Why my coffee looks like a volcano: how to create a synaesthetic coffee experience

If your coffee were a colour, what would it be? How about a sound – would it be slow and soft or rock star loud?

Food and drink engage all the senses. Take coffee, for instance (always a good place to start): you smell its earthy aroma, see its mahogany shine, hear the waterfall rush as it’s poured into an eagerly awaiting mug…
It’s nothing short of sensory paradise. And, what’s even more incredible, is how the senses work together.


blowing on a hot mug of drink


Did you know that sight affects scent?

What about sound – it has a big impact on flavour. Research is showing that our five senses are far more intertwined than we first thought. From sight and sound to scent and touch, they all come together to give us one helluva coffee experience!

We eat with our eyes (and drink with our ears…)

We ‘taste’ food and drink long before it passes our lips. You’ll probably know, for instance, that the relationship between smell and taste is best-friend close (think back to when your mum held your nose to make you swallow medicine). It’s because our ultra-sensitive noses transmit odour signals to the same area of the brain that deals with flavour. The result? 90% of the flavours we describe come from scent.


Looking over the cooling bin of a Diedrich coffee roaster cooling coffee


The other senses are also part of the action.

The colour of both food and its surroundings will impact the flavours processed by your brain. Red and pink mugs, for example, make drinks taste sweeter, while white mugs, which make liquids appear more intense and concentrated, will give flavours some oomph.


pink mug on a table


You might also be surprised to learn that hearing plays a role. High-pitched, squeaky sounds are associated with sweet flavours, while the low-pitched sound of double bass beats accentuate roundness and depth – this is why Starbucks plays special soundtracks in its cafes!

Wake up and smell the coffee

The senses don’t just influence taste, oh no, what happens next is even more exciting! They work like five clever cogs, constantly stirring and sparking each other. You might have heard of synaesthesia, the neurological condition where one sensory modality arouses another. Synaesthesia affects one in around every 1000 people (including David Hockney, Billie Eilish and Heston Blumenthal) and takes on a variety of forms such as ‘hearing colours’ (Chromesthesia) and ‘tasting words’ (Lexical-Gustatory).


cup of coffee on the table


Synaesthetic abilities are not confined to those with the condition – everyone’s senses are cross-wired to some degree. You’ve probably experienced this without knowing. Ever added ASMR to an Instagram post? That’s similar to synaesthesia. Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response, to give it its technical name and make us sound awfully intelligent, thank you very much, was a term coined in 2010 to describe the happy, tingling feeling you get in response to certain sounds or visuals. One stimulus triggering another, see?

What colour is my coffee?

Synaesthetic meditation is a first-class ticket to coffee upgrade. By putting flavour into pictures or projecting scent as sound, you can take your coffee drinking to new dimensions. So, to give our coffees some extra-special attention (they deserve it), we decided to try sipping with our senses in mind…


Pouring from a moka pot


There’s a Chimp in my Kitchen was our coffee of choice. Grown 1200 metres above sea level in Honduras and macerated for 90 hours, this limited-edition, speciality coffee, has plenty to inspire!

Smell is one of our most powerful senses – the human nose can recognise around 1 trillion different odours – so this seemed like a good place to start.

I prepped the coffee, closed my eyes, and took one mighty sniff. Ohhhh… it smelled good!

To start with, I’m finding the deep, earthy aromas difficult to put into pictures (all I can think about is how drop-dead gorgeous it smells), but then I start to form images in my mind. The sweet richness of the scent is making me think of golds and caramelly browns; I can see vast copper pans filled with molten fudge. I’m seeing red, too (no, I’m not angry) and, for some reason, the singed warmth of a spewing volcano.

two chimps coffee limited edition coffee png

There’s a Chimp in my Kitchen is a single-origin coffee with sass – it tastes good and wants you to know it. And boy do you know when you’ve taken a sip. Rich, vibrant and fudge-like in body, the blend fills my mouth with its gorgeous taste. The intensity makes me think of a shape that is large and vaguely circular. I’m struggling to picture its parameters, but I know that it is dark and that its colours are saturated. Not black, though, more a burgundy red or burnt sienna brown.

Sound is more of a challenge. I find it hard to imagine because I can’t sketch it out before me. The music is, like my large shape-without-a-shape, long and majestic, with a slow tempo and resonating beats. I’m hearing live concert hall music rather than something recorded, with an ensemble rather than a solo player.


A swan neck kettle pouring water onto a V60 dripper


The results are in

Soooo… do my interpretations add up with the science? The brownish bronzy tones were expected – these are the shades of luxury, quality and cocoa-coloured coffee beans, after all. Red was more surprising. Neurologists link red with sugar and sweetness, while my brain was picturing the heat of roasted beans (this, I’m guessing, is also where the volcano came from). The science also points to green tones because of their association with bitterness (think under-ripe fruits), and perhaps violet and black too.

Although my coffee-inspired colour palette veered from the studies, my sonic sipping was bang on point. Deep, stately sounds like those I imagined have been found to evoke rich flavours, which There’s a Chimp in my Kitchen has in abundance. I was also intrigued to learn that the aromas of dried plum, which feature in this gorgeous coffee, have been matched to piano music, and there were certainly some softer notes tinkling in the background of my mindful music.


Pouring water into a cupping bowl


Coffee is a medley of flavours, a fusion of notes and impressions. Take our prize There’s a Chimp in my Kitchen – it begins with a rounded, fudge-like body and concludes with the fruity tartness of cherry and plum. Engaging all five senses is a great way to enjoy your coffee to the max, while giving yourself five minutes of precious peace.

Do more than sip your coffee. Savour it, sketch it and, yes, we don’t care who’s looking, sing it too!


close up of tin and six coffees


Head to our shop to try some of our top-notch coffee – it’s a treat for all the senses!


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