“Ugh, my colleague is sitting next to me and drinking tea. She’s making loud slurping sounds and I’m at my wit’s end,” said my friend to me earlier this week on a chat. “Well,” I said, “it’s a great way to enjoy tea. Slurping is pleasurable.” After what I assume is furious typing under ragged breath, she replied: “Only to the person drinking it!!!!”
She’s not wrong. Slurping ranks right up there with open-mouthed chewing in the list of egregious table manners. In India, while there’s no official rule for or against slurping, it was perfectly acceptable back in the day to slurp tea off a saucer if it’s too hot. Except today, such sights are a rarity and slurping is often pooh-poohed as a vestige of our unsophisticated past.
There’s something about the act that antagonizes others – friends turn foes and partners turn exes. In some cases, parents may even consider cutting their children out of their will.
As unpleasant as it is, in certain societies like Japanese, slurping is considered completely acceptable even flattering to the chef. No one will leave the dining table in a huff if you slurp on a big bowl of ramen. Even in India, there’s a diminishing yet significant group of people who may uphold their right to slurp, arguing it’s the only way to enjoy hot tea. They may not be entirely wrong either.
Why people slurp
Slurping is a common practice in Asian counties as a way to consume hot liquids like teas and soups. The method is also quite popular among wine, tea and coffee tasters. Evidently, slurping does seem to serve some function if not setting people’s teeth on edge.
Slurping a hot drink does help cool it to a certain extent, as explained by this Redditor.
Slurping also helps intensify the flavour of the drink through retronasal olfaction (perceiving the smell of food that emanates from the oral cavity while eating and drinking).
When you draw the liquid in your mouth with a slurp, it mixes with the oxygen in your mouth and nasal cavity. The experience you enjoy not only the taste of the tea but also its aroma and subtle flavours.
A 2017 study in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Food Science tested the effects of slurping versus sipping soup. A total of 207 participants rated the soup as having a more intense flavour when they slurped it compared to when they sipped it.
Why we hate the sound of slurping
I don’t feel very strongly against people slurping, although I do think it’s off-putting on some occasions. People who slurp often seem gluttonous and ill-mannered.
While many of us may be either indifferent or mildly annoyed by slurping sounds, some may feel discomfort or even straight-up rage. These people have a condition known as misophonia, which triggers a negative reaction to specific everyday sounds.
These everyday sounds like repeated clicking of the ballpoint pen, tapping foot, chewing, breathing, swallowing and of course, slurping can trigger negative reactions like anxiety, agitation and annoyance.
People are particularly put off by sounds of human origin like chewing, chomping, sniffing, slurping or lip-smacking.
Misophonia begins in childhood or adolescence. It could be connected to a particular person who creates the sound. Finding it difficult to cope with the problem, people with the condition may avoid certain situations, people and foods that may cause the sound.
What may seem to us like an overreaction to everyday sounds, for people with misophonia, the struggle is real. It can impair their day-to-day functioning and interfere with their social media life if left unchecked.
So next time you slurp away in public, spare a thought for people around you ho may genuinely be bothered by the sound.