There's No Accounting for Taste
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This has been a very challenging week for cupping. Why? I can't taste.
It all started on December 21st when we were flying to my sisters house in
Tucson for Christmas. Ben turned to me on the airplane and sneezed directly
into my gaping mouth. (I wonder if you can buy those full face shields the
dentists use these days, for protection when your kid is sick. It's just a
given he is going to sneeze directly on me at some point).
I have had better days and worse days since then, but what I am left with
now is a sinus and olfactory as clogged as a storm drain after a hurricane.
You don't notice at first. You eat chicken broth with rice and cereal, all
the fun sick-person food, but you don't notice whats not there. I had some
Earl Grey tea and thought it must have been a bad brand; no bergamot notes
came through. But that was my only hint.
First day back on the cupping table and I knew for sure how my senses were
lost in a deep fog. I couldn't get anything, I mean ANYTHING from the dry
fragrance of the coffee grinds. They might not have been there, and I
wouldn't know. Sometimes when I feel smell-challenged, I put my face down
into the steam as I pour hot water into the cups. But that didn't penetrate
the nasal barricade either. My other trick is to open and close my mouth
rapidly as I smell to try to pull something into my olfactory
retro-nasally, through the opening in the pack of the palate. Nothing.
Zilch. My senses were 100% MIA.
I know this is all fascinating, and you want to know all about my illness
(haha). But the point I wanted to get to is how remarkable taste is in the
context of having no taste. I spend so much time fussing over the details
of coffee, whether an acidity is citric or tartaric, or if red fruits are
more apple or berry-like. But it's only under the brutal condition of total
taste failure, not even being able to sense if there is a cup of coffee
placed in front of you or not (without seeing it of course) that taste
seems to matter more than ever.
But what fascinated me is this: What remains when taste is absent? Or
perhaps, what remains when the olfactory is totally offline. The fact is,
the taste receptors (papillae) on my tongue weren't really firing either. I
could get the sourness of acidity, some sense of the bittering coffee
alkaloid notes, but not sweetness or other aspects of taste (salt, umami).
What was odd was the physical reactions I could gauge, texture
specifically. Each acidity seemed remarkably different in texture, even
though I couldn't get the taste clearly.
What the tongue contributes to taste has been largely misunderstood since
the turn of the century when a poorly translated paper from the original
German text inferred that taste receptivity on the tongue could be mapped,
and certain zones on the tongue were more sensitive to certain types of
basic taste. A 2006 paper published in Nature debunked the "tongue map"
myth: "Recent molecular and functional data have revealed that, contrary to
popular belief, there is no tongue 'map': responsiveness to the five basic