Flavor is an evocation of memory, pulling our selve(s) into reveries of personal reflection and delight. These memories, and our flavor associations surrounding them, are walls against the assault of modern reality; they are safe, intimately comfortable rooms in which we get to pause and take respite from the transactional world.
Much of what makes the sensorial aspects of coffee, tea, and tisanes potent/divine/delicious happens in the nose. While our tongues can discern between the usual ‘tastes’ (salty, bitter, sweet, etc), the rest of what we consider flavor happens up in the olfactory bulb, a cluster of nerves in the top of the sinuses. As we inhale or chew, this cluster receives a bounty of sensory input that modulates a profile like ‘sweet, tart, lightly bitter’ into strawberry, blueberry, or cranberry, to give an example. This is important because this process is connected with other areas of the brain, some of which have a hand in things like long term memory formation, fear, reward systems, and intense emotional memories (woohoo it’s the amygdala).
Okay, detailed brain chemistry discussion aside, we’ve all had that moment of smelling something that triggers such a rush of memory that we’re not only reminded of something pleasant (or perhaps not), but we’re transported back to that instance in our lives for a brief but insistent moment: smelling the air, feeling the sun on our skin, or the water, with the sounds of friends or family (or whatever your memory looks like, there are no rules). When we ritualize our day-to-day life around these moments of joyous flavor, we deliberately celebrate that which makes us the most us. By intentionally growing and evolving these ritual flavors, we enrich our internal lives and unapologetically revel in personal pleasure.
For me, as a recovering barista, this ritual looks like my morning cup of light roast, made by hand, consumed in the backyard with my dog and my garden. Every single one of those points (the coffee, the garden, the silly dog) not only can, but should look different for each and every one of us. It is worthwhile to remember that it is not only the cup, but the setting and the company, that make these daily rituals potent; by layering the other senses onto the experience (the sight of the garden drinking its water, the smell of the earth below the smell of what’s in the cup, the sound of birds and insects, etc), we ensconce ourselves more and more into those intimate, comfortable rooms of our memories.
I am not writing to teach you a ritual, but to hopefully show you the importance of digging deeper into the pseudo-iterative pleasures of your life. Pursue the things that taste amazing, the things that make your toes curl and your skin tighten. Live with them, so you can live more with yourself.
Written by: Tyler Wood