The sense of smell is powerful. Unpleasant smells can evoke a sense of disgust, while pleasant odors incite more positive emotions.
There’s an overwhelming feeling of satisfaction I have when I smell fresh coffee being brewed. I am a big coffee drinker. I have been for years and I love it. I love the taste, the alertness, and the scent. The aroma of freshly brewed coffee is powerful, and I got to thinking about how the smell affects people.
I can remember the smell of my father’s black coffee he drank when I was a kid. As an adult, when I visited him, the aroma of him "making a cuppa" brought back memories from when I was young. When I make myself a cup nowadays, I am often brought back to times when I used to enjoy some coffee with my mother before she passed away – memories of her I will always cherish.
The scent of freshly brewed coffee and baristas making lattes in a coffee shop is also a pleasant scent to me. To me it invokes the feeling of both refreshment and anticipation – though maybe that’s a sign I’m a coffee addict.
Recently, a study was made into the effects of the scent of roses on human memory. I began wondering, does the scent of coffee affect memory also?
While there hasn’t been extensive research specifically focusing on coffee aroma and memory, there has been some significant research made into the effects of consuming coffee.
According to positivelycoffee.org, coffee not only enhances short term memory under normal conditions, it also helps to "activate it" so to speak. So if you’re working at your desk, doing what you normally do, drinking coffee, your short term memory is improved. Under stressful conditions however, coffee has little to no effect on memory whatsoever.
In relation to this, a study reported by New Scientist suggests that coffee consumption improves short term memory, and enhances reaction times.
But that’s with regards to consumption of coffee. I am wondering more about its aroma.
The aroma of coffee is an important factor in what has become known as coffee cupping, the method used to evaluate the flavor profile of a coffee. Tasting the coffee is not only part of the evaluation, but smelling the aroma is a significant aspect of this process. It is clear that the importance of coffee aroma isn’t lost on experts – or those involved in business…
Look at one of the fastest growing companies in the world: Starbucks. This company has expanded worldwide at a phenomenal rate, yet it’s main product is coffee. Why is it so different to your regular old cafe; or local coffee shop? The answer is in its presentation. It’s an all encompassing sensory stimulation store – including the often overpowering aroma of brewing coffee.
There is even an alarm clock now that wakes you up to the smell of coffee. So if the businesses have used the scent of coffee to improve product sales and increase use of their services, is the scent of coffee powerful enough to affect aspects of human behavior, such as memory?
It is known that odor is a powerful tool for bringing back memories and / or inciting powerful emotional responses. These cases are well documented in many fields of research, such as the study conducted by Cupchik, Phillips, and Truong.
It could be speculated that, yes, the aroma of coffee does affect memory in terms of the scientifically established effects of smell on memory. In biological terms, information on aroma is simply processed and stored in long term memory, which has strong links to emotional memory. This connection may be caused by the olfactory system’s anatomical ties to brain regions that have been established to be connected to place memory and emotion: namely, the hippocampus and the limbic system.
The scent of coffee is embraced by coffee drinkers. If you browse the web and go to some of the "coffee" web sites, you’ll see many items regarding the aroma. One site, ineedcoffee.com, even suggests making Coffee Potpourri in one of their newsletters: "Freshly ground coffee makes for a wonderful potpourri," states Gregory Ng. "Whether it is for your home, office, or car, the wonderful smell of coffee will mask the ‘foulest’ of odors".
So does the aroma of coffee affect memory? The answer is yes – as with most odors, the human sense of smell is connected with memory. In a nutshell (or coffee-bean), if the scent of that Mr. Coffee working overtime in your daily morning routine sends you pleasant memories; you are not alone.
However, does the aroma of coffee enhance memory, as seen in its consumption?
The answer for that one remains to be seen – as it seems to be an area yet to be explored in science…
Time for another cup – espresso shots anyone?
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