Why a White Cup Makes Your Coffee Taste More Intense

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If part of your morning routine involves coffee, it's likely that you have a very specific ritual about which cups you use. Now, an Australian scientist has taken it upon himself to find out whether there's any scientific basis for thinking that taste is influenced by cup color—and it turns out, the color of your cup plays a big role in how you think your coffee tastes.

A new study called Does the colour of the mug influence the taste of the coffee?, published in the journal Flavour, looks at how color influences the taste of coffee. According to the lead author, Federation University Australia's George Van Doorn, the experiment was inspired by a conversation with a barista who "reported that when coffee is consumed from a white, ceramic mug, it tastes more bitter than when drunk from a clear, glass mug instead."

Van Doorn decided to find out whether there was any truth to the barista's claim—and in the paper, shows that there is. The group tested three colors of mug: White, blue, and clear. They gave participants—the study had a small sample size of 36 drinkers—a café latté served in each color of cup, and asked them to rate it based on everything from intensity and sweetness to aroma, bitterness, and quality. The color of the cup ended up changing their perceptions of only two of those metrics: Intensity and sweetness.


When subjects drank their latté from a white cup, they rated it significantly more intense than the latté in a clear cup. Why? Well, Van Doorn gives us a few hypotheses. For example, he points to other flavor studies that show how contrast is a crucial determining factor in how we perceive taste. One prior study found that red strawberry mousse served on a white plate tasted 15 percent more intense than mousse served on a black plate, for example. So for brown coffee, a white cup ups the contrast and thus ups our perceived intensity levels, too.


Image: Flavour

So what about the clear cup? Well, the latté drinkers described clear cup coffee as much sweeter than the stuff in the white mug—as well as less intense.


Despite the small sample size, it's an interesting example of how interrelated our senses are—our eyes play an important role in how we perceive what we eat and drink. The takeaway: Next time you want to up the intensity of your homemade cup, forego the clear cups, regardless of how cool they look. [Flavour]

Lead image: Masson.