The Tongue Versus The Nose
There are a lot of people who believe that coffee just does not taste good. Even a large percentage of coffee drinkers aren't that into the general flavor of coffee on its own. That is one reason why we have things like cream and sugar, milk based espresso drinks, blended coffee beverages, and tiramisu.
Conversely, almost everyone loves the smell of coffee. Even the spurious account of Kaldi, the Ethiopian goatherd credited with coffee's discovery, exemplifies this—it wasn't the taste or the caffeine content that convinced the local monks to reconsider coffee being of the devil; it was the heavenly fragrance produced after it was thrown into the fire. Whether part of a folk tale or in real life, the aromatics of roasted coffee are undeniably wonderful.
Should We Really Be Drinking Coffee?
So what does it mean, when people say (which they often do) that they love the smell of coffee but cannot stand the flavor? Furthermore, there is the sentiment that coffee would be great black if it were to taste as good as it smells (a common excuse for using cream or sugar).
This chasm between the olfactory approachability of coffee and its less accessible 'acquired taste' could only mean one of two things. A stark conclusion might be that we were never meant to actually ingest coffee and should really only enjoy it as a pleasant scent. The second (which is our conviction) is that the delightful aromatics associated with coffee are our guide to unlocking its full potential in the cup. We are absolutely meant to drink it, but we are also meant to unravel its mystery.
The Burden of Specialty Coffee
In other words, coffee smells good because it is good and we intuitively believe that it should taste good as well. Kaldi and the monks were convinced of this in their cute story, and we convince ourselves of this every morning that we brew our own cup. Specialty coffee, at its purest, is really just the discipline of bridging the chasm between nose and tongue in an attempt to have a multi-sensory experience that is beautiful, deep, and simple.
The fact that something so aromatically irresistible is still considered to have an 'acquired taste' reveals that the specialty industry is miles away from success.
Don't Give Up
Coffee, by itself, can taste as good as it smells. This simple conviction should drive the specialty industry into continual and humble exploration. All the pretense and insecurity that saps resources and leaves true coffee lovers with a bad taste in their mouths needs to be called out for what it is.
The industry has come very far, and the practice of isolating variables in each area of coffee craft helps us to taste (or at least notice) brand new wonders every year. Humility demands that we simultaneously rejoice in the strides we have made and still see the vast expanse we have yet to cover. In the meantime, enjoy what you can. We all need to constantly wake up and smell the coffee.