Why Coffee Shops and Tea Don’t Mix

Coffee shops and tea don’t mix – I don’t care what some folks with great reputations in the tea world have to say about it – and the reason can be stated in one word: aroma. Here’s what I mean…

Many of us tea drinkers have sensitive noses and palates. These attributes come in very handy when trying some of the more delicate teas, especially white teas and naturally floral oolongs. It’s one reason some of us don’t like all that stuff added to the tea (things like flower petals and dehydrated fruit pieces and other plant matter). It smothers those delicate aromas and flavors and overwhelms our senses. There are even special sniffer (or snifter) cups for appreciating the aromas, especially of fine oolongs. So, walking into a coffee shop is a total anathema for our finely-tuned senses. The aromas are usually overwhelming.

How coffee shops achieve that high aroma

You might wonder why the aromas in coffee shops are so noticeable. How do you achieve this coffee shop aroma? You can’t just have coffee beans sitting out in open barrels absorbing odors and getting stale (just the way tea does). Instead, have a small roaster at the store, roast the beans, put them in open bins (a day won’t do much harm), and fresh grind them as needed for your customers. The strong coffee aroma will hide competing aromas from foods, and displaying the beans in the open will let the aroma waft around. The main reason to do this: the aroma is enticing. They get you to drooling and craving that coffee (unless you’re like me and can’t stand coffee taste even though I like that aroma). It’s like other aroma traps: the smell of fresh baked bread in the grocery store or cookies baking in that open house you attended.

Why high-aroma matters

We respond to aromas quite strongly, and they also have been shown to more readily evoke various memories. An apple pie baking can stir up all kinds of memories for me from childhood (all good). So coffee shops are sure to let those ground coffee aromas waft around in the air to draw you in and get you wanting that overpriced (at least for my budget) cupful. (Starbucks has been experiencing the opposite: missing coffee aroma. It has had a negative impact on sales, according the Chairman Howard Schultz, and is due to their change to Flavor Lock packaging. No coffee aroma – just burnt milk and food odors.)

Far worse than coffee shops are perfume stores, cosmetic counters in big stores like Macy’s where overly made-up women spritz you as you try to scurry safely past (although they don’t do that as much these days, having finally learned from all the decades of folks griping about the practice), restaurants (especially the ones where the cooking area is open to the dining area, and spice shops (although some of these can actually spur the appetite and the interest in tea, or so my experience has been).

Why avoid these high-aroma venues

Sensitive folks should avoid these high-aroma venues for a very good reason. If you’ve every stared at a lightbulb and then looked away, you will have seen that lightbulb shape still before your eyes but in what is on the color wheel the opposite color of yellow, i.e., purple. This happens because of receptor burn-out (how long it lasts depends on how long you stare at that lightbulb). The taste receptors on the tongue and the aroma receptors in the nose will similarly get overwhelmed and dulled with such overstimulation. I can’t have strong foods before a taste test here at home. Things like fried bacon are forbidden. The aroma lasts for hours, and my nose can detect it in even a minute form. (No, I am not going to take on a new career as a truffle hunter. Hee!) The coffee shop aromas slam my nose and put it out of commission for an hour or more. I might as well be drinking hot cocoa instead of hot tea for all the flavor I am able to detect in such an environment.

Bottom Line

Coffee shops gotta sell coffee, so the aroma game goes on. It’s up to me to steer clear, which I do 99.9% of the time (that .1% is when hubby just has to have a cup of coffee and I tag along, being rather fond of his company). I am finding that a scarf over my face helps reduce the impact of the coffee aroma, but it does seem to make the staff and customers a tad nervous. *wink!*

© 2014 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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