A Matter of Taste

The latest exhibition from our A Closer Read series examines distilling, café culture, and the science of flavor during the Enlightenment.

On view January 10, 2024–July 6, 2024
Museum Mezzanine

Is distilling a science or an art? Who gets to say? And who is the authority on the matters of taste?

Before the 1690s and the explosion in popularity of cafés in Paris, distilling was considered the work of chemists in apothecaries. With the arrival of limonadiers who prepared and sold exotic hot and cold drinks in these new shops, controversy arose about who would be the expert on distilling and flavor.

In our latest rare book exhibition, follow along as limonadiers and chemists debate taste, distillation, and authority over flavor. A Matter of Taste features 10 never-before-exhibited books from our library collection—all French—and explores the emerging science of taste and flavor, the popularity of café culture, and how these dueling groups approached the things we consume.

A Matter of Taste was curated by James Voelkel, the Institute’s curator of rare books.

About A Closer Read: Stories from Our Library Shelves

A Closer Read is a new series of exhibitions featuring materials from the Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Library of Chemical History. On display on the mezzanine level of the Science History Institute Museum, each exhibition uses rare books, archival materials, and modern books and journals to share new stories from the history of science. Exhibitions are on display for six months.


Featured image: Plate 8: Le Limonadier from L’art du distillateur liquoriste; contenant le bruleur d’eaux-de-vie, le fabriquant de liqueurs, le débitant, ou le cafetier-limonnadier [The Art of the Liqueur Distiller; Containing the Brandy Burner, the Liqueur Maker, the Bartender, or the Lemonade Maker], 1775.
Science History Institute

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