Accepted abstract - Creative Tastebuds Symposium 2020

Savouring Soundscape: Towards a sustainable coffee culture

Innovation showcase

By Signe Lund Mathiesen, Line Ahm Mielby, Derek Victor Byrne, and Qian Janice Wang - Department of Food Science, Aarhus University, Denmark.

Denmark is a coffee loving country. In 2018, Danes consumed more than 4.2 billion cups of coffee (on average 3-4 cups a day per capita), which makes Denmark one of the most coffee consuming nations in the world. Combined with the fact that Denmark is ill suited to produce the bean itself, and thus relies strictly on imports, it raises some important questions around sustainability and environmental awareness. 

“Coffee” is a complex phenomenon to articulate and it is a monumental global industry, involving many aspects and intricate relationships between producers, roasters, consumers etc. The environmental impact of coffee production is substantial. At the same time, climate change is threatening coffee farming altogether. Coffee crops are sensitive to their surroundings and are locally grown in very specific regions. They do not easily adapt to new environments and especially not to climate changes. Therefore, we will have to rely on new and/or wild coffee varieties that are more tolerant or resistant to outside factors and threats, such as the fungus coffee rust. Increasing global temperatures is a clear contributor to this problem, propagating the fungus. Interestingly, many resistant wild species can be the key to “saving coffee”; however, the overall yield might be reduced, and the flavour profiles of these lesser known varieties may stretch far from what most of us are familiar with, namely the Arabica bean.

Faced with these two challenges, this contribution aims to shift focus from “mindless” and volume- centric consumption of coffee, to more mindful, savouring, and attentive drinking; an approach that can add layers of appreciation and enjoyment to the coffee consumption experience. Our goal is ultimately to adopt more “sustainable” consumption behaviours, where drinking less is reinforced by enjoying the product to a greater extent, a part of which is to bring into focus novel flavours and elements of the coffee that tend to be overlooked in regular daily consumption. One approach to this could be to utilise the well-researched phenomenon of “sonic seasoning” and the fact that what we eat and drink can be influenced by what we listen to at the same time. For instance, certain sounds may enhance or decrease certain tastes, such as sweetness, bitterness and sourness. In addition, early evidence from research into how sound and music influence consumption rate indicate that the presence of certain types of music will decrease eating speed. Combined, this “sonic approach” to coffee drinking can modify both our sense of taste, but also on a broader level change our consumption behaviour.

The goal is thus to create an enhanced and immersive coffee drinking experience, adding several dimensions to the act of drinking that go beyond merely consuming the beverage (e.g. directing the attention onto the origin of the coffee, including geographical location, production processes, flavour profiles, “quality” etc. via sound).

The final design and setup of the showcase is still in the making. However, it is an experimental piece, where participants will be tasting coffee while listening to soundscapes. The technical setup involves specially designed ceramic mugs with conductive handles that trigger music playback upon contact (Makey Makey invention kit). Each mug has two handles, so different music can be played depending on which handle is being held. Music playback will begin when participants are physically interacting with the mugs and stop, when the mugs are put back down. Participants are required to wear headphones during the experiment and will be asked to answer questions on an iPad related to their drinking experience. We collect these answers as part of our research on multisensory taste perception and eating behaviour.

The proposed showcase invites symposium delegates to explore the interplay between digital and physical mediums, combining aesthetic, technical and interactive elements to enrich the act of drinking, while at the same time bringing into focus important aspects of our coffee consumption behaviours.