When a consumer picks up a bag of coffee, what’s the first thing they look for? Is it the origin? The processing method? The roast date? The variety?
Although a coffee enthusiast may appreciate these details on their coffee, one of the most important pieces of information is undoubtedly flavour notes. While not an exact science, flavour notes are common descriptors that tell consumers what to expect from the coffee once it’s brewed. These can range from fruity to chocolatey, and are used to help define its unique characteristics.
The majority of roasters will typically list flavour notes on a label. However, some have devised creative ways to showcase the unique flavours of their coffee and help it stand out on the shelf.
To find out more about how flavour notes can be depicted, I spoke with the co-founder of Morgon Coffee Roasters and two-time Swedish Cup Tasters Champion, Markus Vestergaard.
Flavour perception: A multisensory experience
Flavour perception is a multisensory experience. While many associate it solely with taste, this only accounts for one aspect; smell, sight, touch, and even sound can all influence the way in which we perceive certain flavours.
One area that has seen developing interest in recent years is the role of visual cues. For example, a study analysing the impact of artificially dyed wine found that when white wine was dyed red, participants described its flavours using terms typically ascribed to red wine. This shows how, in some cases, sight can have a considerable impact on flavour perception.
In coffee, some of the leading studies into flavour perception have been carried out by The Coffee Sensorium. Their experiments into the impact of branding and labels reveal that colours such as green and pink could influence how consumers perceive factors like acidity and sweetness.
Not only that, they also found that the shape of the labels on packaging has a significant effect. When labels are rounder, consumers perceive the coffee to be sweeter, while angular shapes promote bitterness.
These studies indicate that the way a product is branded can have a considerable impact on a consumer’s flavour perception.
Why should roasters include flavour notes on packaging?
Flavour notes are a common inclusion on coffee packaging – but why do coffee brands do it?
Markus Vestergaard is the co-founder of Morgon Coffee Roasters, a Sweden-based coffee roastery located in the picturesque harbour city of Gothenburg.
In addition to its exciting range of coffees, Morgon has attracted attention on social media thanks to its quirky, eye-catching packaging. Markus tells me that flavour notes not only help consumers make decisions, they also promote the storytelling aspect of the coffee.
“Flavour notes help advise and direct customers’ expectations of coffee,” he says. “If a consumer knows their flavour preferences, flavour notes are an effective way of informing them when they make a purchasing decision.”
“As we’re based in Sweden, a lot of our coffee descriptions are very much Sweden-based and we use a lot of reference to fruits commonly found in Nordic countries. In this sense, flavour notes also tell a story about the roasters themselves, such as where they’re from and what flavours they’re most used to having.”
In the case of Morgon, flavour notes can also become a talking point among customers. Markus recalls one instance when customers from Asia interpreted the image of a cube on their coffee bags as tofu, which led them to believe the coffee was tofu-flavoured.
However, it’s important to remember that flavour notes are open to interpretation much in the same way as images are. As mentioned, flavour perception is sensitive to a range of stimuli, which means that one person’s opinion could well differ from the next.
“Flavour notes are opinions, rather than facts,” Markus says. “While flavour notes help to inform consumers, they should be seen as a guide rather than industructions. This prevents them from taking away from the experience of enjoying a cup of coffee.”
Creative ways to depict flavour notes
While not every roaster will decide to include flavour notes on their coffee packaging, those that do have a number of options available to them. Listing each note on the front or side of the pouch is undoubtedly the simplest, but some choose to make it the focal point.
Morgon has done just that: each one of their coffees has its own packaging design centred on its distinct characteristics. With the help of two creative designers, Simon Söder and Elinor Vestergaard, they use still-life photographs to create “scenes”, featuring ornaments, plants, pieces of fruit, bits of cloth, and more.
By applying their understanding of colour psychology and its impact on flavour perception, they’ve been able to use different colour schemes strategically alongside various objects to create distinct and attractive packaging.
For example, the label on their washed Ethiopian coffee features a bunch of red berries and a wedge of lemon on a yellow background to depict its redcurrant and lemonade characteristics.
However, Markus tells me that Simon and Elinor don’t just use flavour notes as inspiration for their designs; they also include other details about the coffee, such as the producers and how their farm operates
As a result, the final image on the packaging tells an entire story beyond the coffee’s flavour. “Some of the artwork is focused on flavours in a cup, while others might describe a particular person,” he tells me.
Besides colours and images, Markus also suggests using shapes and shadows to express the story of the coffee. For example, included on the label of their Kenyan coffee is a purposefully placed cone-shaped object.
“The pointy tip of the cone indicates the acidity of Kenyan coffee,” Markus explains, “while the full base of the cone represents their expectation of sweetness that’s needed to balance out an acidic coffee.”
At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable packaging options for specialty coffee roasters. Our coffee bags are fully customisable from design to pouch type and material so that you can create the best multisensory experience for your customers, enticing consumers to anticipate its flavours even before they consume your coffee.