Why should taste be subjective when sight isn't? - Page 2

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#11: Post by michaelbenis »

Jim, I completely agree with you and hope you didn't take my "Arping on" English levity as a reference to your posts or in any way disrespectful.

I am in fact extremely grateful for the insights you have shared. About coffee and much else besides.

It seems clear to me that Arpi simply can't tell the difference between a Lavazza commodity and an artisan SO because he probably hasn't ever tried the latter and may not even have known what it is. (With any luck he now knows and may move on).

But Arpi could tell the difference between the better coffee he was getting after his recent adjustments and the worse coffee he was getting before, which is a start.... And he was enthusiastic enough to want to find other coffee enthusiasts and share it. Maybe we could have engaged with that more. There are steps in the road to good... and better.

But you know all that better than me.

Defining what's "good" is interesting. As is defining what is great. Which great is _better_, though is another matter and there maybe it is subjective or a red herring, but what makes those greats _different_ that is.... inspirational... in coffee as in much else. It takes us to the edges of our senses.... and re-creating them can take us further. It is in my opinion what life should be about. And coffee.

But it can sometimes make us impatient.... :roll:

I believe that is what you were after and I'm with you all the way.

But that may also, in a tyro stagger, have been what Arpi was after, too......


LMWDP No. 237

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#12: Post by GVDub »

Let's also not forget how the evolution of a palate for anything goes. First you have to learn to distinguish between bad and good, then between good and better, then between various types of better, then, if you're lucky, you start to be able to distinguish between really good and great, and the various subdivisions that exist in there. Also learning to eliminate personal preferences in a quality assurance situation can be tricky. If you've never developed a taste for caviar, it's still possible to learn to distinguish between different grades, but you may lose some of the subtleties.

And then there's the tendency of the newly converted to proselytize. Especially if you're on the younger side, it's easy to convince yourself that you've discovered something that nobody else knows about and feel driven to share it with the rest of the world.

I try never to forget what it was like to be young and enthusiastic. Which probably explains how I've gotten sucked so deeply and quickly into online espresso world, dunnit?
"Experience is a comb nature gives us after we are bald."
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#13: Post by michaelbenis »

I'll drop this in.

I'm truly enjoying some beautifully roasted wild bonko.

It is always wonderful, appealing to several senses in chorus, but because it is wild it is always different, always surprising.

However much we try to maintain the repeatability of the wonder, because coffee is organic, it will always surprise us.

I think that's one of the reasons we love this. It is of course the pleasure of a great drink. But it is also the chance of being creative and being surprised for a short moment a few times each day....

Like catching sight of the sun between the clouds.

I have not been drinking alcohol, should you be wonder :)

But am now going to open a bottle before going to sleep :wink:
LMWDP No. 237

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another_jim (original poster)
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#14: Post by another_jim (original poster) »

Thanks all.

What I'm saying about taste is something that's implicit in how the people I really respect in this business talk about coffee. The same is true of other culinary greats. Three years ago, I heard Tim Castle try to make this clear, and he had a hard time. George Howell also sees tasting as mostly about sensing the care that went into the coffee; and although he may take it a bit too far, I'm glad he's pushing so hard on this. But he too has a hard time making himself clear. That taste is mostly subjective is so ingrained that anyone saying different has to be real careful not to sound like a crank, or worse, like a really nasty elitist.

So when there's a discussion about dicey coffees tasting great, or other subjective areas, I try my hand to see if I can talk about this in a way that makes sense and connects. I'm not trying to offend anyone, say I'm better or more refined than anyone, or rain on anyone's taste revelations. But I think coffee hobbyists need to come up with some way of looking at the taste of coffee that goes beyond "anything that tastes good" and makes sense of the facts.

Everyone who has met up with other espresso lovers, and walked around, say at the SCAA, trying shots, will quickly see how objective (or at least common) taste is. At least, my experience has always been of just about eveyone agreeing on what was poor, what was good, and what was great.

In any case, it's good to see that this thought is getting closer to making sense.
Jim Schulman

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#15: Post by kschendel »

I don't think that taste is subjective in the dictionary sense of being affected by context or mood. I do think that it is intrinsically very difficult to describe taste accurately; and that's because the fine details of a taste are made up of so many hundreds or thousands of chemicals that it's impractical to taste to a standard. Slight individual variations in taste or smell receptors will lead to different taste sensations, even though most people will agree on the big picture. Without some sort of tasting standard that people can normalize their taste descriptions to, communicating taste details is very hard.

Describing color vision is a little better, because we can tie colors to a light wavelength. So, most people can agree that a 650 nm light is red and 475 nm is blue. Even with color there is more room for individual variation than one might think, especially in between colors. Some years ago, my wife had a greenish-blue robe that I saw as primarily blue and she saw as primarily green. It took me a while to learn that she wanted the blue robe when she asked me for the green robe!


#16: Post by Mark08859 »

CafeNoir wrote:Oh man, that hurts. You're saying my 1974 signal green Opel Manta wasn't a chick magnet?
Don't feel bad. Neither was my 1974 "Con Edison Blue" (folks from NYC know what I mean :wink: ) Opel Manta.


#17: Post by zin1953 »

HB wrote:Everyone needs to agree what the colors red and green are, but they don't need to agree that green is their favorite color.
And not everyone sees the SAME color green . . .
A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.

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#18: Post by Philosogeek »

I'll (mostly) stay out of this, but I wanted to say that this is a great thread! Lot's of fun to be had debating this.

One thing I can't let slide though...
coffee.me wrote:I :mrgreen: believe everything is subjective
Is your belief about everything also subjective?? If not, then there's something that's not subjective. If so, it carries very little weight. Remove the belief operator and things get even worse (either everything is subjective including everything being subjective or it's not subjective and everything isn't). :twisted:



#19: Post by zin1953 »

another_jim wrote:Why should taste be subjective when sight isn't?
First of all, it isn't a case of "should" -- wrong verb. Taste IS subjective (the verb "to be"). If it wasn't, we would all agree that: McDonald's makes the best hamburger -- obviously they do, as they sell the most; Gallo, the largest single winery in the world, makes the best wine; Budweiser really IS the "King of Beers"; and that Starbuck's the everyone's favorite coffee . . .

The reason taste is subjective, Jim, is that we ALL have our own taste buds. There are genetic traits that you and I share, and ones that we do not -- PLUS the fact that "taste" is an acquired trait. I'm not talking about whether one can or cannot appreciate (or even acknowledge) that Andres Serrano's most famous work was (or was not) "art," but rather every culture not only has, but loves, certain foods that others not of that culture often find weird, if not disgusting. These might/would include foods like natto, iguana, kishka, and so on . . .

So one famous wine writer might rave about _____________, and give it a rave review. Someone else might say, "Wait a minute -- you liked that $#!+???" And -- presuming the wine has no technical flaws, and similar levels of experience -- they are both right. For example, Wine Taster A might think "this" wine has a beautiful oak component, while Taster B -- tasting the very same wine -- might think the wine is way over-oaked . . . to the point of being undrinkable! Tasting "that" wine, Taster A might think it has excessive levels of VA (volatile acidity) and tastes vinegary, while Taster B scratches his head and doesn't smell or taste that aspect at all! And while Taster A is saying that the third wine is filled with an appley character, Taster B is thinking it's actually more pear . . . and the reader of these tasting notes sees the word "apple" and imagines a Golden Delicious, while Taster A was actually thinking "Pippin" but was having a brain fart and couldn't remember the name . . . .

Coffee is no different. Just one personal example: lots of people on this site have commented unfavorably upon Espresso Vivace's "Dolce" -- saying it isn't very good, that it's very finicky, that it's difficult to get good flavors from, and so on. But Lynn and I love Dolce, have never had any problems pulling shots with it, and every time we try something from Intelligentsia, Metropolis, Blue Bottle, Ecco Caffè, etc., the bottom line thought is it ain't no Vivace, and we come back to it . . .

Some people prefer SO; others blends. Some people prefer the shots pulled on an LM, others on an Elektra, or a Cimbali. Some prefer a "Northern Italian" roast, while others prefer "Southern Italian," and still others -- yes, it's true -- prefer *$ . . .

Education and exposure may alter one's preferences over time, and we can say that our "taste has changed," but then again, it may also be nothing but peer pressure . . . :twisted:

A morning without coffee is sleep. -- Anon.


#20: Post by Dogshot »

I think there are 2 issues here:

1) The comparison between sight and taste is not the same. Identifying "red" is a basic assessment, whereas tasting something as "good" or "bad" is a value judgment. Had the taste assessment been "sweet", "sour", or "bitter", that would be closer to the colour evaluation. A judgment of "good" or "bad" for espresso is based on a balance of flavours, so a similar comparison would be more like whether a pattern of red, green, blue, and yellow blotches is "attractive" or "unattractive".

2) Taste is bound by the way we construe the things we put in our mouths. We formulate expectations of what the thing should taste like based on prior knowledge, and compare that to the taste. So, taste is partly determined by a set of knowledge, or culture, or family traditions, etc. For example, give an espresso (or a nice scotch) to someone who has never tasted it before, and do you think that taster would be able to identify it as anything other than strong, or bitter?

As another challenge to the objectivity of taste, I always thought that the tongue can sense 4 basic flavours: sweet, sour, bitter, salt. Apparently "umami" is a 5th taste (proteinaliscious, meaty savouryness), which we did not classify until the popular presence of Eastern cuisine entered our consciousness. (Maybe it's not - all my knowledge of umami comes from wikipedia). How did this escape us for so long if taste is more an objective assessment than a judgment based on some form of comparison and prior knowledge.

So, I agree that among espresso drinkers, there can and should be an objectivity to the taste of coffees. Taste is developed from prior knowledge and comparison. It becomes objective when we solidify the rules around that knowledge and those comparisons. I would expect those rules and comparisons to be pretty uniformly understood at something like a SCAA event.

Perhaps we need more discussion around the basic balance of flavours that make espresso what it is.

LMWDP #106