Coffee Cups

Competition: How Do Cups Affect Our Taste?

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jan 13, 2013    •    TIME TO READ: 1 minute

I don’t quite understand why Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks use white cups.

Cups affect our taste buds.

Sensory researchers have concluded that the color of the cup affects our taste perception. When 57 participants were asked to rate hot chocolate on several sensory scales, their responses appeared to depend on the color of the cup (see below). Saying the hot chocolate in an orange cup was the most chocolatey, tasters thought the hot chocolate in a white cup was least likable.

In other ways too, what we see affects what we taste. Drinks seemed sweeter in pink cups and 7 UP tasted more lemony in yellower cans. In one fascinating experiment, when researchers added red dye to white wine, tasters detected prunes and chocolate and other flavors associated with red wine. Similarly, when an orange flavored drink was colored green, people inaccurately described its taste.

Competing in a monopolistically competitive market, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts have to distinguish themselves from many other firms selling the same drinks. Do they know that the white cup lost the flavor tests?

Results of the Hot Chocolate Taste Tests

Cups and Flavor Perception

Sources and Resources: For more about how the color of the cup influences our taste buds, this paper provides details and was the source of my graphs. I also recommend this article on “The Multisensory Perception of Taste.”

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