Drinking coffee is a multisensory experience. There are so many more factors to flavor experience than simply the brown liquid inside the cup. Brazilian researcher Fabiana Carvalho proved as much through her work with The Coffee Sensorium, her project that found links between flavor perception and the color and shape of the cup the drink is served in. And new research suggests that auditory factors may have an effect what we taste in coffee.
Recently published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, researchers from Ecuador, Colombia, and Norway examined the effects noise, focusing primarily on volume as opposed to different types of sounds, have on the taste experience of coffee. For the study, participants were served the same coffee twice (they were unaware that the coffees were the same) while listening to the same background noise through headphones, that of a busy food court. The only difference between the two experiments is the volume of the noise the participants were subjected to: 20 dBa in one, roughly equivalent to someone whispering from five feet away, and 85 dBa in another, similar to that of a blender.
The researchers found that participants tended to be “less sensitive to specific sensory and hedonic attributes of the coffee under louder noise.” Perceived bitterness and aroma intensity were most impacted by the louder noise, but sweetness, acidity, flavor intensity, flavor-liking, sound-like, and flavor-sound-matching were all hampered. Researchers also found individuals were “less willing to pay and purchase the coffee” when exposed to louder noises than to less loud sounds.
As a possible explanation for the findings, researchers proffer, essentially, sensory overload. Citing crossmodalities in taste experience, they note that “louder noise may diminish the ability to attend to specific elements of the experience.” Put another way, there are too many things going on to concentrate fully on any one of them.
So not to be all “you gotta take coffee super serious all the time,” but if you're looking to get the most of your taste perception with a coffee, perhaps a noise rock show may not be the best venue for the experience. Not like anyone's going to concerts right now anyways.