Last fact-checked 9 October 2020 | Report a factual error on this article
Fancy yourself a bit of a vapour tasting expert? You’re in the right place! From coffee to liquorice to menthol and milk chocolate, the flavour profiles you can pick up from an e-cigarette are virtually limitless ...and with practice, anyone can become a connoisseur.
To become a proper e-liquid connoisseur, all you’ll need is practice, patience and a pen & paper. In this week’s article, we'll teach you some of the basic tricks professional tasters use to train their taste buds. Follow these steps and you’ll be vaping like a true connoisseur in no time!
How to taste e-liquid like a pro
Just like the perfume, wine and coffee industries, the best e-liquid manufacturers employ professional tasters to fine-tune the products they’re developing. We got to meet a few of these professional tasters when we were creating our own vape juice (our e-liquid is called Fog Addicts - you can learn all about it here), and they taught us a few things about how to properly taste a premium e-liquid.
If you really want to get in to e-liquid connoisseurship, there are a few ‘tasting basics’ you must do:
Record your experiences
The most important thing you can do is to keep a record of every flavour you try. You should always make a note of what vape juices you have tasted, when you tasted them and what they tasted like. This is something that professional tasters do all the time footnote 1.
Tasting notes don’t just protect you from ordering a bad juice twice. The simple act of writing down your tasting experience forces you to articulate what it is that you’re tasting. It also gives you something to look back on and learn from. Over time, the simple consistent act of pausing to think about the flavours in each vape will help you improve your palate.
Understand How We Taste
Whenever we taste food, we’re almost always using our tongue and our nose to do it. When you take a draw on your vape device, the mouth and nostrils will both taste the e-liquid, especially if you french-inhale.
Professional tasters will divide these two sensory experiences in their own minds. When they’re sampling wine or perfume, they’ll keep separate notes on how something tastes on the tongue compared to how it smells in the nose. You can do the same with an e-cigarette.
Learn about Top, Middle and Base Notes
You might have noticed in our product descriptions we’ll often talk about ‘top notes’, ‘base notes’ and ‘middle notes’. This language comes from the perfume industry and it’s directly applicable to e-cigarettes, because of the way we smell e-cigarette vapour.
When you smell a perfume, the fragrance usually has a beginning, a middle and an end — you don’t interpret the whole flavour at once. Some parts of the fragrance are less stable than others — they don’t ‘last’ for the duration of your smelling experience — while others will hang around in the background, like a canvas upon which other smells can play out.
The exact same beginning, middle and end that you experience at the perfume counter can happen in your e-cigarette vapour, too.
Typically sharp and fresh flavours, the top notes are the flavours that hit you first and fade away fastest. Ginger and Citrus are good examples. You’ll usually taste top notes on the inhale, but very often they will fade away on the exhale.
The base notes are the ‘flavour foundation’. In e-liquid, a base note is a flavour that hangs around for the duration of the vape. You’ll usually taste base notes most clearly on the exhale. This is because the top and mid notes ‘crowd out’ the base notes on the inhale. Base notes are often earthy or creamy flavours — they’re the ‘heavy molecule’ flavours.
Mid notes are the complex, slightly richer flavours that follow the top notes and hang around a little longer to complement those base notes. Florals are a great example of mid-note flavours. Mid notes can be harder to define in some e-liquids, but you’ll learn to pick up on them with practice.
How to Describe an E-Liquid Flavour
Sometimes it’s hard to define exactly what flavour you’re tasting, and sometimes you taste a familiar flavour but you can’t remember what it’s called. This can be really frustrating when you’re trying to keep a record of what it is you’re tasting.
We’ve created a Flavour Finder to help our customers to quickly identify and define what flavours they’re tasting in their gourmet e-liquid. If you click on any of the headings below, you’ll be taken to a full list of e-liquid flavours. Just remember that most e-liquids are blends of more than one flavour — you should taste a few of the flavours on this list:
Nicotine, Menthol and Tobacco ‘Flavours’
You might have noticed that we haven’t included Menthol, Nicotine or Tobacco on our flavour finder list. There are some good reasons for this…
Menthol isn’t ‘tasted’ like a normal flavour
E-cigarette vapour can give you an extra sensation that goes beyond the traditional ‘five basic tastes’ of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Menthol gives a cool sensation which is transmitted to the brain via the trigeminal nerve (the nerve responsible for sensing hot & cold). When you get the menthol kick of a vape juice, your brain isn’t tasting a cold flavour — it’s quite literally feeling a cold sensation. footnote 2 If you vape a lot of e-liquids with menthol in them, pay attention to the ‘iciness’ of the vape in your tasting notes.
Nicotine should be flavourless
Nicotine can certainly change how your vapour feels at the back of your throat, and you might pick up on a tingling sensation when you vape a high mg/ml e-liquid. From a flavour perspective, however, nicotine shouldn’t really impact your vaping experience.
You can of course make a note of the nicotine strength you taste every e-liquid at, just for your own records, but tread carefully. Nicotine is highly addictive; you need to resist the temptation to experiment with nicotine levels, and avoid it completely if you're not already addicted.
Tobacco isn’t as diverse as we thought
As ex-smokers, we vividly remember the difference between cigarette brands when we were younger. Gareth and I had both always assumed that this difference in flavour was down to the type of tobacco each brand used in its cigarette, but this isn’t the case at all.
When I looked into tobacco as a flavour group, both for this article and for our flavour finder, I was surprised to learn that the tobacco ingredient in most cigarette brands actually plays a very small role in the final taste.
In a 2016 scientific study, a group of researchers took 28 different commercially-available tobacco products and found that the tobacco flavour in each product was accompanied by a mix of 144 different flavour additives. The different flavours we were tasting from different cigarette brands were most likely coming from the additives, rather than the tobacco leaves themselves. footnote 3
Get help finding the flavour that’s right for you
One of the reasons we started Gourmet E-Liquid was because we genuinely felt like there was room for connoisseurship of e-liquid to develop into its own hobby. You don’t need to be a connoisseur to get started with e-liquid, however.
If you’re still trying to figure out which vape juice suits you best, then please take a look at our Flavour Finder page. You can click on any individual flavour on this page, and we’ll take you to a list of matching e-liquids.
Just please remember that most e-liquids are a blend of more than one flavour, so please read the product description before giving any new e-liquid a go.
If you have any questions, please ask. We’re always ready and willing to help our customers!
Stay safe and happy vaping!
- John Boughey
Links & Citations
“At professional wine tastings, retailers and sommeliers walk around with a notebook, jotting down the aromas and flavors they experience. This is an easy thing you can do at home or at a restaurant, and over time it will help you identify distinct aspects of wines and discuss them more confidently. “Whenever you do something that involves memory, and it includes more than one sense, getting the taste is one thing, and you also have to write it down,” says Gorevic.” - quote taken from “Rose, Musty Basement, and Oak? How to Train Your Palate to Taste Wine Like a Pro” by Rachel Signer in Vogue Magazine, March 23, 2016. Read the article in full at
The mechanism of taste starts on the tongue, where thousands of taste buds are concentrated in papillae—the tiny bumps that are easily visible if you stick your tongue out and look in a mirror. Taste buds are also located on the roof of the mouth and in the throat. Each taste bud includes about 50 to 100 specialized cells that contain taste receptors, which are activated when they come into contact with the chemical compounds in foods and beverages. Information from the chemical stimulus within taste cells is translated into an electrical message that is relayed by taste nerves to the brain stem, where initial taste processing takes place. From there, impulses are relayed to other parts of the brain, where they affect conscious perception of taste and influence emotions and memories (Murray 2016). Another nerve that is critical in relaying important taste-related messages to the brain is the trigeminal nerve; it transmits information related to sensations of heat or burning (think capsaicin), cooling (menthol), and tingling (carbonated drinks).” — “Decoding the Science of Taste”, an article by Mary Ellen Kuhn for Institute of Food Technologists (IFT):
“The remaining 144 components were exclusively present in the commercially available characterising flavour and non-characterising flavour products, and hence were considered flavour additives. These 144 flavour additives were chemically identified using the FFNSC 2 and NIST mass spectral library.” - quote taken from ‘Results / Chemical Analysis’ of the research paper “Identification of flavour additives in tobacco products to develop a flavour library ” by Krüsemann EJ, Visser WF, Cremers JW, et al which can be read at the link below: