In becoming a Barista I have decided that in order to become an expert in taste I must place an emphasis on not just identifying tastes, but in experiencing new tastes and familiarising myself with those I dislike just as much as those I adore.
One of the things we discussed at length in the class I’ve mentioned in my previous post was the reason why we are naturally adverse to certain tastes, smells and mouthfeels but in time begin to adore them. In Ireland the most common example is probably Guinness, a drink that you are usually weaned onto by mischievous Uncles at Christmas parties. Blue cheeses, olives, oysters, cured meats and other such foods all have an element that is reminiscent of rotting, death, bacteria or disease and so our bodies instinctively retract when we first encounter them. These foods however are often sources of great flavour and nutrition and so in time our mind overpowers instinct and our bodies allow us to enjoy them. That’s why you can pay circa 50euro per kilo for some rotting milk that smells like feet.
When I began to think more about this I realised that perhaps everyone should take it upon themselves to try and fall in love with a food they detest, a food that makes their skin crawl, a food that they would pass up even if it was the last ration left in the larder. There could only be one such food for me, Marmite.
A hatred of a food can be linked to many things besides the smell, mouthfeel, or taste. It is often the context in which we were raised and the culture we grow up in that moulds our taste buds. Offer any European a piece of Dog Meat and you would probably receive a similar reaction to that an Indian would return if you offered him or her a piece of pork. I therefore wanted to choose a food that was acceptable in the house in which I grew up in despite how repugnant I found it, and marmite fitted the bill nicely.
My brother Ian is 21 months my junior, went to the same schools, played on the same football teams, lived in the same house, had the same holidays and pretty much did exactly whatever I did when we were kids except he ate bucketloads of Marmite.
I was curious to find out therefore if I could “Train” myself to like Marmite and perhaps break down that natural instinct to stay clear of the rotting vegetable stench that is Marmite. I would taste a small bit of marmite ever day for 14 days and see what happened. Here’s a short video of Day 1;
I cant say that I now love Marmite but I have taken to adding it to stews, spreading it on toast and I can even sometimes (sometimes) taste it on its own and try to dissect the more subtle tastes therein…burned veg, salt, burnt salt etc.
What this has to do with coffee is simple. If I were to become a Doctor, Butcher or a Lawyer I would be expected to become an expert in all aspects of my trade. As a Barista one’s expertise is in taste, even the nasty tastes that only little brothers would enjoy.