The connection between music and coffee

[Another contribution from Jess Walter. – AC]

You’d be hard pushed these days to try and find a coffee shop without background music, this fairly recent trend has now secured its place in coffee shops worldwide. While it may seem nothing more than just a casual coincidence, I mean, if you have the choice between no music and music, who wouldn’t choose the latter? And while it seems obvious that it’s at the very least, a great way also to keep staff and customers entertained, there’s actually more to it than meets the eye (or ‘the ear’ should we say).

Why play music in coffee shops?

So what are some of the main benefits of playing music in a coffee shop? Well, it keeps customers happy, builds ambience, it helps build an ongoing relationship with customers so they come back for more, and music also ‘build brands’ as it helps cafés to create their own identity which customers will relate to. However, a more surprising finding is that music may actually make your coffee taste better…

Music enhances flavour

Charles Spence, a professor of experimental Psychology at Oxford University, published a paper in 2004 that would consequently mark him as an expert on the way that sound and food work together with our minds to create certain illusions of taste. The findings showed that high pitched sounds enhance sweet and sour flavours, while low pitched sounds enhanced bitter flavours. He refers to this as ‘sonic seasoning’, and the study suggested that songs with lower notes were the perfect complement to help bring out the more bitter tastes in coffee.

Music improves ‘cognitive flexibility’

Research also suggests that ambient noise in coffee chops could enhance ‘cognitive flexibility’, which refers to the ability to think diversely in order to both solve problems and learn concepts. Cognitive flexibility has also been linked to creativity, and the findings suggest that creativity is enhanced by background music. 

Coffee itself has also been shown to have a similar effect on creativity, it can help make us more focused and boost brain function in a number of different ways, so it seems then that coffee and ‘ambient noise’ complement each other very well indeed!

Combining these beloved rituals beyond the coffee shop

In light of these findings, it should make perfect sense to us music and coffee lovers to combine these two  rituals, and bring ourselves into sweet musical harmony with them beyond the coffee shop, in the comfort of our own homes. If you have at the very least a connection to the internet, and some coffee in your cupboard, which I am sure most people reading this do! Then why not create your own coffee drinking ambience in your home to blast away the cobwebs before a day at work, or even to set you up for the weekend? 

Vinyl records and coffee 

I personally have my own Sunday morning ritual, where I pick up a vinyl record from my shelf – last Sunday it was ‘Boston – More Than a Feeling’ as I fancied something atmospheric and uplifting – and as soon as the coffee had brewed and I’d poured it into my favourite mug, the needle was down, the volume was up, and I sat back on the sofa, gently sipped on my coffee and soaked up the experience down to the very last drop. Why not try it yourself this weekend? Kick start your day with this heavenly combination and get those creative juices flowing!

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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