Not all flavor expertise is equal: The language of wine and coffee experts
Croijmans I., Majid A.
People in Western cultures are poor at naming smells and flavors. However, for wine and coffee experts, describing smells and flavors is part of their daily routine. So are experts better than lay people at conveying smells and flavors in language? If smells and flavors are more easily linguistically expressed by experts, or more "codable", then experts should be better than novices at describing smells and flavors. If experts are indeed better, we can also ask how general this advantage is: do experts show higher codability only for smells and flavors they are expert in (i.e., wine experts for wine and coffee experts for coffee) or is their linguistic dexterity more general? To address these questions, wine experts, coffee experts, and novices were asked to describe the smell and flavor of wines, coffees, everyday odors, and basic tastes. The resulting descriptions were compared on a number of measures. We found expertise endows a modest advantage in smell and flavor naming. Wine experts showed more consistency in how they described wine smells and flavors than coffee experts, and novices; but coffee experts were not more consistent for coffee descriptions. Neither expert group was any more accurate at identifying everyday smells or tastes. Interestingly, both wine and coffee experts tended to use more source-based terms (e.g., vanilla) in descriptions of their own area of expertise whereas novices tended to use more evaluative terms (e.g., nice). However, the overall linguistic strategies for both groups were en par. To conclude, experts only have a limited, domain-specific advantage when communicating about smells and flavors. The ability to communicate about smells and flavors is a matter not only of perceptual training, but specific linguistic training too.