Avid coffee drinkers know that a sweeter cappuccino is often served in a larger, wider mug, while a stronger, more bitter espresso typically comes in a short, narrow mug. But they may not know why—or even if—it matters. According to research published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, it’s possible that the shape and size of a coffee cup play a vital role in how coffee drinkers perceive the taste of their coffee.
To test this idea, researchers showed 309 online participants images of eight different coffee mugs and asked them to rank the mugs on how aromatic, bitter, or sweet they would expect the coffee inside it to be. Participants hailed from China, Colombia, and the United Kingdom. Across the board, they said they expected that coffee in narrower cups would be more aromatic and taste more bitter, and they agreed that coffee in mugs with a wider diameter would taste sweeter.
Researchers point out that business owners, baristas, and restaurateurs can use these findings to their advantage to better cater to their customers' expectations. “These findings ... suggest that coffee should be presented in certain mugs in order to convey a message that is congruent with the customer’s expectations,” they write.