The taste that coffee leaves in the mouth, the memory that remains inside the palate once our cup is empty: let’s discover the aftertaste, features we can find in and how they affect it... for a perfect finish!
The aroma of coffee is perfect for starting the day because it helps to wake up the mind and energize.
How many of us have experienced the aroma of coffee, espresso at the bar or mocha at home, when we remember a lived experience or emotion?
Why is it that just the aroma of a cup of coffee can affect the senses and the brain so much?
This is the so-called olfactory memory, also defined as the “Proust effect” or “Proust’s madeleine“, by the writer Marcel Proust who was the first in “In search of lost time” to describe this experience: tasting the madeleine, the narrator feels like he is catapulted back in time. Thanks to his fragrance, he relives his childhood, when he used to eat that dessert with his aunt.
In fact, Marcel Proust argued that what remains of a distant past are precisely the smells, intangible and intangible presences but no less intense, persistent and faithful.
How does the olfactory memory work?
Each sense allows us to discover the outside world and relate to others while also playing to an important role in forming the perception of an experience.
There is a deep and unconscious link between food and memory, a connection between gustatory and olfactory stimuli and emotions linked to memories.
Some tastes and smells have the ability to activate our involuntary memory: without any conscious effort of our mind, they awaken vivid and unmistakable memories in us.
If, in some respects, the original tasting experience was positive, each time it is repeated, pleasant memories and sensations could be triggered as a result of psychological conditioning.
When we taste something very good, we have the illusion that pleasure is born in the mouth, in reality only a quarter of that pleasant sensation is linked to taste, the rest, 75%, is a matter of smell.
Smell is one of the most powerful and effective senses for evoking not only memories but also emotions.
It is a form of language that has one of the deepest connections with both memory and emotion.
The sense of smell mediates an involuntary memory, it brings to life an episode from the past and, reliving it, the emotions connected to it resurface.
These evocations are a strong emotional vehicle: they can make us feel pampered, excited or just plain happy.
What makes the sense of smell special?
First of all, it cannot be intentionally “deactivated”. For example, we can escape from a visual stimulus, simply by closing our eyes, but we cannot do the same with a persistent smell that suddenly catches us.
For this reason it is considered one of the most direct and capable of influencing our attitudes.
The sense of smell is one of the first senses to develop. The olfactory nerve is formed during the seventh week of gestation and for the fetus this means that it can already hear and recognize the smell of its mother.
Smells are more easily associated with memories than visual or auditory signals, because smell is the only sense processed and connected directly to the limbic system, the deepest and most primitive part of the brain that hosts memories, responsible for short-term memory, mood and emotions, and implicated in all reactions associated with the survival of the species.
The sense of smell, unconsciously, allows us to recognize what we like and what could represent a danger, it manages to influence our affective preferences and our daily behaviors.
Smells can even change the way we perceive information.
Furthermore, smells trigger sensory sparks in our memory: they create expectation. And expectation is one of the strongest vehicles of emotions for the human being.
Scents, neuroscience and neuromarketing
Indeed, neuroscience has also confirmed the ability of smells, aromas and scents to arouse emotions and arouse memories, even the deepest ones.
The olfactory memory is not only able to evoke precise and accurate memories but acts on an unconscious level, arousing particularly intense emotions and moods.
Some neuromarketing research reveals that 75% of emotions are triggered by smells.
Martin Lindstrom, a leading neuromarketing expert, reports a study that revealed that 80% of men and 90% of women report experiencing odor-triggered emotions and memories.
A study conducted by Rockefeller University in New York showed that a person remembers 35% of what he smells, compared to only 5% of what he sees, 2% of what he hears and 1% of what it touches. Furthermore, we would be able to remember smells after one year with an accuracy of 65% and store them almost permanently.
Clearly the strength of an olfactory memory will depend on the importance of the event in which we perceived a certain smell.
For this reason, the smells that accompany the most important moments of our life will also be the most lasting and most easily recognizable after some time. The first memories related to smell, or the first scents we remember, usually date back to our childhood.
Thanks to their ability to arouse deep and positive emotions, these scents are the most powerful but also the simplest to recall. During the life of an individual, the experience acts by changing and always adding new scents to build a complex “olfactory bank” linked to memories and emotions.
A recent neuroscientific research by the Nescafè Dolce Gusto Observatory and Marco Baldocchi Inc., expert in applied neuroscience to food & beverage, he measured the emotions that arise after a sip of coffee.
In particular, the research focused on how a product with a strong appeal linked to a city, can give rise to emotional memories of experiences lived in that place.
The purpose? Find out if there is an emotional/cognitive link between an Italian-inspired coffee and the city evoked by the product itself, both in the name and in the taste.
Below the threshold of consciousness, scents and aromas can help link memories and emotions experienced during visits and stays in certain cities.
The aromas of coffee
The typical aroma of coffee is usually associated with the definition of “freshly roasted coffee”.
In reality in this aroma there are an infinity of different odorous molecules, an infinite review of smells and olfactory memories that our mind is not always able to perceive and distinguish with precision, a thousand shades that touch our olfactory cells and reach our mind, evoking a kaleidoscope of sensory memories.
During roasting, the coffee develops its aroma.
This is none other than the result of the extraordinary alchemy of over eight hundred different aromatic principles and complexes.
From the transformation of the lipids, contained in an amount of 0.50%, and then of the proteins and carbohydrates and finally of the mineral salts, that characteristic bouquet is born that changes according to different variables, but mainly according to the type of roasting and the varieties used.
The aroma of coffee actually contains myriads of nuances, hints of caramel, ideas of freshly extracted bread, chocolate fragrances, fruity scents, citrus notes, aromas of dried fruit that can be perceived and identified in a different and personal way.
And here is the simple olfactory perception which becomes a journey into tasting that begins before the actual tasting.
The olfactory approach takes place in two phases: before tasting, by direct smell, and during and after tasting, by postnasal smell. In this second passage other smells present themselves to the brain, refined, bitter, of sandalwood, tobacco or incense. A panorama to be explored before and during each sip which accompanies the tasting and helps to appreciate many other aspects ultimately enhancing each component.
It shouldn’t be surprising that when coffee is ready, the scent that spreads throughout the environment is a powerful attraction for everyone. By smell alone, experts aren’t the only ones to know how to distinguish a good coffee from a mediocre one. Trust your sense and they will further illustrate why this dark and bitter drink has been so successful for so long all over the world.