If you do this while drinking coffee, it can completely ruin the taste

As one of the oldest recreational beverages, coffee boasts an extensive index of benefits, risks, and lore to consider.

Recent literature has indicated that our enjoyment of coffee (or its hedonic value) is governed by many different sensory elements alongside taste.

According to a new paper published in the journal, Food Quality & Preference our surroundings can be ranked among these elements. More specifically the degree of noise produced by said surroundings.

“The present research investigates the general effect of auditory noise control in an individual’s eating and drinking experiences. In particular, the study applied passive versus active commercial headphone noise control techniques to an urban drinking situation,” the authors wrote in the new report.

“Here, each participant drank twice the same coffee while exposed to a louder (~85 dBA) vs less loud (−20 dBs) version of the same background noise of a food court in busy hours. Note that by loud, louder, and less loud, we are referring to differences in the sound level of the noise.”

The effects of noise control in coffee tasting experiences

The authors go on to provide compelling data that suggests loud conditions directly affect the degree of bitterness, acidity, sweetness, and aroma perceived by a drinker. More squarely: the louder the environment, the less sensitive one is to a beverage’s flavor profile.

The study pool was comprised of 400 men and women. Each was tasked with drinking coffee while listening to the sounds of a crowded food court at the 85 dbA listed in the study’s abstract via headphones.

After completing food questionnaires, the same group drank a second cup of coffee in a setting that was 20 decibels quieter. This time around the respondents consistently recorded more positive responses about the taste of their coffee even though they were unaware of the altered parameters.

After retesting their analysis with different headphone settings, it became clear that consumers expressed decreased sensitivity to their coffee experience under loud noise, as coffee appeared to taste less bitter and was perceived as having less aroma under these conditions.

The authors posit that the strength of their study sheds light on the way our minds interpret sensory stimulants, which could be a game-changer for the way dieticians formulate regimens designed to curb overeating.

“Results suggest that most consumers tend to be less sensitive to specific sensory and hedonic attributes of the coffee under louder noise (sweetness, bitterness, acidity, flavor/aroma intensity, flavor-liking, sound-liking, flavor-sound-matching), and less willing to pay and purchase the coffee, relative to less loud sounds,” the authors continued.

“This was more evident concerning the perceived bitterness and aroma intensity of the coffee. The effects reported are mainly attributed to the differences in noise level during taste, and discussed based on theory on crossmodal correspondences, and attention (e.g., louder noise may diminish the ability to attend to specific elements of the experience). When thinking of public health, for example, these results suggest that differences in urban noise level may moderate behavior during food/drink situations (e.g., potentially modulating sugar intake).”