Cafés know what they're doing when they serve you cappuccinos in mugs the size of your head. A new study shows that cup height and diameter have a lot to do with people's expectations of coffee's taste, aroma, temperature, and cost. The study, which will be published in the March issue of Food Quality and Preference, asked 300 volunteers in China, Columbia, and the U.K. to arrange photos of mugs on a screen in response to a series of questions. Researchers asked them to place the mugs of various sizes and thicknesses in order of aroma, bitterness, energy (as in, how the caffeine affects you), temperature, intensity, individual liking, sweetness, and how much they'd be willing to pay for them. Subjects in all three countries expected coffee in shorter and narrower cups to be more bitter, more aromatic, and more intense. They expected cups with a wider diameter to be sweeter. Subjects from Colombia and the U.K. were willing to pay more for cups that were wider in diameter and taller, but the Chinese subjects said they'd pay the same for all of the above. What does this mean?
"If café owners, baristas, and crockery manufacturers want to manipulate people’s expectations of coffee, they should carefully consider the diameter and height of the cups they use/produce, as these features will likely affect expected aroma, bitterness, sweetness, and intensity," the study concludes. Researchers added that it's advisable to match customers' expectations, which in turn influence purchasing choices. This also sounds like a good thing when you're serving friends at home. Bring out those big mugs for the guests who like it light and sweet, and save the small ones for the hard-core black coffee lovers. Now we just need an experiment testing the effect of baristas misspelling our names.