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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Emotional Taste Perception

Our tastes (preferences) and sensory perceptions are dramatically effected by our mental and emotional state. And the opposite is also true; our mental and emotional state can be effected by stimulating our senses. As we learned in Taste College, our sense of smell is most closely linked to memory and emotion. But it doesn’t end there…
Tobacconist Anecdotes:

1. A customer comes back from an event and tells his Tobacconist about ‘best cigar in the world’ he/she smoked right off a cigar roller’s bench. – The facts tell us this cigar was too humid to smoke and had not gone through the proper “marrying” period.

2. A customer comes back from a vacation in the Caribbean and tells his Tobacconist about the ‘best cigar in the world’ or ‘Cohiba‘ (in cellophane and plastic box of 15) he/she smoked… – The facts tell us this was a horrible fake.

People on vacation or experiencing extraordinarily fun events while they smoke a cigar will often enjoy the cigar exponentially more than they would have under ‘normal’ circumstances. Good Times make cigars better! And that is a fact. But the bias that our emotions put on our sensory perceptions must be acknowledged and compensated for.

Many Tobacconists can tell you how great a cigar tasted when the cigar maker gave it to them and they smoked one together… and then ‘magically’ it just wasn’t the same when it arrived in their humidor. Well, the fact is that we are all human and can be biased, if only momentarily.
The Blind Taste Test Experiment: December 18, 2007

Today I sat two accomplished and extraordinary CRT down and blindfolded them (it was a sight to see-see surveillance picture). I took two cigars from the walk-in and cut the first inch off (to confuse the starting flavor). I then lit the cigars in the Tobacconists mouths and let them smoke for approximately 20 minutes. I verbally hinted to them that they could be any of 3 premium Connecticut Wrapped Dominican brands (which they knew we had in the humidor). After 15 minutes one was sure it was a PG Corona and another said it must be made by H. Kelner (maker of P.G., Avo, and Davidoff). The reality is that it was a short filler, flavorless cigar which shall go nameless.

The point is that people can be influenced. Our senses will manipulate information and stimulus until they generate a biased result. I promise you these are two passionate and experienced individuals who have served thousands of customers well; but we are only human. Occasionally our senses will lie to us and a Good Tobacconist must know their limits.
The Food Color, Wine & Yogurt Test

This year I read about two separate experiments where white wines and strawberry yogurts were tasted by professional and/or experienced testers. In both tests, one of the wines and yogurts had food coloring added to change the color to red (wine) and brown (chocolate-yogurt). In both cases, with overwhelming consistency, tasters waxed on poetically about how deep and rich the “red” wine and “chocolate” yogurts were; yet they were actually white wines and strawberry yogurt. In two separate experiments, tasters perceptions were influenced by expectations!!! Simple food coloring made strawberry yogurt taste like deep dark chocolate? Yes. Because the mind is far more malleable than we would like to think.

So, what is the point? Well, it is easy to think we know it all, but that is rarely the case.
1. Try to factor out emotional bias when evaluating Taste-oriented products.
2. Be patient with ourselves, customers, and Tobacconists; we are all fallible.
3. And remember, Taste is Subjective…. that is its nature.

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