Why coffee may taste more bitter and less sweet in white mugs


The secret to a better cup might simply be choosing the right coloured coffee mug

The colour of a coffee mug can alter the way coffee tastes, according to a recent study, which was conducted in Australia, and tested the influence that three different colored mugs – one white, one blue and one clear glass – had on the perception of different flavor points.

The researchers served 18 participants the same cup of coffee, in one of the three similarly shaped but differently coloured vessels, and then asked them to rate their sweetness, aroma, bitterness, quality and acceptability.

A report in the Washington Post states what they found is that the coffee-drinkers tended to experience the same cup of coffee differently depending on the colour of the glassware they drank it from.

“The colour of the mug really does seem to have an impact,” said Charles Spence, head of the crossmodal research laboratory at Oxford University and one of the study’s authors. “We found a particularly significant difference between the white mug and the clear one.”

Specifically, the white mug was associated with a more “intense” (or bitter) tasting cup of coffee, and the clear glass mug was not. The blue mug, meanwhile, proved to be “kind of an intermediate.”

The opposite was true for perceived sweetness – participants noted less sweetness when drinking from the white mug than they did when drinking from both the blue and clear glass mugs.
Differences observed in the rest of the flavor points were statistically insignificant, because of the small scale of the experiment. But Spence plans to extend it to a larger group, and expects to find a similar pattern.

“I have been working for more than a decade studying the impact colours can have on the experience of food,” he said. “It doesn’t just happen in laboratories – it happens in restaurants, too.”

Indeed, the idea that the colour of a coffee mug can change more than merely aesthetics is actually part of a growing pool of research detailing how colours impact the experience of food.

In the case of coffee, specifically, the researchers have a hunch. The colour brown, they believe, might be something people associate with bitterness. “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,” the researchers wrote. That would help explain why clear, glass coffee mugs, which dilute the colour, tended to have the opposite effect.

– Agencies

December 17, 2014

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