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Thread: Tips for testing flavours

  1. #1
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    Tips for testing flavours

    Thought I'd put this here for new DIY'ers and experienced folks who are having trouble working with new concentrates.

    I find a systematic approach is very useful for testing individual concentrates because it removes a lot of the uncertainty. This in turn also helps you to understand each concentrate much better and will help immensely when you get to the formulation stage. Surprisingly it also helps a lot with ideas on what formulations will work well. You'll find yourself getting a lot more ideas on how to use the flavour by testing; ideas that would not have come to you off the top of your head.

    Make a working solution
    The first thing I do is make a working solution of unflavoured e-liquid. This has the correct PG/VG ratio that I like to vape at, but I'll typically make the nicotine content much weaker. The tendency is to vape much more frequently when you are testing, and you really don't need to overdose on nicotine. A bout of nausea can really ruin your perception of a flavour.

    Accuracy/Calibration
    The problem with testing small amounts is that it's very difficult to be accurate. It's becoming more common these days to use very accurate digital scales, however a properly calibrated drop system will be more accurate for small batch testing- you'll see why shortly. Drops are only inaccurate if you have not bothered to calibrate your system, so it's vital to do the following excercise.

    Using the smallest syringe you have that will measure at least two ml (2.5ml syringes are ideal), hold your finger over the hole and count drops pf PG into the syringe until it reads 2ml. Halve the number, and this is how many drops you get per ml. You do two ml because it doubles your accuracy, and it's important to use the same type of dripper that is on the concentrate bottle. You maybe surprised to find that the results change depending on a few variable factors like the diameter and shape of the dripper, temperature, viscosity and even the person doing the dripping. It's important to re-check the value if the variables change. When I test mine right now it comes out to 43 drops/ml and that's what I'll use for the examples here. Technically you should test drop the concentrate itself but I'd consider this wasteful and unnecessary - just use plain PG.

    About sample size - mixing a useful sample
    The sampling we do must give us useful information about the strength of the flavour. To calibrate the sample I've found it useful to work to one drop being equivalent to 1% of the batch. This is a good compromise between speed, accuracy and economy. In my example of 43 drops to the ml, one drop would be 1% in 2.32ml of e-liquid. (100/43 = #mls). Note that one drop is 0.024gm, a quantity this tiny is impossible for all small digital scales to measure accurately. As stated, it's actually more accurate to use drops if you do it correctly.

    All you need to do then is put 2.3ml of the working solution into your test bottle, then add 1 drop of concentrate for 1% solution. I recommend starting at 2%. This is then shaken well and tested on a dripping atty, however if you have a specific tank device you use for testing then you have enough solution to do this.

    Nothing is Equal...
    There's a wide variation in the strength of flavourings. Some of the traditional flavour companies that have been around since I started vaping produce a few flavours that are too strong at 1%. Basically if you take the cap off the the bottle and can smell it at 10 paces on a windy day, you know that starting at less than 1% may be a good idea. This is not usual but it's something you need to watch out for. A lot of other flavourings will be used at around 2-5%, and in the case of some of the newer companies making budget and easy to use concentrates, 10% is certainly not out of the question. I would not recommend going straight to 10% even for these - beyond a certain point adding more flavour does not make it better, and in some cases it can make it much worse. For lots of reasons it's a good idea to find out where the "only just enough" point is for you. This will help you formulate flavours later - combining them to achieve what you are after instead of having one overly strong flavour that ruins everything else you are trying to do.

    Take notes!
    When testing you may be able to remember the results from one or two tests very easily. As you do more testing during the day though, it can get a lot harder. Keep notes on the results that you can refer to later. You might come back to the flavours in a few months time, and this may be very helpful. A few thoughts on the flavour can really jog your memory later.

    It's on the nose
    Our sense of taste is really quite poor, only being able to differentiate gross flavours like salty, bitter, sweet, sour etc. Our noses on the other hand are capable of detecting much more subtle nuances and are much more important in the sense of "taste" than most people realise. Keep this in mind as you test and do nose exhales and sample the vapour at the back of the throat. Only evaluating a flavour on the inhale across your tongue is a big mistake.

    Take your time
    Beware of flavour fatigue and other problems when you are testing. Certain flavours will also mask others so that you can inadvertently think that you need to mix them very strong. Don't make any rushed decisions about whether a flavour needs to be increased or decreased. Plenty of DIY efforts have been messed up through trying to achieve too much too quickly. Experience will help a lot, but early on you need to be very careful. If you decide that a flavour needs to be increased, mix a fresh batch at the new strength, and come back to it later.

    Have something to drink while you are testing. Plain water is good, or a little fruit juice. Anything that will refresh your palate and keep you hydrated. I find tonic water, coffee, and cocoa useful too depending on what I am testing. If you notice that flavours are starting to be a little muted you've reached your limit. Give it a rest for a while.

    Less is more
    This is an often quoted phrase in DIY. A common mistake is to mix flavours too strong. This might be due to testing flavours while you can't taste them - you don't realise that you've made something truly revolting until next day when you get stuck at work with only your new creation, and you absolutely hate it. Increasing flavours can magnify their bad points to the point where you can't bear it. I understand the desire for extremely strong flavours which are more of an experience in themselves, I sought the same kind of experience when I started. It's not necessarily the best approach for most people; subtle beats sledge hammer most of the time.

    I do understand that some people have very muted senses of taste or smell. Smoking causes it to some degree which is why your senses of taste and smell change so much when you start vaping exclusively. For those that do have problems in this area but want to get some flavour out of the vape, you may want to go for higher concentrations even in testing. I suggest start at 4% and go from there.

    Accuracy (or, you F'd it up...)
    The astute among you would have realised that in my description of mixing the test sample there's an inherent inaccuracy in the procedure. 2.32ml plus 2 drops is actually closer to 2.4 ml therefore the concentration is a minute amount less than 2%. You'll also notice I dropped the 0.02 off the end of the quantity of working solution. The truth is that syringes aren't accurate enough to measure to two decimal places, and that inaccuracy is far greater than the two drops. I did round the amount of working solution down for this reason too. It might be slightly more of a problem if you are testing an 8% or 10% solution, so if that bothers you measure the correctly calculated working solution into the bottle, or just drip the 8 or 10 drops out of the bottle before you add the concentrate.

    Accuracy Revisited
    So it really is import to be accurate, especially if it's not going to cost you too much money or time to do so. If you already have a set of scales by all means use them to measure your working solution into the bottle. Doing this for the larger amount of WS will be far more accurate than using a syringe which is usually only accurate to +/- 0.1ml. I usually mix the working solution in batches of 30ml or larger.
    Last edited by fabricator4; 22-12-16 at 12:41 AM.
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    Chris: Tobacco free since 17:00 15th March 2013.

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  2. #2
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    This deserves to be stickied
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    Ingrid

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  3. #3
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    Thanks Giruvian, I'll probably add some pages to this as I get time.
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    Chris: Tobacco free since 17:00 15th March 2013.

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  4. #4
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    Cool man! Thanks for all the pointers and advice.

    And taking the time to write up everything!
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  5. #5
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    Extended dilutions

    So you've got one of those flavours that are too strong to be vaped at more than 1% but you need to be able to do some testing to find the best way to use it. It's impossible to measure something like 0.5% of a concentrate into your 2ml test batch and be anywhere close to accurate.

    An obvious solution is to use a larger batch size of working solution like five times the size. In our example this would be 11.6ml (500/43drops=11.63). This is pretty wasteful though, you don't need that much for testing and it's not usable once you are done with it.

    A better solution is to make an accurate dilution of the concentrate that can be used in the testing, and can also be used in mixing later if you have some left over, which you almost certainly will. I'd recommend a 20% dilution of the strong concentrate. Put 0.4ml of the concentrate in a tiny dripper bottle and add 1.6ml of PG. You then use this to make your test sample as above, except each drop will be 0.2%. I recommend you start at 0.2% and work up from there - find the "only just enough" point for this concentrate as well.

    If this concentrate is going to be mixed in smaller batches you can continue to use this dilution for those as well. It will vastly improve your accuracy for this concentrate and give you control over what you are doing.
    Last edited by fabricator4; 31-07-16 at 08:19 PM.
    Chris: Tobacco free since 17:00 15th March 2013.

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  6. #6
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    No practicability...

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Judi View Post
    No practicability...

    Which bit do you mean.......
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  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crisscross View Post
    Which bit do you mean.......
    I have to wonder that as well.
    Chris: Tobacco free since 17:00 15th March 2013.

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  9. #9
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    I thought I'd add some comments on how I evaluate flavours, and the kind of note keeping I do. Everyone will have their own methods and the only important things are that you do the testing, and make notes for future reference. It's probably interesting for experienced DIYers to see how someone else does it, and it's important for the newcomers to understand there's actually a bit of science behind it. This is the bit where I start sounding like a real knob too. Sorry, it appears to be unavoidable. :-D

    As I stated previously, what we think of as the sense of taste is a whole lot more about the sense of smell. The tongue itself is only capable of discerning very obvious characteristics of something: sour, sweet, bitter and salty. More recently western medicine has started to recognise a fifth taste characteristic which is umami, a word borrowed from the Japanese where research was done on this over a hundred years ago.

    Umami is not so important in vaping because we don't do many savoury flavours, or perhaps it's the lack of understanding about the requirements for this characteristic that have made all attempts at savoury flavours (notably crab juice, bacon and other meat flavours) abject failures. Some exceptions might be herb flavours that substitute for pizza flavoured juice, and this may be because they are themselves umami flavours. (There's a hint if you plan to attempt savoury flavours at some point).

    So...

    While it's important to evaluate a flavour as you inhale it across your tongue it does not end there. Immediately after you stop inhaling flavour molecules rise into the nasal passages where they stick to the olfactory cilia. The two sensations of taste and smell start happening together at that point. It's what I call the 'finish' - immediately after the inhale.

    Next it's important to exhale the vapour through the nose to give those olfactory cilia something to really think about. It's at this point that you'll be able to detect if a flavour has some overly strong chemical notes or any other unwanted off flavours. Typically if a flavour is too strong or is a poor approximation of the intended profile you will detect chemical notes with your nose. If this is a problem make a note of it, and see if it gets less as the juice ages (steeps).

    So, there's three main points I always try to hit when sampling a flavour: taste on the inhale, finish, and smell on the exhale. Here's an example of my notes when I was testing some Hiliq flavours recently:



    You might notice that I don't actually say the flavour is good or bad. There's probably no really bad flavours, just wrong ways to use them. The whole objective is to find out what the flavour is and how to use it. An example is the caramel flavour - while it was quite faint at 2%, I identified that it could be used at this concentration to add a slight toffee flavour to a liquid. This has already suggested a few ways to use it, even though I didn't like the flavour very much on it's own at higher concentrations.
    Last edited by fabricator4; 22-12-16 at 01:51 AM.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by fabricator4 View Post
    I have to wonder that as well.
    I think it's a case of "TLDR" and "couldn't be bothered", which begs the question, why bother posting? Since their sum total input on AVF is two words, I can't get bent out of shape over what is essentially a troll :-D
    Last edited by fabricator4; 06-09-16 at 10:08 PM.
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    Chris: Tobacco free since 17:00 15th March 2013.

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