Activate Your Brain! (And Change Your Taste?)

Here’s an interesting story from the world of wine that relates rather directly, I think, to coffee. Researchers at Cal-Tech recently did a study where subjects were asked to taste different wines and rate them. The subjects were told they were tasting five distinct wines (cabernets) ranging in price from $5 to $90 a bottle. In fact they were, however, only given three different wines, for example, the $5 bottle was also used for the glass labeled $45 a bottle. While the subjects were drinking the wines, the researchers were monitoring their brain signals, and they found that when anticipating and then drinking a sample that was labeled as more expensive, different parts of the brain were activated than when sampling the cheaper wines. The wines that were labeled as more expensive received higher scores from the subjects.

The writer says this from the subjects responding to what they are told is the essence of the product. In this case it was the price of the wine. “Things that cost more ought to be better,” thinks the brain and then the brain delivers this same result. From the story:

The essence of the thing has thus been confirmed: more expensive wine tastes better, even if the expensive wine is really Gallo Hearty Burgundy. This helps explain why so many food advertisements focus on the “essence” of the product, whether it’s Coors being brewed from Rocky Mountain spring water, or Evian coming straight from the French Alps. The marketers know that the easiest way to increase our pleasure isn’t by telling us how pleasurable the product is: It’s by weaving an engaging story about essences.

I find this very interesting, and I think it demonstrates how important the move in coffee has been to be able to tell customers about the story of the coffee they’re drinking, from the farm, co-op, country, etc., to connect them to the cup. It also seems to me to reinforce the idea that customers will respond to higher-priced coffees positively when they are given both a quality product and a story as to why that higher price is justified.

About Ken 263 Articles
Kenneth R. Olson (he/him) is co-founder and publisher of Barista Magazine the worldwide trade magazine for the professional coffee community. He has written extensively about specialty coffee, traveled near and far for stories, activities, and fun, and been invited to present on topics important to coffee culture. He is also an avid fan of the Portland Trail Blazers, the Washington Huskies, and public libraries.

1 Comment

  1. I agree with the post. It works in reverse as well, a cheaper wine one expects a less complexity and perhaps acrid aftertaste. Unfortunately, I think coffee roasters, baristas, and coffee establishments need to cultivate simple, well-crafted blends or single source coffees and marketing it as good coffee. One doesn’t need to spend 20 dollars on a pound of coffee to have it be good!


Comments are closed.