Aroma + Detection + Emotion = Experience

Happy New Year everyone and I hope that this year is not a repeat of 2020.  This morning as I write this article and drink my $200 per pound tea, I had a bit of a revelation that I wanted to share with you.

First of all, the line above was not a typo, the Lahaha Premium Keemun Royal Black tea that I purchased loose leaf is listed as $199.99 per pound.  That equates to 0.065 lb. or $13.00 for a little tiny Ziploc bag.  Ladies and gentlemen, I love tea if you have not figured that out yet.  However, I am also realistic when I comes to practically all my purchases.  So why would I (in some people’s mind like my mom) waste that amount of money on tea?

I can answer that in a couple of questions.  Why would anyone want to ride in a Ferrari?  Why do people skydive?  Why do people jump off high areas into water below (BTW…that will NEVER BE ME)?  It’s for the experience to feel something new.  Let me share my morning with you.

AROMA

I purchased the tea from Central Market but I could have searched on the web and may have found it for a cheaper price.  However, since I’ve never seen this tea before I was curious.  I like to be able to smell my tea before purchasing to see if I would like it.  I opened the container and took a smell (Yes…I still had my mask on in the store).  This is something that I have never experienced before:

  • Smoked hazelnuts that have been lightly toasted with dried meat and a hint of citrus.

THAT WAS THROUGH A MASK!  Let me take a moment to make sure that you understand my confusion and positive shock at this.

 As a sommelier, I’m constantly smelling everything to ensure that I focus to be able to detect aromas.  This is something that I consciously do all the time.  I take a moment in whatever environment I’m in to slow down and inhale deeply to experience.  I’m paid for my ability to detect aromas and explain them.  The only way that I know of to keep this active is to make sure I take a moment each time I enter a new environment and inhale to detect the aromas.

Entering a supermarket (as a chef) sometimes brings tears to my eyes.  I love and crave entering a produce section that is well maintained to smell the variety.  It helps to remind me of my garden.  A ripe tomato is an emotional experience when I pick one fully ripe at perfection.  I’m trying to determine if what the market has matches that (Yes…most time it does not).  However, I can tell if the tomato is ripe and worth purchasing when my plants are not producing.

I have also been in markets that the seafood section greets you at the front door pinpointing its exact location in the store.  Hopefully for you to avoid.  At that point, avoid the entire store and find a better place!

Detection

Aromas surround us daily.  We have a very small range of being able to detect aromas as compared to animals.  This is one of the reasons I love my dog.  When I come into the house, she runs up to greet me and say hello with a wagging tail.  For my entire existence, I’ve been thinking that she is just excited to see me for me.  Nope, I finally realized this important point:

  • As much as she loves seeing me knowing I’m going to give her a treat, she loves when I walk in the door because I’m covered with the outside world that I won’t let her frolic in!!

Think about this.  Her sense of aroma detection is off the charts compared to ours.  What is she smelling when I walk in the door?  Probably more aromas that I can imagine.  That’s why she comes up to me and instantly starts smelling me all over.  I used to think it was kind of gross coming home from 10 hours in the kitchen with my feet locked in my shoes.  Nope she’s determining where I’ve been, what I cooked, who else walked there, etc.  She is experiencing the world through me.

We never spend enough time detecting.  This is very important to think about.  We never spend enough time detecting.  Do you know that your car maintains its new smell for much longer than we realize?  I just opened my trunk (after 9 months old) and was checking my spare tire located in a well.  Just opening this area brough back that new car smell including the rubber from the tire.  Here’s a fun exercise.  The next time that you go to the supermarket or box store with aisles, stop in the middle of each aisle and take a moment to smell/detect.  You will find that the aromas keep changing even when the store is empty of people.

Chefs understand detection.  We smell our product to make sure its good to use, and then while we cook, we are constantly smelling our dish to see it evolve.  As a sommelier, I find it incredibly important to ‘watch’ a wine over time.  I will open a bottle and write my initial notes.  Then I will leave that glass with about 1 oz of wine in it and walk away.  Every five minutes over an hour, I will come back and gently (not to disturb the wine) smell the wine to detect what is going on in the glass.  Wine changes over time due to aeration.  I want to experience that change over time and make notes so I know how the wine will change over time.  If the wine hits its peak after 10 minutes in the glass, I may wish to pour it early before a matching course is served with it to maximize the food/wine experience.  Or if its Tempranillo, I’ll serve small pour and tell you to drink it fast.  After 20 minutes, it dies and turns metallic.

Emotion and Experience

Back to my mask experience in the store.  My internal question was “Do I spend THAT type of money to try a tea that I can easily smell through a mask in a supermarket filled with 1000 aromas?”  I decided to purchase it to be able to share the experience with you.  Ok…honestly, I could not resist at that point.  Life is about experiences and I wanted to see what this would be like.

Emotions are always linked to aromas.  Please read that again..….I’ll wait.  Every emotion that we have experienced is linked to an aroma.  To this day, I can remember what both of my kids smelled like the first time I held them.  When I think about it, I smile deeply and even tear up.  I also tear up thinking about the smell of their first diaper I had to change (was not joyful)!  Here is a simple exercise:

  • Write down 5 emotions and what you associate each one of these experiences with.

Take a close look at your list and you will notice something.  Each of these emotions is linked with an experience.  Take a moment and think and you probably can describe the aroma that you were detecting at that moment.

For example, bliss for me is the smell of gingersnap cookies.  The first time I truly fell in love with them was in Canada at Algonquin Provincial Park in Arowhon Pines Restaurant.  They had a buffet table with homemade soft gingersnap cookies in a clear big jar.  I took two out and proceeded to keep going back to eat more and more of them.  That was in the summer of 1990 and that still is etched in my mind to this day.  For years, I’ve been attempting to replicate these cookies just to bring back that emotion and experience.

Summary

As I sip on my tea in my good teacup watching the snow fall, I can tell you that I’m extremely relaxed and happy with my purchase.  This tea is amazing with hints of creamy toasted hazelnuts, dried citrus, a touch of jerky and cranberry flower honey.  I’m slowing down on each sip to enjoy the tea and the aroma. 

Aroma + detection + emotion = experience.  Writing today’s article, sipping on amazing tea and watching life move on through my window; that’s today’s experience.  And I look forward to the next one and the next. 

@artofthepair