coffeeI learned some fascinating things about the food industry today. For instance- there are all kinds of jobs behind the scenes that it never occurred to me existed before. If I didn’t know they existed, how could I hope to be that when I grew up? I feel a little cheated.  It’s kind of how I felt when I saw ice cream scientists on The Amazing Race. I didn’t know I could have grown up to become an ice cream scientist!!! Sheesh!

Over the years I’ve heard many people joke about wouldn’t it be fun to taste-test _____ for a living. “Yes. Yes it would be fun”, I’d said, but I didn’t know you could actually do that. It turns out you can.  My friend told me about a job with a company who was looking for beverage taste-testers, so I applied and today I went in for a test. A taste-tester taste test. It was pretty interesting.  You can’t study for a taste-tester taste test. I’m not sure how they grade these tests. Pass/Fail?  I also don’t know if I “passed”. I really thought I had failed part one!  Let me tell you how it went…

There were three of us testees. That definitely is not right. Tasters? We’ll go with tasters.  There were three of us tasters.  We met in a conference-type room with 2 scientist ladies.  (They held the aforementioned jobs that I didn’t know you could grow up to hold.) I guess they were the taste-tester taste test testers. {grin} They explained how the test was going to work and answered our questions then showed us into the test room.  Picture a long, narrow room with six booths lining one wall.  Each booth had a rolling counter-height chair pulled up to a small counter.  In the center of the counter was a small door that lifted up. To the left of the door was a stack of paper cups and a stack of napkins.  To the right was a plastic container full of saltine crackers.  We were to take a paper cup and fill it with water from the water cooler in the corner.  The stools were a little tall. I’m not short, but it was tall for me.  Getting in not, not so bad…getting out…well it was a quiet room and when I got out to refill my water cup, the bang of my chair hitting the way as it shot out from under me was a little loud…

Our samples were prepared on the other side of the door. When the samples were ready the taste-tester taste test testers pressed a button on their side of the wall and a light came on on our side of the wall. We opened the door, pulled the sample through and turned off the light on our side.  After we finished with a sample, we put it back through the door and turned the light on on our side so they knew we were done. There were 6 segments to the test.  And they went something like this:

Segment 1:  Six little plastic cups on a tray came out.  We were told to label them as “sweet”, “salty”, “bitter” or “sour”. Of the six we were told at least one was plain water.  I was a little nervous, but I know how to taste, right? How hard could this be?  The answer: much harder than you would think!  All of the samples were clear and I am convinced were water. Some of them just (allegedly) had something added to them.  My first sample was the tiniest bit salty.  and the fourth one was the teeniest bit sweet. The rest all tasted different from each other, but I was hard-pressed to say how.  I started to think I might be the first person to fail a taste-tester test!  I had a brief moment of panic when I thought, “What is the difference between bitter and sour?” I mean, my head knows bitter is like coffee and sour is like lemon, but I wasn’t sure my mouth knew the difference.  So, I guess I kind of guessed at the remaining 4 samples. On to segment 2.

Segment 2:  Three disposable coffee cups came out.  Each had a sample of coffee in it.  Two were the same, one was different.  We had to write down which one was different and in what ways was it different in terms of sight, taste, aroma, “mouth-feel” and aftertaste.  I picked the one that was different right away. Phew!

What numbers do you see?

What numbers do you see?

Segment 3:  Colorblindness test.  A little booklet came out with colored circles on each page.  In the colored circles were different colored numbers.  We had to write down what numbers we saw for 17 of these.  They looked like this:

I was able to see all the numbers, so I guess I’m not colorblind (which is especially good for me, as being colorblind would severely limit my abilities as a designer!).  I might pass this test after all!

Segment 4:  We knew ahead of time that this was going to be “orange squash”, but they didn’t give any details.  I have a vague recollection of an English beverage called “orange squash” and I was hoping it would be this and not an orange vegetable. Four little plastic cups filled with “orange squash” came out on a tray. Relief! It was a beverage!  Horror! It tasted awful!  We had to rank them from one to four from weakest to strongest and describe what characteristics we used to decide. The samples reminded me of the super sugary drink I had to drink when I got my blood tested when I was pregnant…mixed with super-concentrated carrots.  I could tell that two were stronger than the other two, but had a hard time putting all four in order.  For this test I heartily used the “spit cup” we were told we could use.  I could not swallow.  I guessed on the two weaker ones as to which was weakest. I determined that the one that made we want to cry was probably the strongest and left it at that.

Segment 5:  Three little plastic cups filled with clear pink liquid came out.  We had to identify what they tasted like and if we couldn’t identify the flavor, we would say what it reminded us of.  This was easy: lemonade, strawberry Bubblicious Bubble Gum and Fruity Pebbles.

Segment 6:  Two disposable coffee cups came out. They each appeared to have coffee in them.  We had to describe them in terms of: sight, taste, aroma, “mouth-feel” and aftertaste.  They both tasted like strong coffee. Different strong coffees, but both strong coffees.  Not too bad!

When we were done, we each met with the taste-tester taste test testers individually and learned specifics about scheduling and were asked questions like “Do you smoke?” and “How often do you you drink tea?”  It was a very interesting experience!  Did I get the job?  I don’t know yet.  Will I take the job if it is offered to me?  I don’t know that either.  I’ll have to get back to you.