Beans: If Socrates drank coffee.

The life unexamined is not worth living. Socrates said that so if he drank coffee, he’d also have said the coffee unexamined is not worth drinking. 

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Let’s examine the taste of coffee. What we all think of as the sense of taste is really a group of physiological responses, or sensations including taste perceived by the tongue, smell perceived by the nose, as well as a haptic perception of texture or feel in the mouth, and finally the sensation of temperature. Food technologists say the taste of coffee is the combination of these 4 perceptions: taste, smell, texture, and temperature. Both taste and smell, psychologists tell us, are linked to our emotions and memories and that’s all to do with the involuntary nervous system in the most primitive part of our brain and all of that is associated with evolution. Taste and smell are closely associated with memory because we have to remember the tastes and smells of food or drink that made us very sick and which may kill us. This explains why the taste of food and drink is important to us and why we (Socrates included) spend time examining it.

The tongue detects sugars such as fructose, glucose, and lactose as well as some alcohols and some amino acids and reports all of them to the brain as sweet.

The acidic sensation we sense from drinks such as lemon juice or white wine or food such as fresh apples is caused by hydrogen ions that are dissolved in a watery solution.

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Food or drink containing sodium chloride or the salts associated with potassium and magnesium are detected and reported to the brain as salty. 

The tongue is extra-sensitive to bitter food or drink and it’s thought that there are more sensors detecting bitterness than the other elements of taste, likely because bitterness is related to the toxicity of the foods and drinks that could kill us. 

The savoury taste, redolent of a beef broth, is caused by glutamic acid or aspartic acid which are associated with many different food proteins such as ripe tomatoes, asparagus, meat, and cheese. MasterChef calls it umami.

Good coffee tastes good because it combines an agreeable balance of sweetness and acidity. Good coffee is naturally sweet and that sweetness is complemented by the right degree of acidity. Some people describe coffee as tasting bitter; if it does, it is usually not good coffee, although some may simply be incorrectly describing the combination of sweetness and acidity, incorrectly calling that bitter.  

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I think Socrates would’ve said this is a good start to examining the taste of good coffee, but there is definitely more (yes,I know, he’d have said it in Greek, obviously) so I’ll post more soon.

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