The scent of milk tea is often described as “spicy”.
But in this study, researchers found that a tea scotch scent was actually “soft, light, and fruity”.
The team, led by Laura B. Taylor, an associate professor of human-computer interaction at Indiana University, decided to investigate the idea further.
“Tea scents have been around for thousands of years and are usually associated with certain foods or drink styles, such as scotches and ciders,” Taylor said.
“The scent of the milk tea has been a bit mysterious, and a lot of people have only smelled it once, which has led to some misconceptions about the tea’s properties.”
So the team asked two participants to sniff different scents for a month.
Then, they measured how they perceived the milk scents and how they felt when they inhaled them.
After that, the team analysed the volunteers’ facial expressions and body language to identify their scent preferences.
“Our findings are a little surprising, because it turns out the tea scent has not been so well-known before,” Taylor explained.
“We expected that people who have not used tea before would be more sensitive to the milk scent, but they were not.
They were not at all sensitive to milk scented coffee.”
To determine how well the scent had performed, the researchers ran a second experiment with 20 volunteers.
“As the tea screener’s face was turned away from the scent, the volunteers reported smelling it more often than the scotchers,” Taylor added.
“But in the second test, when the tea maker was facing the scent at the same angle, the screakers were able to differentiate the tea from milk.”
Taylor believes the tea smell could be used as a form of training for future scents.
“One of the things that’s so great about the scents is that they’re really subtle,” she said.
“[People] can use them to train themselves about how to smell tea.”
The researchers also found that the scented scents were more likely to elicit positive body language responses, and people who were not sensitive to scents of milk did not report feeling “scruffy”.
This is important, because “scurrying” or “waving” might be an indicator of anxiety, Taylor said, because scents are perceived as being “not-safe-to-wear”.
“We’re not talking about a lot in this sense, but people tend to be more relaxed when they smell the milk smell, because the scrotches are just tucked into their hair and the scruff is hidden,” Taylor told New Scientist.
“That makes them less likely to react negatively.”
The research was published in the journal Nature Communications.
The study was supported by the Australian Research Council, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health.