Over the course of the years, if there has been one question that has been asked of me more than any others, it has been this – “How do I find the best _______?” Sometimes whiskey fills in the blank, other times restaurants, and still other times it has been foods that I haven’t even delved into all that deeply.
When asked, I smile, and give some variation of the same answer I always give. What I like may be different from what you like. You will have to go out and determine what the best __________ is yourself.
And then I proceed to explain to them how to do exactly that.
Setting aside the restaurants (for they are really a different medium of food service), if you wish to find the best tea, whiskey, vodka, chocolate, or whatever, comparison is the key. And not just comparison over the course of several days or weeks, but one really needs to have items sitting side by side, and sampling them one after another.
Seth Roberts has a name for this process, calling it the Willat Effect, after his friend Carl Willat, who presented Seth with five versions of limoncello side by side in shot glasses, and then told him to drink up.
It sounds very obvious that one can determine the good from the bad in a scenario such as this, but it does more than that. Immediate comparison provides information that allows a person to conclude why one is better than another. And once a “why” is understood, it begins showing up everywhere.
For example, there are some whiskeys that very short finishes, meaning that the drinking experience ends very abruptly. If you were to drink these types of whiskeys by themselves, you may never know this. It is only when you have a drink with a short finish, and then soon afterward have one with an extended finish, can you determine the benefits of a dram with an extended finish.
Once you determine what is a flaw in a drink, that flaw becomes more apparent in many future tastings.
I suppose that the reason why this works is that our minds deal with satisfaction in very peculiar ways. Any experience we have when it comes to eating or drinking is primarily memorable if it was extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad. Everything else falls in the realm of some degree of “satisfactory”. Our minds play tricks on us when we try to recall satisfactory experiences, in that we will recall we came to that conclusion, and we may even recall some aspect of that experience, but we will be unable to recall the specific characteristics of the sensory experience that allowed us to that conclusion.
But, when you have an experience which highlights both flawed and exceptional characteristics, our memory changes. We will recall that metallic taste in the wine, that underdone chicken, or that pure aroma of chocolate. I find this with my drinking of whiskey and beer all of the time.
If you’re curious, and if your resources allow, buy several brands of chocolate and test this out for yourself. You’ll be amazed at the conclusions you draw, as well as how the results will affect your choices later on down the line.