Custom printed coffee cups: Can they alter perceptions of flavour?

Antonio Salles
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December 22, 2023
custom printed coffee cups, custom coffee cups, takeaway coffee cups, disposable coffee cups, sustainable coffee cups, Blacksmith Coffee Shop and Roastery

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

Research shows the colours of custom printed coffee cups have the power to influence a consumer’s perceptions of a coffee’s characteristics. Notably, several studies indicate that cup colour significantly affects the customers’ experience of flavour, acidity, body, and sweetness.

If coffee brands better understand how custom coffee cups can influence flavour perception, they could use it to their advantage. To learn more, I spoke to Samuel Finch, General Manager at Blacksmith Coffee Shop and Roastery.

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Understanding the characteristics of roasted coffee

Roasting is a critical step in coffee production. It transforms green coffee into aromatic and flavourful beans for brewing. During the roasting process, a series of essential transformations occur, each contributing to the distinctive qualities of the final product.  

One significant reaction is the Maillard Reaction. This is where amino acids and reducing sugars engage in a chemical interplay, developing a rich brown colour and forming intricate flavour compounds. The Maillard Reaction is a pivotal factor that imparts the characteristic taste and aroma that defines roasted coffee.

Another crucial transformation is caramelisation. As the sugars that are naturally present in coffee are heated, they caramelise, introducing sweetness and complexity to the overall flavour profile. This process adds nuanced layers to the taste, contributing to the diverse sensory experience of the brew.  

Notably, different roasting levels yield varying sweetness levels. This provides a subtle range of options to those seeking a particular degree of sweetness in their coffee.

When drinking 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 refers to 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 and 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.

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

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Can custom printed coffee cups alter perceptions of flavour? 

Research by George H Van Doorn, Dianne Wuillemin, and Charles Spence explores sensory perception. While the paper focuses on the influence of mug colour on consumers’ experiences with flavour, the findings can be translated to custom printed coffee cups. 

The first experiment involved using mugs in three different colours: white, blue, and transparent. In the first experiment, researchers noted that using a white mug heightened the perceived ‘intensity’ of the coffee compared to a transparent mug.  

This initial insight set the stage for the second experiment, where identical glass mugs with coloured cup sleeves were used. Notably, in this experiment, the white mug altered the perceived sweetness of the coffee, making it seem less sweet than its transparent and blue counterparts. Additionally, researchers noted enhanced flavour notes and acidity.  

This is just 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 on custom printed coffee cups are can improve a consumers’ perception of the intensity of the product.

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How to use custom printed coffee cups to enhance flavour perception

The interplay between roasting and takeaway cup colour presents an opportunity for coffee roasters to engage customers on multiple sensory levels and enhance the perceived quality of their products.   

Understanding the effects of colour can help cafes and coffee roasters curate an atmosphere that complements their brand and contributes to customer satisfaction. 

Combining roasting techniques, thoughtful cup selection, and creative packaging design can elevate the coffee-drinking experience, leaving a lasting impression on consumers.

Samuel has worked at Blacksmith Coffee Shop and Roastery for over 10 years, making his way up from barista. He explains that the brand “strives to offer a handcrafted coffee experience that pays tribute to the 19th-century blacksmiths who originally honed their craft in the same location.”

“The intentionality of this product experience begins with selecting the best specialty coffee and carefully roasting it to perfection,” he says. “It ends with the vessel in which the coffee is served.” 

Samuel explains that Blacksmith Coffee strategically chose takeaway coffee cups with a matte finish to “reflect both the rustic atmosphere of the blacksmith shop and accentuate the handcrafted-ness of the beverage.”

He notes a recent trend in coffee cup design and branding. “I’ve noticed many coffee companies, particularly those in the specialty sector, are breaking away from ordinary coffee mug styles like what you would find in a gift shop. They’re starting to use cups with styles and designs that reflect their brand and aesthetic.”

Samuel explains that Blacksmith Coffee worked “with companies whose approach to design is taking something ordinary and improving it to something extraordinary. I believe that this mindset is also reflected in how the speciality industry has moved away from roasting and serving coffee the way that it has always been done, and ventured into new and innovative ways that better represent the true characteristics of the coffee.”

Choosing the right custom printed coffee cup is important to ensure that it complements the characteristics of coffee and does not distort the qualities of coffee.

At MTPak Coffee, we have years of expertise in creating bespoke custom printed coffee cups for specialty coffee shops and roasters around the world. Our custom printed coffee cups are completely customisable and are available in various sizes, such as 4 oz, 8 oz, 16 oz, 12 oz, and 24 oz. Each one is available to order as either a 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.

Images courtesy of Blacksmith Coffee Shop and Roastery.

For more information on custom printed coffee cups, contact the team.

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