A quiet place: The sensory secret that makes coffee more delicious than ever

Name: Coffee.

Age: Probably originated in what is now Yemen in the 15th century.

Appearance: Liquid ranging from pale beige to deep black, according to taste.

You know how I like my coffee? I don’t care.

I like my coffee the way I like my women. Don’t do this.

Tall, skinny, flat. You get? What a coincidence – I like my coffee the way I like my men.

Short and strong? No, sitting at the other end of the room and not saying anything.

I was only making unsolicited polite conversation. It’s just that I can’t truly enjoy a coffee without complete peace and quiet.

What difference does it make? The coffee tastes the same. Actually, loud noise can alter the flavour of coffee and make it seem less nice.

Hearing affecting taste? But they’re totally different senses. Nevertheless, a study just published in the journal Food Quality & Preference found people were “less sensitive to specific sensory and hedonic attributes” of coffee under louder conditions. In particular, noise affected the bitterness, acidity, sweetness and aroma.

How would you even measure a thing like that? In the study, 400 men and women were asked to drink coffee while listening to the ambient sounds of a crowded food court at 85 A-weighted decibels through headphones.

Is that a lot? It sounds a lot. It’s about normal for a busy restaurant setting. Then participants were given an identical coffee with the noise set 20 decibels lower.

And you’re telling me they preferred the quieter drink? Without knowing it was the same, most participants rated the second coffee as tasting better and more expensive.

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How does that happen? The research team suggested loud noise creates a “heavy cognitive load” which can reduce the brain’s response to other stimuli, in this case a taste experience.

This is fascinating. Do you mind if I sit down? Yes, I do. It’s possible that a high-decibel environment could drive desensitised consumers toward stronger coffee, or the addition of excess sugar. It’s unhealthy.

Well, I learned a lot today by being an excellent listener. Would you like to have a quiet coffee with me some time? No.

Would your answer be different if I were tall, skinny, artificially sweet and smelled of cinnamon and pumpkins? Possibly.

Go on, then – what kind of coffee would your ideal man be? The kind of coffee that can accurately read my thoughts.

Do say: “That’s ridiculous. What kind of coffee can read thoughts?”

Don’t say: “A medium.”


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