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What Color Are Your Mugs? It Matters in Flavor Perception, Researchers Say

Lattes served in white colored mugs were described as having more intense and sweet flavor, according to the study. Photo by Edsel Little.

Lattes served in white colored mugs were described as having more intense and sweet flavor, according to the study. Photo by Edsel Little.

The color of coffee mugs has a substantial impact on the perception of flavor, according to a new study led by Australian researchers.

Lead author of the study, published last week in the journal FlavourGeorge Van Doorn said he was inspired to pursue the research after a conversation at a coffee shop with a barista who told him that “when coffee is consumed from a white, ceramic mug, it tastes more bitter than when drunk from a clear, glass mug.”

(related: Coffee’s ‘Hidden Worlds’ Revealed in These Amazing Microscopy Images)

The study set out to determine what differences might be perceived in the same latte served in two of Australia’s most common coffee shop vessels: transparent, glass cups and white mugs. Researchers also tested responses to a blue mug, finding generally that subjects rated lattes served in white mugs as more sweet and intense in flavor:

The colour of the mug affects people’s ratings of a hot beverage. Given that ratings associated with the transparent glass mug were not significantly different from those associated with the blue mug in either experiment, an explanation in terms of simultaneous contrast can be ruled out. However, it is possible that colour contrast between the mug and the coffee may have affected the perceived intensity/sweetness of the coffee. That is, the white mug may have influenced the perceived brownness of the coffee and this, in turn, may have influenced the perceived intensity (and sweetness) of the coffee.

As the researchers noted, many previous studies have explored links between color of the plating or cupping vessel, or the food itself, and perceptions of flavor characteristics. Last January, we reported on a study finding that subjects preferred hot cocoa served in orange or cream-colored mugs to the same hot cocoa served in white or red mugs.

(related: What’s Going On in Sensory Evaluation, with Gail Vance Civille)

The Australian researchers behind this most recent study concurred with the hot cocoa researchers that there exists significant untapped potential among professional made-to-order beverage providers in choosing drink-ware that will provide maximum appeal to consumers.

Said the authors of the Australian study, “Given the economic incentive to keep consumers drinking coffee, café owners, restaurateurs, crockery designers and manufacturers ought, presumably, to be interested in anything that can help to enhance the multisensory coffee drinking experience for their clientele.”

(related: Coffee Doesn’t Dehydrate, According to Study Funded by World’s Largest Coffee Companies)


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