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When a mixologist plops a $14 cocktail down in front of you, there’s usually some fancy garnish ready for its Instagram close-up. Rims aflush with colorful sugars and chile salt or flanked with fresh herbs, spicy peppers, and exotic edible flowers that are more reminiscent of Pottery Barn decor than a drink. But no matter how many trajillion megapixels your phone camera may have, no photo can capture the experience of eating the most elusive cocktail garnish of them all: the buzz button.
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That’s because the buzz button is visually unremarkable (so don’t expect the flurry of likes you can get with a flaming margarita or unicorn Frappuccino). It’s a bright yellow bud sprouting from what looks like a dandelion stem, and if you didn’t know any better, you’d swear some errant weed had fallen into your glass. But that’s where the mediocrity ends as this unassuming electric daisy turns your mouth into day three of Coachella – a sweaty heap of flesh, your tongue numb from one too many Kombuchas, and your body still pulsing with adrenaline.
Also referred to as a Szechuan button, this little-known member of the sunflower family is a natural analgesic, which numbs the tongue and gums when chewed. For this reason, it’s long been used as a toothache remedy. What makes it the perfect accoutrement for imbibing booze is its ability to stimulate the saliva glands, which literally make your tongue squirt.
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The buzz button acts as a natural palate cleanser that allows you to experience every flavor more intensely. A margarita sans buzz button tastes like your standard triple sec and lime, but a sip post-buzz button enlivens your palate and suddenly you’re on a plane to Mexico with a mouth full of pop rocks, tasting tequila notes you never even knew existed. It’s trippy.
The Verbena, the most popular drink at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, purposefully incorporates the invigorating zing of this electrifying plant. “The cocktail itself is designed around the effects of the flower,” says Mariena Mercer, chief mixologist, who advises “chewing the button slowly” to make sure all parts hit your tongue before tasting the drink. “After eating the buzz button, all the flavors are highlighted,” she says. “The citrus becomes almost electric and the ginger adds the perfect spice to the cooling sensation that the spilanthol imparts.” Spilanthol is basically science-speak for evoking a tingly sensation that turns you into a “supertaster,” the least known Marvel character.
You can magnify the mouthfeel of anything you eat or drink by chomping down on one moments before consumption, allowing your senses to take over as the flower seizes full control. That’s a big part of the experience – suspending your mouth in the moment so that flavors rush to you with the intensity of a roaring wave. There’s no escape from it. Your only option is full surrender. Think Point Break for your palate.
The buzz button takes your mind completely out of the equation so the only thing you can focus on is what’s swirling across your tongue, which now feels like a hose that sprung a leak. You don’t even have time to process what anything tastes like. You’re no longer the taster, but the recipient of taste. The flavors are consuming you. You have become flavor, and somehow everything tastes like it was engineered in Narnia. Like we said, it’s trippy.