According to the 2007 Job Satisfaction Survey Report, 80 percent of workers are digging their current jobs. The folks on this page certainly do. But wouldn’t you, if your job involved tasting ice cream or drinking beer all day? Here are our top seven picks for the ultimate taste-testing jobs out there. — Kevin Raub
John Harrison, official taster, Dreyer’s Grand Ice Cream
Harrison is known in the taste-testing world as the man with the million-dollar taste buds. That’s right: The bumps on his tongue are insured for a cool million. Harrison uses a 24-karat-gold spoon to taste the various ice creams in Dreyer’s arsenal; according to him, anything else taints the flavors. He reckons that he’s gulped down more than 180 million gallons of ice cream since birth, and his taste buds are still in their prime.
Brad Kintzer, product developer, Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker
A self-confessed cocoa addict, Kintzer divides his work for Bay Area artisan chocolatier Scharffen Berger between two tasks: traveling the world (13 countries to date) in search of the ultimate cocoa bean and navigating chocolate’s 1,000 flavor compounds to the tune of up to half a pound per day. “Like with wine tastings, I should probably spit out the chocolate, but I don’t,” he says, undoubtedly with a sugar-induced grin.
Ambrose Lee, food scientist, Jelly Belly Candy Company
Lee’s gig as the chief food scientist at Jelly Belly is a blessing and a curse. For every Buttered Popcorn (his fave), Watermelon, and Green Apple Jelly Belly, there’s also a Grass, a Roasted Garlic, and a Black Pepper one. To come up with the company’s 50 official flavors, Lee blends, purees, and mixes throughout the day to produce an array of flavors. He guesses that in his 26 years on the job, he’s tasted about 117,000 Jelly Belly beans. At home, he sticks to more substantial foods.
Steve Dressler, brewmaster, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company
In his 25 years of providing sudsy service, Dressler has tasted about 90 percent of the artisan-brew bottlings that have departed the Sierra Nevada brewery in Chico, California. That’s a lot of beer. “I have also, on many occasions, been called at home on weekends or holidays to come into the brewery and taste beer for release,” he reports. “I have never minded this chore.” Neither would we.
Kimberly Sheridan, chief flavor architect, Kettle Foods
Sheridan takes her job developing flavors for Kettle-brand potato chips with appropriate seriousness. She taste-tests only between eight and 11 a.m. in order to ensure a consistent experience. Whenever further research is required, she grabs a bag of Island Jerk or Buffalo Bleu chips and sits near the creek running through the restored wetland that’s adjacent to the Kettle Foods offices to see if that changes her perception of the flavor — not a bad day at the office.
W. Park Kerr, founder, El Paso Chile Company
Kerr, founder of and chief salsa eater at the El Paso Chile Company, estimates that he has eaten salsa every day for at least 45 years. That translates to a laundry list of interesting flavors (raspberry chipotle, anyone?). The eccentric Mexican-food lover has been known to taste-test in nothing but shorts and cowboy boots. Scary. But still, it’s a pretty good job.
Christopher Jordan, director of Green Coffee Quality, Starbucks Coffee Company
As a member of the 10-person Coffee Master Taster team at Starbucks, Jordan tastes 25,000 cups of joe per year, sometimes sampling as many as 100 per day. He doesn’t smoke, nor does he ever sit down to a plate of enchiladas before taste-testing — spicy foods, onions, and garlic are out for him. And unlike some of the taste-testers mentioned in this article, Jordan does use a spittoon; otherwise, he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night — and nobody wants a job like that.