Why does coffee taste better in a quiet place? [study]


Who makes the best coffee in the world? Everyone has an answer to this question. Thebarista at your favourite coffee shop, the handy home automatic coffee maker, your sweetheart, your mum or simply yourself? Whoever you mention, assume that the uniqueness of the best coffee is not just due to its taste. Or rather, that the perfect taste of such coffee is not only determined by the raw material and the method of preparation.


What we accept when we consume coffee, but also other drinks or food, is also the environment. Just think of the taste of coffee from your favourite mug. Or how coffee tastes when you're not drinking it in a rush at the office, but in the peace of your home. Personally, my coffee always tastes better when I have it on my balcony.

These details that make up the environment in which we drink coffee modify our perception of what we drink. That is, how the coffee tastes. It was this phenomenon that a team of scientists from Ecuador, Colombia and Norway decided to investigate.


The research team set up an experiment in which they served coffee to 384 volunteers. They then asked them to fill in a questionnaire about how they liked the coffee. Thequestionnaire asked about specific taste characteristics of the coffee such as bitterness, aroma or sweetness.

Inside the university campus, a professional barista prepared espresso in a coffee machine using medium roast Arabicacoffee harvested from the Ecuadorian highlands. Each research participant was given a cup of coffee and headphones. These had the noise of normal coffee shop operations on. That is, the usual soundscape you hear when drinking coffee in a café.

The sound in the headphones was significantly loud in the first stage of the experiment, around 85 decibels. For the next part, when a group of the observed volunteers were given another cup of coffee by the barista, this noise was reduced to less than 20 decibels.

For comparison, you can think of the 85 decibel sound as the sound of a vacuum cleaner, a car in city traffic, or screaming. Conversely, 20 decibels is similar to a whisper or the rustling sound of falling leaves.

An important piece of information is that the research participants did not know what kind of coffee they were drinking. Or rather, that first cup of coffee is identical to the second cup of coffee. Just like after the first coffee tasting, they were asked to evaluate this second espresso. At the end they still had to evaluate and compare these coffees with each other.


Bottom line, thecoffee that the test coffee drinkers tasted while listening to the quiet noise came outas the better coffee of the two samples. Roughly 15% of participants found the taste experience the same for both coffees, but the difference between the loud and quiet environments when drinking coffee was indeed significant.

the coffee tasted better with 85 dB of noise 19,8%
coffee tasted better in noise by 20 dB 64,6%
both coffees tasted equally good 15,6%

In specific areas of taste, coffeewasless aromatic, less bitter and less acidic when listening to loud noise. At the same time, the sweetness sought in coffee (meaning the natural sweet taste of coffee without added sugar or other sweeteners) was also suppressed by the perceived noise when drinking coffee.

Interestingly, theeffect of increased noise on the perception of coffee temperature wasalso observed, with coffee sipped with quiet noise in headphones appearing warmer. Coffee drinkers in the experiment described thecoffee they drank in the quiet environment as a better and more expensive alternative.

Which coffee was better in terms of each of the taste parameters evaluated?

Noisy environment Quiet environment No difference
Better taste 21,4% 64,1% 14,6%
Sweeter coffee taste 19,3% 50,0% 30,0%
Higher coffee bitterness 28,6% 56,3% 15,1%
Sourer coffee taste 24,0% 54,7% 21,4%
More intense aroma 22,9% 60,9% 16,1%
More intense aroma 24,5% 59,9% 15,6%
Warmer drink 17,7% 43,8% 38,5%


The coffee that study participants sipped while listening to the quiet noise in their headphones won on all coffee quality parameters measured. We can use this finding in our daily lives and enjoy an even better cup of coffee if we sip it in a quiet place.

The well-known saying that "we eat with our eyes" could be extended to "we drink with our ears" based on the results of the study described here. Thus, the idea of multisensory diningis confirmed. If we modify the environment in which we drink coffee, we can improve its taste.


This could inspire cafés to think about pleasant but quiet musicas part of a pleasant environment tomotivate the coffee drinking experience. Similarly, as guests of a busy café, you yourself can enhance your coffee by using headphones to turn down the ambient noise.

At the same time, in the current coronavirus era, when only coffee windows take the place of coffee shops, think of enjoying your cup of coffee better in a quiet park than a noisy city centre. For these purposes, you'd rather use a handy thermos than a paper cup. In the context of multisensory taste perception, what you drink your coffee out of can also affect its taste.

The authors of the study suggest that the results of their experiment could be a lesson for cafés and other coffee businesses. By controlling the noise, coffee drinkers could increase customer experience and satisfaction. The paper, based on the above-described research conducted at Ecuador's Universidad de las Américas in Quito, was published in the journal Food Quality and Preference.