The taste of terrible-tasting things.
Q) What (aside from being liquids that exist on a bewilderingly wide continuum of pricing) do tea, coffee, beer and wine all have in common?
A) They’re all drinks that evolved as delivery systems for mind-altering chemicals. By various trials and errors, our ancestors figured out that treating particular plants with specific combinations of heat and water and microorganisms resulted in miraculous concoctions that could affect your energy level in pleasant ways, take your mind off your grinding subsistence poverty for a fleeting moment, and maybe help you avoid the waterborne illnesses that came along with lots of people living (and shitting) in close proximity to their source of drinking water.
They’re also all drinks that objectively taste bad. Alcohol and caffeine and their byproducts aren’t naturally palatable. They’re bitter or sour or some combination thereof, and we have to talk ourselves into actually liking them.
How can I generalize so broadly about drinks that are so widely and faithfully consumed across cultural and socioeconomic divisions? I’ve seen what happens when children sneak a sip of any of them. They make that face that looks like they’re trying to harness the power of sheer regret to squint themselves back in time to the moment before they took that sip, in the vain hope of correcting the first of many unfortunate life choices.
But the real clue is the ridiculously complex set of rules and rituals that have grown up around what constitutes “good” vs. “bad” versions of these things. Sure, your bitter black brew is bitter and black, but did you get the kind that was shat out by an ocelot and roasted by a beardy Brooklynite and brewed in a hand-blown carafe to get just the exact right nuances of bitter and black? Okay, your wine is kind of sour, but can you smell the cud of the cows that ate the berries that grew in the field next door? Sure, your beer tastes likes something that yeast would shit out, but has it been so stuffed with hops that you could almost imagine being reincarnated as an overripe grapefruit? Nothing that was simply, objectively enjoyable would require that kind of stratification.
Friends, I have grown weary of pretending that I give a desiccated rodent’s scrotum about the particular intricacies of these drinks. There are types and tendencies and trends that I favor, but I can no longer feign an energetic devotion to any particular iteration. Let’s stop pretending that any matter of taste separating different versions of them is more sophisticated or enlightened. (If you need a caste system to enjoy your drink, are you really a connoisseur, or are you just looking for an excuse to feel superior?) Instead, I propose that we celebrate the ingenuity and persistence that it took to develop these complex, multi-step procedures, and the original intent behind them: to very slightly fuck up our brains in pleasant and/or useful ways. Cheers.