The connection between aesthetics and people’s perception of value is something that has been long known and studied by sensory scientists but a direct link between latte art and coffee drinkers’ perception of coffee value has remained anecdotal: until now. An article published in the August 2015 Journal of Sensory Studies has proven the connection between latte art and perceived value of a coffee beverage, as well as made some other very interesting discoveries that will aid the coffee industry.
The study was conducted by George van Doorn of Federation University, Australia, 2015 U.K. Barista Champion Maxwell Colonna-Dashwood of Colonna and Smalls Coffee, U.K., Reuben Hudd-Baillie of Monash University, Australia and Charles Spence of Oxford University, whom you may recognize from his appearances as a speaker at Re;co Symposia. [See Dr. Spence’s May 2014 Re;co presentation: Multisensory Experience and Coffee]
Research was conducted with four experiments:
Experiment 1: Latte art and perceived value
In the first experiment, participants in an online survey were shown two images of cappuccinos and asked to indicate expectations of various sensory characteristics and ultimately price. Consistent with past sensory science studies, participants indicated that they expected the cappuccino with latte art to be better prepared than the one without and subsequently expected it to cost more (about 11% more in this experiment).
The results of the survey conducted in Experiment 1 clearly demonstrate that people were willing to pay significantly more for a milk-based coffee drink with latt????e art than for an equivalent drink without art.
Experiment 2: Perception of intensity, likability, price
The second experiment was conducted at Colonna and Smalls coffee shop in Bath. Participants were divided into two groups, one given coffees with latte art and the other without, then asked to rate the intensity of the coffee, how much they liked it and finally, how much each would be willing to pay. Although there was no statistical difference in the likability or intensity perception of either group, once again there was a significant deviation on price. This time, approximately 13% more in the latte art group.
The findings of Experiment 2 clearly demonstrate that even though the perceived likability of the caf????e latt????e did not differ as a function of the presence versus absence of latt????e art, the participants were willing to pay significantly more for the drink in the former case.
Experiment 3: Angular versus rounded shape of latte art images
In experiment three, participants were shown pictures of cappuccinos with rounded and angular shapes and asked to rate them on expected cost, intensity, aroma, quality, bitterness, sweetness and likability). Those who attended Dr. Spence’s Re;co sessions will recognize this as relating to the Bouba/Kiki effect.
The results here were somewhat unexpected: although, as expected, participants believed the angular coffee to be more bitter, they also expected it to be a higher quality and that its taste would be preferred over the other.
The finding that people expected to like a cappuccino with an angular shape more than one with a rounded shape is somewhat odd given that Bar and Neta (2006) and Larson et al. (2007) have shown that, overall, people associate angular shapes with threat.
The researchers theorized that there may be some value in that threat when priming taste, that it is somehow a recognized and preferable image (e.g. Costa Coffee and others are known to sprinkle star images on coffee) or something as simple as the recognition that the angular image had more coffee powder on its surface than the rounded image.
Experiment 4: Angular versus rounded latte art taste test
As a follow-up experiment to #3, the researchers decided to put their bouba/kiki-chino findings to a taste test. Thirty volunteers participated with half given angular cappuccinos and half, rounded image cappuccinos, and asked to evaluate the beverages on a 0-100 point scale for each of the metrics in experiment 3. The results took a 180 degree turn from the image-only survey with the rounded shape perceived as a more expensive drink.
In conclusion, the study found that latte art consistently affected coffee drinkers’ perception of quality and value, as well as skewed individual senses like bitterness and sweetness.
The effect reported here suggests that caf????e owners and baristas should carefully consider whether latt????e art should be added to the product they are serving, and what type of visual design they intend to use (rounded designs may be preferable).
It’s clear that there is still much more work to be done in this area of sensory science but the preliminary studies are promising for the specialty coffee industry, latte art competitions and coffee drinkers everywhere.