Sensory Experiences at Re:co Symposium

By Steven Lee

Over the last couple of days, something was going on at Re:co—something to stimulate the senses, promote discussion, and open up the world of possibilities. The Swiss Water Sensory Experience at Re:co has been a fixture of this event since the Boston symposium in 2013. Each year we try to explore and engage the senses in new and meaningful ways, and to tie those experiences back to the talks that are taking place across the hall at Re:co. This year, we had an amazing line up of activities, integrating a variety of industries, disciplines and concepts…and there were a couple of interesting things involving coffee too. Here is the lineup that we had to offer this year:

Coffee and Whiskey Comparison: Le Nez Aroma Activity was lead by Viva Lenoir. It showed some of the similarities in aromatic compounds in coffee and whiskey and tied in process and how aromatic properties via those processes affect the final product using samples from the newly released Le Nez du Whiskey. There was also an aromatic comparison of whiskey and coffee using a blended scotch to compare with a Sumatra, and a Japanese whiskey to compare to a Rwanda.

Coffee Futures: Tasting New Hybrid Coffees was organized by World Coffee Research (WCR) and offered a unique opportunity to taste some F1 Hybrids. There was Starmaya—the first F1 Hybrid from seed; Mudndo Maya—a cross between a Timor Hybrid and a wild Ethiopian accession; and Centroamericano—a cross between a Timor Hybrid and Rume Sudan variety.

Re:co Symposium fellow Olivia Auell designed the final exercise of the day—Narrowing the Senses: The Physiology of Taste. This mind bending exercise involved a bitterness blocker and a sweetness blocker to alter one’s expectations and perceptions of taste. The aftereffect of the experiment truly altered the way that one perceived flavor and made one rethink a lot of what we know about sensory experiences.

Day two started off with a wine experience designed by Dr. Henry “Hoby” Wedler from UC Davis. It involved a bunch of wine aromatics and tasting of three wines. In fact, there were only two—but part of the experience was to see how one’s perceptions changed based on context and sensory inputs. It was a pretty fascinating activity.

Dr. Amina Harris helped to design a honey tasting, illustrating the differences in honey and how there are so many fields that we as coffee professionals can learn from. There were three very distinctly different honeys to taste and compare.

Last, but not least, George Howell designed an experience in conjunction with a talk given by Dr. Christopher Hendon which involved previously frozen green coffee. We tasted vintages from 2012 and 2013 with barely a hint of age…which was pretty mind-altering in the way that we can think about preserving and maintaining the quality of coffee.

All in all, it was a great two days of experimentation, discussion and opening up one’s mind to the opportunities out there. One of the great things about coffee is that it doesn’t stagnate and there is always something to learn.

Steven Lee is the Director of Coffee for Groundwork Coffee and serves on the Roasters Guild Executive Council. He was the Sensory Experience lead volunteer for Re:co.