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  • Writer's picturejohn snell

The fear of loss, phantoms and lessons learned from both

The Fear

It all starts with a dry cough and, well, we all know the options but eventually one takes the test and hey presto, after being so careful for over two bloody years, I am positive. As I write this, 7 days in, I am still positive but am also triple vaxed and relatively healthy so, touch wood, my symptoms are not what they can be. Where am I going with this? Well it's not about my covid as much as it is about a symptom, that of loss of taste and smell. To some, working on fish farms or municipal waste, maybe the loss of the latter is a gift but for someone that relies on their olfactory senses to make a living (hopefully) this is , well, I think Edvard Munch knew exactly my fear!

So, when my taste and smell disappeared, and it did so totally, I was in somewhat of a panic and everything I drank and ate I rolled around my palate in the forlorn hope that something would happen, that I could trigger a response, kick start my taste buds....anything and it worked.

The Phantom

What did happen was my memory (I imagine) kicked in and that's when flavour phantoms came to visit. When people lose a limb (and I apologize to those that have, I am in no way trying to make a serious comparison here!) it is common for them to have feelings in the missing limb for some time to come and these are described as Phantom Limb Syndrome. In much the same way, my brain tricked me into tasting stuff I couldn't. An example; I would make myself a strong ristretto and on sipping this I COULD taste this and yet, I couldn't. I numbered and dodged 3 cups with different beverages, similar mouthfeel, and tried to pick the ristretto out and not a chance. Yet, when I drew it, looked at it and tasted it, it was obviously coffee!!

In much the same way, I have been working with a client on tea ranges and had some nice Assams, Darjeelings and Kenya orthodox to work on. I decided to give it a crack, 4 days in, and I would put money on the fact that I got inherent characteristics from each one....but I didn't. Doing the same bowl dodging exercise showed me that I was full of shit....or phantoms, one or the other!

Lesson learnt

This episode taught me a valuable lesson, for serious olfactory appreciation. Beware your preconceptions and your historical reference points whenever you get to the tasting bench!

This sounds like a "No shit Sherlock" piece of advise but I was thoroughly unprepared for the level of salesmanship that my brain did on my palate, until I tested it.

I am happily back to tasting almost everything, truly! The fear taught me to keenly appreciate the priviledge and joy of tasting, something that is as nuanced and connected back to nature as tea,and the phantoms, God bless them, made me be more critical of my own judgement. I hope that both make me a better cupper and I hope that this small dit helps others cup more consciously. Happy slurping!!

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