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The act of tasting is a far more complex mecanism than we might imagine. To taste something we need our five senses, to different degrees. When we taste a tea, several small events take place, each associated with a different sense.
During the tasting process our perception of the different sensations happens in three stages.
- At the moment of swallowing retro-olfaction takes place, in other words an exhalation of air through the nose provokes a simultaneous inhalation of air through the mouth. This "draught of air" completely cleans out the sensitive area of our olfactory apparatus and we can then smell 100% of the aroma molecules. To understand the importance of this step, one only has to hold one's nose at the moment of swallowing: in this way retro-olfaction does not happen and perception will be limited to the three flavour sensations described above.
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It is indeed through smell that we perceive the essence of what we "taste" and through smell that the aromatic complexity of a drink like tea is revealed.