By Mike Pomranz
Updated December 02, 2014
Credit: © book cover art Joana Kruse / Alamy

We don’t know who first coined the phrase “we eat with our eyes first,” but the old saying is proving true once again — this time we even drink coffee with our eyes first.

A group of Australian researchers set out to see if the color of coffee mugs affects the way people perceive how their coffee tastes. The idea was spawned by a conversation one of the study’s authors, George Van Doorn, had with a barista, who “told me that when coffee is consumed from a white, ceramic mug, it tastes more bitter than when drunk from a clear, glass mug.”

As published in the journal Flavour, when comparing three different colored mugs — white, blue and clear — the researchers indeed found that, in one study, “the white mug enhanced the rated ‘intensity’ of the coffee flavor relative to the transparent mug.” In another, “the coffee was rated as less sweet in the white mug as compared to the transparent and blue mugs.”

These kinds of findings aren’t uncommon. Van Doorn cites previous research that showed that diners perceived a strawberry-flavored mousse as tasting 10 percent sweeter and 15 percent more flavorful when served on a white plate instead of a black plate. Science backs the idea that how we see what we consume really does affect how we perceive its taste.

The researchers’ takeaway: “Café owners, baristas, as well as crockery manufacturers should carefully consider the color of their mugs” to better appeal to customers. One question, though: How white does a mug have to be to turn a decaf back into regular?