Synesthesia And Blending As Sensory Art

When I first started crafting teas, I was frequently asked how I get ideas for my blends. Where does my inspiration come from? Which comes first, the blend or its name? These days, I'm globally known as "that lady who tastes words and makes teas about them," which is...mostly accurate!

I'm proud of how original my blends are, and how different from blends you'll find by any other company. This is largely due to the fact that I have synesthesia (meaning my senses are cross-wired and abstract concepts, personalities, colors, weather, etc. all translate to me as flavor). My dominant forms are referred to as "lexical-gustatory," "auditory-tactile," and "mirror touch." It's fascinating stuff for sure, and has made my life and relationships more complicated. On the flip side, I have discovered a practical use for my brain-strangeness! Like many synesthetes before me (Jimi Hendrix, Tori Amos, Richard Feynman, Vladimir Nabokov, etc.), I've translated my particular brand of strange into a career.

Synesthesia salad. credit:

My personal experience with synesthesia leads me to experience just about everything as flavor/tactile sensation (I can't differentiate between the two). I think of an abstract, or one is mentioned to me (a character, a personality trait, a feeling, etc.), and I register it as a flavor profile, complete with mouthfeel (full-bodiedness, texture) and all the complexities of a delicate blend. Which is exactly what I do with it now. This is my way of relating to my world. Here's an example:

I love sci-fi. LOVE it. My parents are both huge trekkies. Like most geeks, I'm a huge Firefly fan. Friends asked me to put together a series of Browncoat blends, which was super easy. The show does a gorgeous job of defining characters clearly, making them easy to taste and, therefore, blend. Let's look at the blend inspired by Captain Malcolm Reynolds; his inherent flavors made incarnate.

Mal = Tea, fig, cacao. Duh.

I experience this character as a full-bodied, musky, slightly tangy flavor. Earthy, rounded and slightly sweet, Mal is to me a blend of Ceylon and Pu-Er black teas with cacao nib and fig. No brainer. Also not something most outside my worldview would see coming. I find that when people hear the ingredients, taste the blend, smell the blend, etc., there is often this moment I get to witness in their reaction. This kind of "Oh, yeah! That's totally Mal!" reaction which delights (and, tbh, validates) me!

In its most simplified form, this is my approach to all fandom blends. I don't put thought of flavor profiles into them in the traditional sense. To me, on the rare occasion a blend doesn't come together perfectly the first time, I examine the shapes present in the flavor profile in order to determine what flavor is missing. When I think about a flavor, it registers as a shape. If a blend is missing something, I can taste what shape isn't strong enough.

A complete flavor profile must contain a certain number of triangles, squares, ovals, and circles. Each shape has colors associated with it, and certain flavors. For example, pineapple is a triangular, lime-green flavor. chocolate is a brown, soft square flavor. If a blend isn't sharp enough, I know I need to add more triangles. I run through an inventory of triangular flavors in my mind (pineapple, garlic, clove, lemon, lime, salt, etc.), and find the one which is exactly the right hue to complete the color circuit matching the abstract concept.

Understandable, right, why I shied away from sharing much of my experience throughout my younger life? It's so complicated and strange, and I often found when I was a child, an adolescent, and even into early adulthood, that people would judge me, thinking I was a freak. It still does happen from time to time, but I'm happy to say that since my dear friend Amy encouraged me to share this side of myself with the world, it's served as more a connection point than an isolating one. I've met thousands of other synesthetes now, each unique in experience, but bonded by the umbrella over our uniqueness.

How wonderful to live in a world with so many possible ways of enjoying and sharing our experiences! And if that's not the spirit of tea, I don't know what is.

xoxo, Friday
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1 comment

Beautiful! I love hearing the process and concepts. It makes your art even more meaningful! We’re excited to come visit the shop as one, we love tea and two, we recently discovered our daughter has synesthesia! She sees sound waves and vibrations and energy in color and shape. It is amazing to learn how many kinds of synesthesia there are. It makes our world vibrant with texture.

Rachel Nelson-Knecht

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