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What does "wake up and smell the coffee" mean?

25 August 2019

Wake Up and smell the coffee

Time to wake up and smell the coffee – it’s an often repeated phrase, mainly used to get people to see reality but the phrase is actually very true in its literal sense.


We take a lot of things for granted without thinking too much of the science behind it.


Our nose and sense of smell is one of those things – but we don’t actually smell with our noses, we smell with our brain?


The nose is purely the “gatekeeper” to the brain’s smell receptors and a good nose is like a good gatekeeper that prevents undesirables entering an area. Tiny little hairs called the cilia work like a broom, brushing dirt, bugs and other “undesirables” away from the olfactory corridor that leads to the brain.


Our sense of smell is the old man of the five main senses in that it is fully formed and functioning even before we are born.


It’s also a stayer – being that last of the senses to leave us when we pass away.


And in our lifetime we build up our smell memory bank which becomes progressively better as we progress through life.


Your eyes and ears also play a part in smell and it means that even if your do not have a working nose you would still be able to smell to some degree – a classic example is how looking at a beautiful bunch of roses can elicit a positive thought process and you can “smell it” even if it’s just a photo; or simply the sound of sizzling rashers on radio can make even a vegetarian’s mouth water.   


However, have some empathy for one group of people that a picture of beautiful flowers or the sound of grilled bacon could make them run for their lives as they suffer from osmophobia – they have a fear of scent and walk about all day with either clothes peg on their nose or living in a room devoid of life.


There are also many positives to how the brain perceives a scent – Scent cheers us up, it simulates our imagination; and can shape our thoughts and behaviour.


Scents are also some of the strongest memory triggers we have…

…A scent that you like will make you feel happier, so if you like lavender, burning a Lemon Lavender Yankee Candle will give you a lift, or the favourite fragrance of someone who has passed away can bring back fond memories of that person or simply a scent from a past moment, even years previously, can bring vivid pictures of that moment to your brain.


But best of all, those arguments about food in the fridge going off are now resolved – as women have a far better sense of smell than men!


But let’s go back to Waking up and smelling the coffee


There’s endless research of coffee and its effect on the senses, you see perfume shops claiming that a sniff will cleanse your palate - but that has been debunked by several research papers. Other research says that the scent gives off molecules that send a message to the brain that caffeine is on the way – but the reality is quite different and quite simple.


At night when we sleep our sense of smell is non-existent – hence the importance of smoke alarms in our homes. And when we wake up, our sense of smell is like the stubborn teenager on a Saturday morning taking its time to shake itself off for another day, taking a couple of hours to fully awaken.


Coffee has unique smell properties that are difficult to create artificially  – and it is difficult to place coffee in into one of the primary fragrance families - Floral, Fresh, Spice, Fruit and Woody. This allows coffee to stand alone, proud and as a unique scent.


It is unaffected by competing smells in the immediate atmosphere, thus fragrance fatigue where you nose grows accustomed to fragrances within a fragrance family is not an issue with coffee and no matter whether you are in a room full of fragrant flowers or beside a tank of slurry, the scent of coffee will stand out proud.    


So the next time you wake up, have a good sniff of your freshly brewed coffee! Awaken your smell sensory bank and you will realise that “Wake up and Smell the Coffee” is not just a throwaway phrase but a mantra for life itself.       

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