A Dummy’s Palate

Stonington and Deer Isle are blessed with an excellent local coffee house, 44 North.  (44 North is the latitude of Stonington and Deer Isle, in case you are interested.)  The shop roasts its coffee right here, and its location in Stonington, at the edge of the downtown area, is a classic, comfortable place to sit and drink a cup of coffee and enjoy a cookie or a scone — in normal times when social distancing doesn’t require that you drink your joe outside, that is.

But here’s the problem:  whenever I go into 44 North to get some of their fine, fresh ground coffee, I feel overwhelmed, like a junior high school algebra student sitting at a table listening to a bunch of college physics professors talking about the finer points of their lates calculus equations.  I might get that they are chatting about math in some mysterious sense, but that’s about it.

It’s the same with 44 North’s terrific coffee.  I love the smell, but when I taste it I just can’t appreciate the subtleties of the roasting and preparation process.  I’m sorry to admit that, when it comes to coffee, my palate is not only not educated, it hasn’t even begun its schooling.  Sad to say, I’ve got a dummy’s palate.

This week, for example, I bought two bags of coffee.  One, the Colombia, is described in the “tasting notes” on the bag as having a “sweet and spicy aroma with a rich dark chocolate body.”  The “tasting notes” on the other bag, the Sol Y Luna Blend, refer to “bright raspberry and dark chocolate.”  But try as I might, even squinting in a physical effort to maximize the discernment of my taste buds, I cannot detect the raspberry — or for that matter the dark chocolate.  I can enjoy the sweet and spicy aroma of the Colombia and when I take a slug I can recognize that it is a darker roast than the Sol Y Luna (at least, I think it is), but that’s about it.  They both taste to my poor dummy’s palate like coffee — excellent coffee, to be sure, but still coffee.

Well, at least I can enjoy the smell of the coffee grounds when I open the bag.

Palate Practice

Last night I decided to order a Cabernet Franc with my meal at a restaurant.  It’s a new kind of wine for me, but I have been trying to expand the types of wine I drink and develop a more educated palate.

Unfortunately, my palate education right now is about at kindergarten level.  I know what I like and I drink it, then I’m ready to go color a picture of a cat and play with blocks.  I’m pretty tongue-tied, too, when it comes to describing what I’ve imbibed.  Once you get beyond “full-bodied” or “light” or “too sweet” I’m sunk.

Last night, though, I concentrated hard on the Cab Franc and its taste.  It had what I would consider a flavor that was more at the tart end of the spectrum — although “flavor” and “tart” probably aren’t wine-appropriate words.  (Part of the problem with the wine world in my book is the snootiness of the wine sophisticates and the stylized language they expect any knowledgeable wine drinker to employ.)  Still, I view recognizing a wine as more tart is a step in the right direction.

How do you develop a more educated palate?  One website suggests six steps — slow down; look and smell, then taste; visualize and isolate flavors: identify flavors; note texture and body; and develop a wine memory.  Steps one and two I can handle, but at three I come a cropper.  Will I ever be able to detect a hint of grapefruit in a wine?  Maybe I should just go back to guzzling.