Synesthesia And Blending As Sensory Art April 18 2013

I am frequently asked how I get ideas for my blends. Where does my inspiration come from? Which comes first, the blend or its name?

I'm proud of how original my blends are, and how different from blends you'll find by any other company. This is largely due to the fact that I have synesthesia (meaning my senses are cross-wired and abstract concepts, personalities, colors, weather, etc. all translate to me as flavor). My dominant forms are referred to as "lexical-gustatory," "auditory-tactile," and "mirror touch." It's fascinating stuff for sure, and has made my life and relationships more complicated. On the flip side, I have discovered a practical use for my brain-strangeness! Like many synesthetes before me (Jimi Hendrix, Tori Amos, Richard Feynman, Vladimir Nabokov, etc.), I've translated my particular brand of strange into a career.

Synesthesia salad. credit: jessicahagy.info/


My personal experience with synesthesia leads me to experience just about everything as flavor/tactile sensation (I can't differentiate between the two). I think of an abstract, or one is mentioned to me (a character, a personality trait, a feeling, etc.), and I register it as a flavor profile, complete with mouthfeel (full-bodiedness, texture) and all the complexities of a delicate blend. Which is exactly what I do with it now. This is my way of relating to my world. Here's an example:

I love sci-fi. LOVE it. My parents are both huge trekkies. Like most geeks, I'm a huge Firefly fan. Friends asked me to put together a series of Browncoat blends, which was super easy. The show does a gorgeous job of defining characters clearly, making them easy to taste and, therefore, blend. Let's look at Captain Mal's Blend.


Mal = Tea, fig, cacao. Duh.


I experience this character as a full-bodied, musky, slightly tangy flavor. Earthy, rounded and slightly sweet, Mal is to me a blend of Ceylon and Pu-Er black teas with cacao nib and fig. No brainer. Also not a blend any other company would ever think of putting together, nor would anyone outside my worldview see it coming. But I find that when people hear the ingredients, taste the blend, smell the blend, etc., there is often this moment I get to witness in their reaction. This kind of "Oh, yeah! That's totally Mal!" reaction which delights and validates me.

This is how I do all my blends. I don't put thought of flavor profiles into it in the traditional sense. To me, on the rare occasion a blend doesn't come together perfectly the first time, I examine the shapes present in the flavor profile in order to determine what flavor is missing. When I think about a flavor, it registers as a shape. If a blend is missing something, I can taste what shape isn't strong enough.

A complete flavor profile must contain a certain number of triangles, squares, ovals, and circles. Each shape has colors associated with it, and certain flavors. For example, pineapple is a triangular, lime-green flavor. chocolate is a brown, square flavor. If a blend isn't sharp enough, I know I need to add more triangles. I run through an inventory of triangular flavors in my mind (pineapple, garlic, clove, lemon, lime, salt, mango), and find the one which is exactly the right hue to complete the color circuit matching the abstract concept.

I'm sure you can see now why I haven't shared much of my experience throughout my adult life. It's so complicated and strange, I've been afraid of people judging me, thinking I was a freak. My dear friend Amy recently convinced me to share my experiences, my point of view, my technique. She thinks it will help people relate to and enjoy my teas more, and I think she may be right. She usually is. :)

I know this is all confusing, so please feel free to ask any and all questions you may have!

-Friday