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Tongue Maps for Coffee

Today scientists have found that the textbook tongue maps are misleading. Although they generally indicate where we perceive sweet, sour, salt, and bitter, the maps are not conclusive. In fact, we can perceive flavors all over our tongue and each persons tongue is different. Some of the more successful cupping programs have trained people to use their knowledge of the regions outlined by tongue maps to help them identify unknown flavors based upon the position of the stimulus. However, since tasting regions and flavor perception varies between people, this methodology is incorrect. In addition, the interaction of flavors will enhance and create entirely new flavors. Therefore, it is important to train your tongue to discover your own tongue map and study the relationship between different stimuli.

Understanding your tongue is relatively simple. I recommend gathering some sugar, citric acid, salt, and quinine (available in tonic water). Dilute each sample and paint your tongue in small sections with these solutions using a small tipped paintbrush. Start with the regions other than those indicated on the textbook tongue maps. For instance, determine where on the tongue you can perceive the sugar solution other than the tip of your tongue. The tip of the tongue will be the most sensitive region, but you may be able to perceive aspects of sugar in other places. Next, experiment with various concentrations and compare your results with other people. It is essential to obtain an understanding of your perception ability. Otherwise, our vocabulary to describe coffee will be skewed based upon our genetic predisposition to being supertasters, nontasters, or medium tasters. If you know you are a supertaster and you experience a extremely bitter taste in a coffee, you must realize that 75% of people will not agree with you.

After creating a map of your tongue begin mixing the different flavors together and see how they interact. Do they simply target both regions of the tongue where the stimulus alone would occur or do you perceive entirely new flavors in different regions? Continue experimenting with different combinations until you finally have combined all four together. Have someone else make up blind samples for you to taste. Once you are able to identify each of the components you have effectively mapped your tongue and trained yourself to be able to approach much more complex systems such as coffee. By using the maps you create for your tongue, understanding your perception ability, and understanding how flavors interact you are more apt to describe coffee accurately.

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