I am addicted to smoking, and for now I think I still really like it
I have a fixation with sipping and toking. Smoking became part of the social aspect of going to my local coffee shop a while before I started working there.
When I decided after three years of working as a barista whether or not I wanted to further my experience and stay in the industry, it crossed my mind that maybe I can't really truly taste the full flavor of a shot of espresso, maybe smoking has altered my capacity for that, and that maybe I should quit in favor of developing a better understanding of my craft.
Let me know if this has crossed your mind as a smoker
Just quit smoking, and three months in I haven't noticed much difference in the cupping senses... another roaster I work with has had the same experience - but you really shouldn't quit smoking just for the reason of tasting coffee. Cancer fucks up you appreciation of most everything...
As a roaster who has quit smoking in the last year, yes smoking has a definite impact on your ability to taste. I notice things that I didn't before. Just because people have risen to the top of the industry with one arm tied behind their back doesn't mean anyone else should try. Of course I still miss my after shot smoke...
I have been a barista for over six years, and was a pack-a-day smoker for the first four. I have not had a drag of a cigarette in two years now and to be honest I have not noticed any improvement in my tasting abilities. I always blamed my inability to distinguish the subtle taste differences on my smoking, and truly expected to see a marked improvement in my taste palette when I quit. Two years later and a coworker who still smokes and has spent less time in the industry has much better tasting skills. Everyone should quit smoking for their health, but it is not guaranteed to improve your sense of taste. Some people have it, some don't.
If you can rise to the top of the industry with one arm tied behind your back... that one arm must be very, very strong. Having the other untied may be moot.
the more I have talked to people about this there seems to be a general feeling that the frequency of coffee flavors tends to be spared by the tobacco smoke. I know this does not follow any sincere logic, but it is the opinion... For me candy makes sense now, for others it is the salt... which in a way does make some sense if you are only dulling your taste buds and not your olfactory factory.
I agree in the end with Chris... you either have it or you don't.
Jason Shipley said:
Just because people have risen to the top of the industry with one arm tied behind their back doesn't mean anyone else should try.
as far as tasting goes cigarettes are not as bad as cigars, and pipes are the worst since they burn hotter than either of the others. i know a number of smokers who have passed the scaa sensorial analysis test with no problems (myself included). smoking is pretty bad for the nose however and i can tell that on the occasions when i've tried to quit that my cupping skills perked up especially on the dry ground and break evaluation. what i've tried to do is just refrain from smoking much for a while before any important cupping or tasting. something else to keep in mind is that there are many other palate perils out there.
alcohol: liquor is hell on your palate, beer is fine though. so no shots the night before.
food:sweets, salts, bitters, and sours. all these things mar your ability to evaluate the most basic characteristics in the cup, so only eat bland stuff before tasting.
fortunately espresso is much easier to taste due to the small particulate size in the cup, it's real easy to f'up your palate before cupping.
I smoke and have considered numerous times the effect of cigarettes on my palate. It's not good, but coffee, the coffee industry and cigarettes are synonymous to me and I enjoy them together immensely. I may become more obsessed with tasting at some point and will then begin to cut back, but for now life is too short for me to derive myself of this simple pleasure.
I commend you for bringing up a subject that really deserves attention........
I'm smiling as I remember that Steve Martin routine on SNL; Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber. He thrives at a time when barbers performed the functions of a medical healer. So on this one episode he has this "Epiphany", after performing a blood letting and other dark, medieval procedures......... (and I paraphrase) that "maybe, just maybe, sterilization and cleanliness would limit infection.......... and maybe even washing hands between patients, etc., etc." But after long thought, he ends the epiphany with................. "NAW!", and goes right back to his old ways by calling for next patient. I never forgot that routine. So when someone thoughtfully "debates", for instance, the stopping of smoking, by weighing out all the pluses and such, I see them looking at the enormous up-side, and then, thoughtfully summing it up with.......... NAH, and then lighting up again. I don't smoke, but I do overeat, and like an alcoholic or smoker, see myself going through all the same mental arguments.
What I truely don't understand, and it was mentioned in this thread, are all of the chefs that are heavy smokers. How do they work around both the smell and the functional loss of taste? If you watch Hell's Kitchen, allot of those contestants go back to the dorm-house, kick back and light up. I wonder what the statistics are on chefs who smoke?
I'm no one to judge, but figure that it's got to be tough; being hooked on a habit that takes away some level of your taste function. At least for an over-eater........ we simply eat, savor and enjoy........ right up until we have a coronary and die! (smile)
I quit smoking for about 2 weeks, and I noticed a huge difference in my olfactory system. I have an excellent sense of smell as is (been smoking for 7 years. ew), and when I quit it was amazing. actually became obsessed with smelling everything. not yet steeped tea was the best. but, unfortunately started smoking again. Hope to quit soon, and I do say that I have cut down enormously. I only smoke at night really, and like maybe one or two cigarettes a day.
There are things that people partake in everyday that are not good for themselves. I say, don't quit cause you want to be able to taste better, and smell better, but quit for YOU, to be healthy.
And learn to hone what skills/senses that you have now. And don't smoke before cuppings/tastings/etc.
Are you enjoying Barista Exchange? Is it helping you promote your business and helping you network in this great industry? Donate today to keep it free to all members. Supporters can join the "Supporters Group" with a donation. Thanks!