How the colours of takeaway coffee cups influence perceptions

Josephine Walbank
April 1, 2022
colour takeaway cups

A coffee’s flavour is determined by several factors, such as growing conditions, processing methods, and brewing techniques. Yet, one influence that is often overlooked is the colour of the cup it is served in.

The colour of a coffee cup has the ability to influence a consumer’s perceptions of a coffee’s characteristics. According to a study published by the Flavour Journal, the colour of a cup can significantly affect the drinker’s experience of everything from flavour and acidity to body and sweetness.

Indeed, many people may have a favourite mug they use at home: one that always seems to make coffee taste better. While the study refers to coffee mugs, the same knowledge can be applied to takeaway coffee cups.

Read on to find out how roasters can use this information when designing their takeaway coffee cups.

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coffee characteristics

What are the characteristics of coffee?

Drinking coffee is a multisensory experience. When beans are roasted, a number of characteristics come to light – each a signature stamp of the individual coffee.

When drinking a cup of coffee, the primary characteristics that reach the senses are: body, mouthfeel, flavour, sweetness, acidity, and aroma.

Body refers to the “weight” the coffee has on the tongue, which can be light, medium, or heavy. Mouthfeel denotes how the coffee feels in the drinker’s mouth. This can cover richness and thickness, as well as buttery or oily experiences.

Flavour is the taste of the coffee and the notes it contains. The coffee flavour wheel shows a wide range of tasting notes, and most coffees possess three or more of these.

Sweetness refers to more than generic sugariness. A sweet coffee can be smooth and mild with fruity notes. They are often described as “highly drinkable”.

Acidity is a prized characteristic of coffee. Important to note is that an acidic coffee is not acid-like: it typically has a crisp, sharp, or tart taste.

Aroma is the scent the coffee exudes when brewed. Alongside smell, aroma is responsible for many of the sensory stimulations for which coffee is responsible.

Some of these characteristics can be grouped as taste, while others fall under the banner of flavour.

The difference between taste and flavour is that taste describes the coffee’s profile or primary characteristics. For example, these can include acidity, sweetness, and savouriness. Flavour, on the other hand, refers to the sensory experience of drinking the coffee, such as aroma, body, and mouthfeel.

These elements are present in varying degrees in each cup. They work alongside each other to complement, boost, or reduce the other elements.

Essentially, this inherent complexity is what makes coffee a multisensory experience.

colour of takeaway cups

How does the colour of a takeaway coffee cup influence these characteristics?

In the study conducted by Flavour Journal, researchers determined how the colour of takeaway cups influences the perception of a coffee’s characteristics.

The experiment involved using mugs in three different colours – white, blue, and transparent.

A total of 18 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 62 were given 200ml of latte. Each contained the same proportions of milk and the same coffee.

Six of the participants were served in a white mug, six in a blue mug, and six in a clear glass mug. Each mug had a smooth, polished texture and was the same shape, weight, and size.

Furthermore, the coffee’s temperature and the spoon used were identical.

Once the coffee was consumed, participants were asked to rate the bitterness, sweetness, flavour intensity, quality, and acceptability of the coffee on a scale of 0 to 100.

When asked to rate the intensity of the coffee, participants drinking from the white mug rated the intensity of flavour as significantly higher. This trend was also noticed in participants who used glass mugs with different coloured cup sleeves.

The research paper states the white background of the mug may have influenced the perceived “brownness” of the coffee. This is what influenced the perceived intensity and sweetness of the coffee.

Next, participants were asked to rate sweetness. Drinkers rated the coffee as significantly less sweet when drunk from white mugs, while the blue mug had the highest rating of sweetness.

This is one of the latest pieces in an extensive body of research that tries to identify how different environments shape the multisensory experience of eating and drinking.

Other examples include an article titled, “Is it the plate or is it the food?” This research found a red strawberry mousse served on a white plate was seen to be sweeter and more flavourful than the same mousse served on a black plate.

Similarly, Favre and November conducted a study using 200 participants, serving them the same coffee in containers of different colours.

A total of 80% of females reported the coffee in the red container had a richer aroma, while 73% found the coffee in the brown container too strong. Furthermore, most of the participants believed the coffee served in the yellow container was weaker.

This simultaneous contrast mechanism has often been assessed in terms of how it affects perceptions of food and drink. Contrasting colours are reported to improve a consumers’ perception of the intensity of the product.

This is typically used across the food and drink industry. For example, Heinz uses green packaging to complement the red colour of the beans.

red recyclable takeaway cup

What to consider when designing a takeaway cup

Using the results of these studies, roasters can design takeaway coffee cups that emphasise the flavour, aroma, and experience for consumers.

Here are some key tips to consider when designing takeaway cups:

If roasters want to give consumers the impressions of a strong, intense coffee, serving it in a white cup would be effective. Alternatively, a blue cup would be the optimal choice when trying to highlight a coffee’s sweet notes.

However, roasters should avoid using the colour yellow when designing takeaway cups, as this colour could create an impression of a weaker coffee.

Additionally, roasters may want to include contrasting colours in the design, as these may further enhance a consumer’s perceptions of the key properties in a coffee.

When designing takeaway coffee cups, it is highly recommended that roasters consider the research mentioned above. The results show colour can have a significant influence on the multisensory experience of drinking coffee.

Additional features such as typography, storytelling, and illustration create an immediate perception of a roasters brand. When effectively used together, this can be a highly successful way to attract customers.

At MTPak Coffee, we have years of expertise in creating bespoke takeaway coffee cups for specialty coffee shops and roasters around the world.

OUr cups are completely customisable, and we offer three different cup sizes: 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz. Each one is available to order as either single or double wall, while we also sell sleeves for all three sizes. These sleeves can be fully customised to showcase your brand and highlight your coffee’s characteristics.

For more information on our customisable takeaway coffee cups, contact the team.

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