100 thoughts on “What No One Tells You About Learning To Taste

  • Gotta have opposites, light and dark and dark and light, in painting. It’s like in life. Gotta have a little sadness once in awhile so you know when the good times come. I'm waiting on the good times now. – Bob Ross

  • A great perspective!

    I find that when I make a not great aeropress at the office that I can tame the badness with a pinch of salt/dollop of maple syrup/bit of milk. Makes every day a new experience and something different to enjoy.

  • This happens to all students of knowledge; whether it be academia, the world of coffee, the world of tea, of wine, of cheese, of breads, the world of cigars, you name it… THE MORE YOU LEARN – THE MORE YOU REALISE WHAT LITTLE YOU KNOW, and the more you will recognise ignorance in yourself and others… The answer to the dilemma is to enjoy the knowledge whilst maintaining humility… Obviously when you are in control or in authority over the brewing process then you demonstrate and share your gift with tact and decorum… Strive to be the best of what is available… AND WHEN YOU ARE THE GUEST – to be patient and tolerant; especially with those who haven't achieved the "enlightenment" yet…

  • hah, interesting stumbling onto this video. Not long ago I had the very same thought, but it more or less came about from pure laziness. I’m generally too tired or in a rush in the morning to make good coffee, so I pick up a drip at starbucks. Save my beans for when i’m not in a hurry and it subsequently lets me enjoy the experience more.

  • At the risk of coming across as a bit self-congratulatory, I started to learn how to cook when I was 18, and 10 years later I can honestly sayt became pretty good at it. Nothing fancy, just basic stuff like soups and breads and sauces. I thoroughly enjoy eating my own food, made with quality ingredients and integrity. But I have to say it kind of ruined restaurant experiences. I am not rich enough to eat in expensive places, and going out for dinner is always a bit hit or miss, I often find myself thinking "I could have made this better" (meaning in the comfort of my own kitchen at a slow pace of course).
    I managed to start thinking my way out of this by just being happy about not having to do the dishes, and I often go to cheaper places exactly because there is no pretention.

  • This is a pearl of wisdom. It reminds me of a Zen Koan:

    When Banzan was walking through a market he overheard a conversation between a butcher and his customer.

    "Give me the best piece of meat you have," said the customer.

    "Everything in my shop is the best," replied the butcher. "You cannot find here any piece of meat that is not the best."

    At these words Banzan became enlightened.

  • I do the same thing with coffee. Once a week I grab A Starbucks drip to remind myself. Its especially helpful when I get silly trying to bring out an obscure flavor I know is there somewhere… It helps me enjoy my coffee so much more.

  • Sometimes you need a cup of Folgers, or a bowl of grits, or a song by Nickelback, to truly enjoy the finer things in life.

  • Yes walking down that snob ally is loneliness. Very good advice, I must say. I appreciate the energy and knowledge that you put into that cup of coffee.
    So it’s not just the accent and the delivery, I found out, it’s the depth and sophistication in the understanding of what life is.

    When I first heard your intro music, I thought I was about to hear a Lennon song.
    All is good.

  • This is great. I haven't enacted this in the types of coffee I drink (which maybe I should, though I physically cannot drink folgers and that ilk), But I used to believe this strongly in the shots that I would pull. I would always try to pull a good shot, and froth the best milk, but if I were to mess it up in some way I would still appreciated the beauty in the error. I try to give that courtesy to each barista I meet, but it is a lesson that I live by in each aspect of life as it is so important to appreciate the valleys as it is to glory on the mountain tops.

  • I am going to shamelessly steal this. Im a level 2 somm and have been doing this for a few years, this is the best way to express this sentiment. Thank You.
    -E

  • I’m struggling to get started with really picking up on tasting notes and textures of coffee. I’ve only just started this journey of tasting discovery and I want to get better. Do you have any tips? What did you do when you started?

  • I think this was amazing on explaining why people become snobs on anything, movies, beer, food, people… This was great

  • Oddly enough, this was part of what pulled me out of watching True Blood.

    Meet Sooki. She has an unusual power. She’s special. That’s interesting.

    Oh, someone she works with also has a weird power. Ok. Cool.

    Holy crap, half the people in this town are vampires or ware wolves or, wait, what are these? There are fairies now!?

    Nothing was special anymore because everything was. And sooner or later I just wasn’t all that interested anymore.

  • This happened to me when I started studying music: you start to hear the flaws, the clichés, the bad tastes. But without those lows, you wouldn't have those sweet, sweet highs. And so it is for almost everything in life; you've got to go through shit to become happier, to enjoy more. Life's a game of trial and error, you just got to learn how to play it.

  • One of the best things is to also find the heart to enjoy… or maybe perhaps accept the worst parts of life. Even bad coffee.

  • I'm so glad I got around to finally watching this video. I picked up a bag the other day before researching it, and found it to be just terrible. I was really upset. I agonized having to drink it for the foreseeable future, but your video helped. Thanks, James.

  • if your problem in the morning is that your coffee lacks complexity , you have problems that are far far faaaar beyond first world problems 😀

  • What I do when I eat and drink is to divide it between times when I enjoy the food and taste the food compared to filling me stomach. The latter lets you focus less on the negatives, and enjoy the most of the food despite it being mediocre. Hunger makes you enjoy regular even more and you forget whether it’s over cooked or under seasoned.

  • I already do that with desserts.
    Trying to find what I believe is a good serrano cake, or a good profiterole, or even more "humble" desserts like the chocolate salami. Maybe in desserts there's more subjectivity since they are recipes and recipes do have variations.

  • I also learned to enjoy for its own right simple things like cheep wine or beer not all of them but find brands that i can enjoy while knowing that it is of lesser quality.
    Thank you for this

  • for there's no beauty, there's no ugliness. For there's light, there will be darkness. by Guinness.

  • I had the same experience and I fully agree with your solution. Enjoy the moment and don’t complain or people will hate you 😅

  • I LOVE this video. As a foodie who has to make many ingredient changes both for myself and my family due to multiple food sensitivities, tasting my food is essential.
    But as you got into the high get higher and further, I started to think, "I don't always 'taste' my food. Sometimes I just eat."
    Then in the second half you basically said the same thing. You explain it better than I could, but it's pretty much what I was thinking. Awesome video.

  • wow, i felt really related. I always complain about bad coffee and i am afraid people started to label me as a "know-it-all" kind of a guy. But i totally agree, you need to experience the bad in order to appreciate the good. I was in Strasbourg for 3 days and i didn't have any access to specialty coffee during my stay. All they have is fully automated espresso machines and over-dark roast beans there. When i got back home, first sip from my brew felt like heaven 🙂

  • On the off chance a comment on an old video might be read;
    Any stories of great coffees in least expected places?
    And your thoughts on said experience.

  • I've ruined "fancy" restaurants for people by making them real food and pointing out how crappy the restaurant food really is. Same with coffee, once I give someone a cup made with beans roasted just hours ago, it's hard to go back to the mass produced, stale junk like starbucks

  • James, thank you so much. My mornings have come to consist of me grumbling about taste minutiae while my wife keeps telling me that the coffee we drink is way better than anything we can buy outside. Your description of the search for highs had me laughing out loud. Time to start listening to my wife.

  • Luckily I have always enjoyed drinking horrible coffee, even though I have developed a way better taste after drinking good coffee and experimenting a lot.

  • Loved this video and philosophy so much. It was a great affirmation for me of a practice I began recently.

  • My boss is some kind of person who just hates bad coffee and since a while he is complaining on every brew I do and is never happy with anything…. He noticed it even by himself but keeps complaining….

  • I have a very similar experience with white wines. I am surrounded by unbelievable great vintners. But even these all make some higher quantity »everyday« batches, e.g. for spritz. They are a bit flat, way less complex – but still »good«. Just in a more mediocre way, not challanging. What I love about these: you can just have these on a nice Summer night without focusing on the produce, but on the company you have. There is a place for just »good« produce. But there is non for bad. I’d rather have a glass of water. But, well, water – that’s a whole other world to dive into 😉

  • I used to do this with music while I was getting my college degree. I learned how complex chords progressions, instrumentation etc… could be and I started to HATE pop music because of it's simplicity and repetitiveness. Thank God that phase has passed. Life got so much better when I let go.

  • This was accurate, I had to be called out as the annoying snob I was by everybody around me to wake up. Also you’re really cool

  • Your coffee content is second to none but what I really admire is how well you articulate your thoughts. Love the content, love how well you speak, love the UK and the people in the UK! Cheers from a Brazilian native proudly living in Texas…

  • Wow this really resonated with me.

    I took a nearly cross country Amtrak train trip last month and brought my Aeropress and hario mini. It was the first time I brewed coffee without a scale and variable temperature in more than a year . I had a tiny roomette to myself, no sink but I did have a trash can. My source of hot water was asking an attendant to fill up my thermos. I didn’t have the luxury of rinsing the filter like I’d normally do since I had no sink. I wasn’t willing to rinse out the aeropress in the communal restroom between uses so I just wiped it down with a paper towel. What I’m trying to get at is the standards for coffee brewing on this train trip were way below how I normally brewed at home.

    Amtrak had complimentary coffee for its passengers. I had a cup once I boarded. It was uninspiring to say the least. A few hours later I brewed the aeropress coffee. It wasn’t an amazing cup, my eyeballing skills probably weren’t too great, but it was a very enjoyable cup of coffee.

    Sometimes we really do have to have the bad to truly appreciate the good. Making coffee on that train made me take a step back and enjoy simpler cups. Because you’re totally right, our definition of an OK cup blows bad coffee out of the water.

    Being labeled as a speciality coffee lover can be a weird thing. My family likes to joke to me that I’d never set foot in a Starbucks. That might have been true a few years ago but you come to realize that there’s a time and place for every type of coffee. Not every cup I drink has to be perfect anymore.

  • Love the video James, thank you for this! I just had a conversation about this with my wife a few weeks ago. Sitting on "the chair of the critique" is no fun for the people around him, but neither is it for the person himself. If you elevate yourself above others, you distance yourself from them and from enjoying life all the same. It's a lonely place to be. Valuing what you have is a true skill in the very materialistic and greedy world we live in today.

  • Agreed 100%. This is something that I learned a long time ago, and I apply it to as many aspects of my life as possible. The thing that made me realize the importance of having some balance in life was one day when a coworker was complaining about the cold. She was complaining that she hates working drive-thru in winter because she has to deal with the cold coming in through the window. I commented that I don't mind the cold. When she asked why, without even really thinking about it or realizing what I was on to, I just said that it lets me appreciate the warmth all the more. She said that it was dumb, but the more I dwelled on that knee-jerk answer, the more I realized how true it was.

    If all you ever experience are the good aspects of life, it becomes harder to appreciate what makes it good. Not to mention that it makes dealing with the bad that much harder. If you only ever experience ideal temperature, it makes even the slightest chill in the air seem unbearable. I find that the most intolerant people I've ever dealt with in life are people who only ever surround themselves with the good aspects of life. They spoil themselves, so they have no concept of what life is about. Meanwhile, the most grounded people I know are the ones who grit through the crumbier parts of life. It's a cliche saying, but variety really is the spice of life. If you only experience the good, you lose perspective on what made it good in the first place, and life thus loses a bit of flavor. You put yourself in a situation where you take the good for granted, and if you're in a situation where the good is bland, how can you expect to cope with something worse?

  • I have known this to happen not only with food, but also with music. I have always been a nerd in both areas, food / drinks, and in music, but because I want to have friends…. I tried to maintain a broad range, or maybe a high threshold of tolerance for bad music and drinks is a better description.
    All people who don't do this will have to hang out with their in-group of connoisseurs forever and ever, and every time they peek out at the real world they will hate it, and be hated by it. Too harsh? Næææ.. Don't be a snob. Drink cheep wine or coffee while listening to the radio. 😉

  • James, I too had to learn this the same way. Once I discovered great coffee and developed the taste as you speak of, I found myself only wanting the best. At some point the realization hit me that my family and friends are more interested in relationships than having the "best experiences". Life is much more than eating or drinking. It is true that without bad foods, coffee, experiences, you'll have nothing to compare the good to. Something else to consider… If you look enough, you can find some good in those experiences.

  • Wen the coffee is really really bad!, I have a sarcastic way to tell people there coffee is worse. Coffee? No Tea please that tastes more like coffee 😬. Reaction I get is mostly 🙄😂🤣 sometimes 🙄😒😔. In the Netherlands we pretty direct😂 I always get away with it lol 😉

  • Your sense of taste – and smell – will be affected by extrinsic factors of which you are neither aware nor in control of.

  • This is so very true.
    I will completely appreciate something in it's moment for what it is. However, there's also something I've noticed, which is both the opposite and the same:
    When people live only for the mundane, they seem to do the exact same thing – anything that's really amazing isn't "good" to them, because they're not used to it.

    People definitely should learn to appreciate the finer things, but also be able to appreciate the simple. That balance makes life enjoyable.

  • I understand. I took a couple of film classes in college. The act of needing to micro-analyze everything made it so I couldn’t simply just enjoy movies anymore for a good long while. Likewise with coffee the Chemex has spoiled me. It’s like drinking the filet minion of coffee in the morning, then there’s the mass roasted pre ground nasty coffee at work. That always brings be back down lol in a good way though. I appreciate the Chemex so much more after.

  • My philosophy has always been that everything has it’s place. Something that I learned from Anthony Bourdain. That man could find the positive aspects in everything from five star to fast food If I was served a single origin drip or even an espresso based beverage in a diner alongside a greasy-spoon meal, it would feel out of place and I probably wouldn’t enjoy it. I will never choose to make a cup of Folgers or Maxwell House at home, but I damn well expect it to be served to me when paired with the right meal in the right setting.

  • the last year Ive basically been drinking only instant coffee out of necessity at work and then out of lazyness at home, recently ive gone on vacation and let me tell you my moka pot is cranking out the nectar of the gods where previously I just thought of it as "coffee" so I think theres a really good point here and that it applies a lot more broadly than just to coffee

  • Yeah I had this with beers as well. Focus on enjoying the moment drinking with friends rather than the drink your having with friends

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