The Color of Your Mug: How Our Taste In Coffee Gets Influenced
As coffee roasters, we might hesitate to describe coffee as a “multisensory experience.”
Sure, all senses play a part but to us, the coffee experience is based on flavor - and flavor is something that’s predictable, measurable and unshakable.
The coffee we enjoyed today, we’ll enjoy just as much tomorrow. Quality beans are what matters most and we’re pretty good at making coffee that everybody loves.
At least that’s what we like to think. But as with most things, the reality just ain’t that simple.
From Routine To Ritual
How we like our coffee is the product of the various coffee rituals that we develop over time.
Your ritual extends to every part of including coffee in your life. The type of beans you buy, how your coffee is prepared, and just as importantly, how it’s served - are all part of a ritual entirely your own.
Your rituals took time to develop, but their origins are rooted in the everyday practicalities of getting coffee. Like any tradition woven by necessity, our rituals are determined simply by what kind of coffee can be fit in our schedules and what’s possible within our means.
Which is all just a way of saying there are reasons why we don’t all have espresso machines in our kitchens.
Our Two Rituals
We call them rituals because coffee tends to be a ceremonious process consisting of doing the same things the same way, every time. Just like making dinner or taking a shower, there’s an order of operations required to get things just the way we like them.
That also means that it doesn’t matter how good the coffee is on paper. It doesn’t matter where it was grown, what the varietal is or how it was roasted - if the ritual is wrong, then the coffee is too.
For most coffee drinkers, their ceremony comes in two forms: slow and fast.
Your slow coffee ritual gets you coffee the way you wish you could have it all the time. In a world where time or money were not an issue, your slow ritual would rule.
Maybe your slow ritual is coffee weighed to the exact gram and ground to precision before passing it through an elaborate brewing setup.
Or maybe it’s the coffee you pay a little extra for at the cafe on the weekends that you get to sit and enjoy with your kids nearby.
Whatever method gets you to that perfect cup, that’s your slow ritual. And for most of us, that kind of coffee doesn’t come around every day, so we enjoy it when we can.
Your fast ritual is how you will enjoy most of the coffee in your life.
No matter how particular you may be about your coffee, there is no escaping the fast ritual. No matter how much you appreciate the art of slowly crafting coffee and having control over every detail, you've got a fast ritual that you fall back on.
This is the coffee that comes built-in to your morning routine or what you do to optimize the watered-down stuff in the break room. If you’re lucky, maybe it’s a hasty execution of your slow method.
But what's important to remember is that all of your coffee preferences are born out of your fast ritual.
If our slow rituals teach us what to appreciate, our fast rituals teach us what to accept. If your slow ritual represents coffee in a perfect world, your fast ritual represents reality.
But that doesn’t mean we give up on quality
On the contrary, if we didn’t care about quality in our coffee, we wouldn’t drink it at all.
The thing that fast and slow coffee rituals have in common - and the thing that makes them rituals - is that they are bound by a non-negotiable expectation of quality.
Whether it’s fast or slow, we always want the best cup of coffee possible.
Your mug's role in all of this
Part of making sure we get the best cup possible, is choosing the right mug. Because every ritual is governed by a need for quality, we gravitate toward vessels that make the most of the most important drink of the day.
You’ve got a favorite vessel. It might be a disposal paper cup, it might be mug you’ve had since college that you don’t wash as much as you should, but you’ve got a favorite way to sip your coffee.
So when you notice yourself reaching for same mug for your coffee every day, it’s most likely because you enjoy your coffee out of that mug more than any other.
And that's got some implications that reach further than we might expect.
Placebo effect in a cup
Research has shown that the taste of coffee can be affected by something as simple as changing the mug it’s served in.
Coffee from clear mugs or blue mugs was perceived as sweeter. That same coffee from a white mug? Drinkers experienced a darker profile of emboldened flavor, smoky aromas and thicker mouthfeel.
But here’s where things get weird.
Your favorite mug is just another side-effect of your ritual and one of the reasons you perceive coffee the way that you do.
If all you use is a classic white ceramic mug for your morning coffee, or a standard white paper cup from the coffee shop, then you tend to perceive coffee as being richer and more intense.
And because of that, you may come to develop a taste for coffee that more closely meets that criteria.
Your taste for black, dark-roasted coffee could very well have been influenced by something as simple as routinely drinking from white mugs.
Likewise, if your coffee comes served in clear mugs (or blue ones) you could be wiring your brain to prefer the taste of “lighter” coffees.
An affinity for tea-like coffee with more lively profiles, unanchored by "intensity" could simply be the result of drinking coffee from a clear mug (or more likely, by drinking coffee from a variety of different vessels - because who actually drinks coffee from clear mugs?).
Where our tastes really come from
If all this sounds too trippy to be true, these ideas are surprisingly mainstream.
Research of how tastes are formed around the world has been ongoing for...a while now. And there’s one common formula that all cultures have when it comes to developing taste preferences over time:
Repetition without variation.
While availability of food groups obviously plays the main role in what we prefer to eat or drink, across virtually every culture known to man, repetition is what drives our tastes to develop, change and establish themselves.
Most people don’t start off their lives with their taste preferences set in stone, but they come around after repeated exposure over time. The reason why repetition works is because the more we taste the same thing, the more we become trained to pick out the aspects of things that make it seem better or worse to us - including coffee.
Everybody's got a different 'quality'
Whether it’s light or dark, sweetened or unsweetened, coffee is delicate. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that that delicacy also extends to how it’s enjoyed.
As specialty coffee roasters, we know that given the opportunity to do so, everybody's coffee preferences will evolve. We’ve seen it first hand.
We also know that people like what they like, and no matter what we serve or how we serve it, it can’t beat their ritual. There is just something about pitch-black convenience store coffee that's hard to beat sometimes.
And that’s alright with us. Because all we're really trying to say is to lookout for the color of the mug you're drinking from.