routine. You may think that the reason the smell is so delicious is that you’re anticipating that caffeine hit when you take a sip, but in fact, the smell is the first and vital step of the whole tasting process.
According to Professor Barry Smith of the University of London, humans have two senses of smell – one when we inhale and the other when we exhale, so scents are actually processed twice. A huge percentage of what we think of as ‘taste’ actually reaches us through scent receptors in our noses, explaining why the smell of fresh coffee as it brews in your coffee machine is almost as satisfying as the taste itself.
According to the Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC), a research institution based in Oxford, “the so-called taste-buds on our tongues can only distinguish four qualities – sweet, sour, bitter and salt – all other ‘tastes’ are detected by the olfactory receptors high up in our nasal passages.”
Each one of these taste-buds contains a number of receptor cells, each with a tiny hair-like probe that tests the chemicals of the food or drink you consume. When these probes are activated, they send nerve messages to your brain. However, if you have a cold, causing the lining of your nose to swell up, you lose the ability to use your smell receptors and this makes the food taste bland.
So next time you switch on the coffee machine for that first brew of the day, remember to savour the smell and take a deep breath – for maximum enjoyment, it really is time to wake up and smell the coffee.