A few days ago, I read about a stand-alone coffee shop run by a person with a passion for coffee. Instinctively, I looked this place up on a popular restaurant review website, and saw that people who had been critical of their experience at the establishment received a rude response from the proprietor who encouraged them to take their business elsewhere. He seemed genuinely offended that his “best” was “not good enough” for certain clients. While I understand though not condone such pettiness from a person who has devoted an unnatural amount of time to the “art” of grinding and boiling roasted seeds, “coffee snobs” abound. Just check Tinder, where self-confessed coffee snobs are the third-largest population – next only to sapiosexuals and Murakami fans.
Such arrogance is somewhat new among coffee lovers in this country, but has been quite prevalent among the self-proclaimed wine and whiskey/whisky aficionados I have encountered over the years. In fact, public humiliation by a “single malt connoisseur” was the reason I steered clear of single malts in my early 20s. Thankfully, about five years after this incident, a celebrity bartender sorted me out. As a professional, he explained that we’re wired differently for taste based on our genetics, body chemistry and food habits, and he thought that many of the “rules” around whiskey consumption are absurd. He added that nearly every whiskey connoisseur he had encountered in his 20-year career was “full of shit”. “Drink it the way you like it” he proclaimed, and treated me to a Manhattan made with a 30-something year old Single Malt. His view is not new by any means: the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976 – better known as the Judgment of Paris – placed underdog Californian brands above popular European labels such as Mouton-Rothschild, Roulot, and Montrose in a blind test. This triggered an expansion in consumers’ taste for wines.
Since my encounter with the bartender, I have made it a point to understand where the “rules” and “traditions” related to products and experiences actually come from. Sadly, most of these are created as a marketing campaign to justify an overpriced and often unappealing product. Mass media and social media are used to make people think what they should feel about products and experiences, and many people toe the line to conform. Though individualism and personal identity have been key social phenomena since the mid-20th century, subjectivity of experiences is becoming increasingly vilified.
Today, there are templates for everything – the ultimate cup of coffee (even if made with rodent excreta), the perfect whiskey, the ideal romantic relationship, the perfect marriage, the ultimate vacation – you name it. Social media bombards us with selective portrayals of what these should be, and many people with good lives are pushed into a sense of inadequacy despite their satisfactory subjective experiences. There are those who insist that people with a strong sense of “self” are immune to these influences but this is not true. Decades of psychological and social research tell us that happiness is relative and it is likely that current levels of anxiety and unhappiness have atleast something to do with the vilification of subjectivity in favour of the Instagram ideal.
There are social consequences too. Religious beliefs, political views, and personal ethics are all the product of an individual’s subjective experience of life. Judging people along these lines often leads one to overlook the intrinsic good in them. With the world increasingly splitting into echo chambers, it would help to embrace the subjectivity of experience and by extension, the differences between us brought about by our individual experiences in life.
The next time a wine connoisseur rattles off memorized tasting notes, roll your eyes and sigh contemptuously: Click here to know why.