Coffee Knowledge Hub

Is €2 too much for an espresso?

There's more to the perception of value with coffee than what goes into the cup...

Written by Andrew Tolley
Posted in News on May 26, 2022

Many of you may have seen the headlines about Ditta Artigianale being fined because a customer was unhappy about paying €2 for a decaffeinated espresso. The penalty was €1000, because there was no printed menu to let the customer know the price of the coffee being bought (the QR code to the digital menu didn’t count unfortunately).

In a country where an espresso at the bar is typically €1.10, it was a shock to this customer to be paying €2. There was an outcry from many in the specialty coffee community – people were outraged that someone would expect to pay so little for a coffee of this quality; grown, roasted, prepared and served by skilled professionals.

In the multisensory flavour perception course we learned that flavour perception is cross modal. That all of our senses impact the way we perceive flavours. We sipped on a Kenyan coffee while listening to a kiki sound and the coffee became more acidic, while we were drinking it. As an even sharper sound played, the effect was even further enhanced, with the coffee becoming borderline astringent. This is a well-documented effect proven under research conditions.

We also tasted coffees that increased in sweetness and bitterness, purely based on the colour of an object being looked at while tasting the coffee. Again these effects are well established by science.

Our environment, the colours, sounds, and textures all impact the way we perceive the flavour of coffee. In these cases, we are concentrating on flavour. It is a hedonic, or pleasure seeking, experience. Our experience of coffee is much more than just the coffee though. There are extrinsic factors, as well as the intrinsic factors at play.

Imagine yourself walking into a cafe and ordering a coffee, something you have done many times. You get the bill, and it is 80% more than you normally pay. The coffee and the environment are also different to what you are used to. How would you feel? For many, this could be an exciting, novel experience, with new flavours, in a new environment. For others it might be intimidating. The emotional experience will impact the enjoyment of the coffee.

According to Dr Carvalho, in the literature this effect is usually referred to as “affective ventriloquism”. She explains that certain elements of the multisensory stimulation can lead to a higher hedonic or emotional response (or pleasantness). These positive feelings are transferred over to the product, and can inflate a person's estimates of the quality and pleasantness of the product itself. Thus, the external elements can modulate how a person feels (i.e., her emotional responses) about the overall product experience.

It is easy to argue that the intrinsic value of the decaffeinated espresso is actually greater than €2. We also need to consider that when curating a customer experience, we can do so from the perspective of multisensory perception; managing colours, sounds, textures and the emotional experience. The extrinsic factors including location, service quality, price and design should convey the sensory experience the customer is receiving. Ditta Artigianale do this very well in a challenging market. Not everyone can be satisfied all the time, but every complaint is an opportunity to reflect and learn.

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Comments (2)

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Fabiana is a pleasure to listen to and learn from. I've attended some online courses and some in person and always leave feeling energised by the knowledge she shares.

DS Dave Stanton ·
a year ago

Fully agree Dave! I have now seen the courses a couple of times and keep learning new things each time. This course was particularly good because of the practical exercises. I really hope design teams are thinking in terms of cross modality and Multisensory perception when designing packaging and spaces as well.

Andrew Tolley ·
a year ago

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