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Less Noise Leads to Greater Coffee Enjoyment, Study Finds

coffee shop noise control

New research suggests less noise leads to greater enjoyment of coffee, providing a potential lesson to coffee shop operators in how to manage their environments.

Led by a team of researchers in South America, the study found that, in general, coffee drinkers preferred a sample coffee when experiencing it at lower noise volumes. They were also more sensitive to characteristics such as flavor and aroma, and to specific attributes such as bitterness and acidity. Lastly, coffee drinkers experiencing lower noise volumes also said they would be more willing to purchase the control coffee.

The study also accounts for the trend of headphone-wearing among coffee shop visitors, suggesting how controlled noise and the use of noise-canceling headphones might already be affecting customers’ sensory perceptions of brewed coffee.

The study involved tastings with nearly 400 passersby at a campus location at Universidad de las Américas (UDLA) in Quito, Ecuador.

Participants were asked to drink two coffees —  they were given two samples of the same coffee — while wearing headphones and listening to recorded sounds of a crowded food hall. All participants drank one sample at a baseline volume, while half drank a second sample at a lower volume, and the other half drank it at a higher volume.

The coffee itself was an arabica blend with greens sourced from the Ecuadorian highlands, roasted medium and brewed by Ecuadorian specialty coffee company Café Galleti, which was involved in commissioning the study.

Building upon the work of food-and-drink-focused sensory science experts such as Charles Spence and Fabiana Carvalho, the study found that noise volumes indeed play a significant role in what drinkers perceived and how much they liked it. By a more than 2-to-1 ratio, participants said they preferred the sample tasted at the lower sound level and perceived it to be the more expensive alternative.

“The obtained results suggest that a loud noise tend to reduce the overall sensitivity of the coffee experience, and this is most clear concerning the bitterness and aroma intensity,” wrote the study’s joint lead authors, Luis Bravo-Moncayo of UDLA and Felipe Reinoso-Carvalho of Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia.

The authors also hinted at practical implications for coffee shops, saying the results “may have implications for cafes, roasters, and others stakeholders in the business of coffee experiences, who may want to consider noise as a possible element to control during the customer experience.”

The full study, called “The Effects of Noise Control in Coffee Tasting Experiences,” is available in the December 2020 issue of the journal “Food Quality and Preference.”