Takeaway coffee cups: What makes a sensory experience?

Holly Szakal
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December 29, 2023
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Much like the artistry behind culinary encounters, factors such as growing conditions, flavour profiles, and roasting techniques are pivotal components in the realm of specialty coffee. The intricate flavours create a multi-sensory experience and every part of the journey helps shape the consumer’s perception of the coffee. 

True, the taste of the coffee begins with the physical factors, but it’s not where it ends. One key detail that is often overlooked is the ultimate step of this journey: the sensory quality of takeaway coffee cups.

When it comes to on-the-go coffee consumers, brands have fewer opportunities to create a compelling and critical business-to-consumer relationship compared to those who sit in. Building loyalty is crucial for a brand’s success as it helps boost profits, cut costs, and increase sales and repeat purchases.

Therefore, those who have a takeaway experience with your coffee business must have one that is fulfilling from beginning to end. Or they’re at risk of never returning. So what can you do to provide a multisensory experience to consumers while they’re on the go?

I spoke to the co-owner of Quebec-based Camellia Sinensis, Kevin Gascoyne, who fully understands the importance of providing a beverage in the perfect cup. 

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Takeaway coffee cups and perceptions of flavour

The majority of coffee consumers have a preferred mug at home – one that somehow makes coffee taste better, no matter the grind, flavour profiles, or brewing method. Notably, several recent studies have shown how the right vessel can shape the coffee experience.

Factors such as the shape, colour, and material of disposable coffee cups can significantly influence the consumer’s perception of flavour and, thus, the entire experience. A study published by The Flavour Journal shows the mere colour of a coffee cup can warp consumer perception, affecting the drinkers’ experience from overall flavour to acidity, body, and sweetness.

The study provided 18 test subjects with three different mugs in three different colours, white, blue, and transparent. Each participant was given the same beverage: a 200 ml latte with identical proportions of milk and the same coffee roast. 

The participants were divided into three groups of six people. One group was presented with the white mug, the other was given the blue mug, and the last group were presented with the transparent mug. Each mug had the same texture – a smooth, polished finish –

and all were the same shape, weight, and size.

Participants were asked to rate the overall acceptability of the coffee, including key factors such as bitterness, flavour, and quality. Those drinking from the white mugs reported a significantly higher intensity of flavour. A similar pattern was observed among those drinking from the transparent mugs. Participants were also asked to assess sweetness. Those who drank from white mugs rated the coffee as noticeably less sweet, whereas the blue mug received the highest sweetness rating.

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How the lip of takeaway cups alters the consumer drinking experience

One industry that is no stranger to these external sensory experiences is the tea industry: a long-lost, yet very fond cousin of the specialty coffee industry. Around the world, the tradition of a sensory teahouse experience dates back thousands of years.

The Camellia Sinensis Tea House specialises in superior quality teas from China, Taiwan, Japan, India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Vietnam. Co-owner, Kevin Gascoyne, knows all too well the importance of providing his tea in the perfect cup.

“In the tea industry, we are very sensitive to the cups we use,” he explains. “The varied shapes of drinking vessels can play with the subtle dynamics of liquor delivery to the mouth, the channelling of aromatic vapours, and heat retention.”

“Thus, the same tea tasted in different cups will give a different sensory experience. With all takeout experiences, food or drink, there is naturally a certain amount of compromise.”

This multisensory experience is called flavour distortion and is a popular term used in the fine culinary industry. It is defined as an altered taste perception based on external influences. In this study, the main culprit was mugs, but the same ideology can be applied to takeaway coffee cups. 

When it comes to takeaway coffee cups, one key element that is often overlooked is the lip of the cup. For instance, there have been reports that drinking coffee through a hole that is too small can negatively affect the flavour experience when making contact with the palette.

Beyond this, if the lip of takeaway coffee cups is too steep, customers are more prone to spilling, which results in a negative experience. 

Similar research has long been applied and used in the wine industry, where sommeliers and bartenders pair certain wines with different-shaped glasses to heighten the sensory experience. 

Ultimately, using the right glass helps to improve and complement a wine’s flavour profile.

The above findings show that taste and experience are complex and extend beyond the product or its preparation method. Both are perceived in a much more holistic manner than many care to admit. Therefore, it’s essential to nail all parts of the coffee experience for consumers, including the quality of takeaway coffee cups or in-store vessels.

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What to consider when investing in to-go cups

Using the results of the above studies, coffee businesses can determine the ideal takeaway coffee cups to help elevate their consumers’ experiences. For example, those serving a strong, intense flavour profile should opt for white takeaway coffee cups. Alternatively, blue takeaway cups would pair well with a sweet roast. Avoid using the colour yellow, as this can subconsciously leave the impression of a weaker cup of coffee.

While the colour of takeaway cups is important, they must tie in with the overall brand identity. In addition to familiar branding, other features, such as storytelling and creative illustrations, can create an immediate consumer connection.

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 sustainable coffee cups are completely customisable and are available in various sizes, such as 4 oz, 6 oz, 8 oz, 12 oz, 16 oz, 18 oz, 22 oz, 24 oz. 

Each one is available to order as either a single or double wall, while we also sell cup sleeves for all sizes. These sleeves can be fully customised to showcase your brand and highlight your coffee’s characteristics.

We also offer a range of foldable paper takeaway coffee cups. Made from one piece of material, our foldable cups close up easily and will stay in place until opened manually. Our foldable coffee cups are available in recyclable and compostable materials, as well as bagasse paper, clear PET, or bamboo pulp. More so, they can be completely customised to showcase your brand. 

For more information on custom takeaway coffee cups, contact our team

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Holly Szakal
Holly Szakal

Holly Szakal is a Melbourne-based copy and content writer and is deeply immersed in her city's vibrant specialty coffee culture. She infuses the rich aromas of the specialty coffee scene by delivering compelling narratives on the industry's current events.

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