The legend of the orange-colored plastic mug

I found my husband drinking his coffer at breakfast from an orange-colored plastic mug. This was quite puzzling as we do have a rather sizeable array of mugs and cups in porcelain, and he is very particular about his crockery. In response to my ‘why’, he said: “Coffee tastes better in plastic orange-colored mug; this has been scientifically proven”.

I did some research and found that in January this year, there were media reports of a study undertaken by researchers from Oxford University and the Polytechnic University of Valencia. This was a simple study of a small sample of 57 volunteers who were asked to evaluate hot chocolate from four colored plastic cups – orange, cream, white and red. After tasting each drink, participants rated it on a scale of one to ten for overall enjoyment, chocolate flavor, chocolate aroma and sweetness.

The researchers found that people said the drink tasted better when served in a cream or orange colored cup than a red or white one. The report was published in the Journal of Sensory Studies and picked up by the media with blazing headlines. Thus was born the legend of the orange-colored plastic mug!

What are legends?

A legend is a semi-true story, which has been passed from person to person and has important symbolism for the culture in which it originates. A legend usually includes an element of truth – but much could be embellishment. Legends usually involve heroic characters and often encompass the spiritual beliefs of the culture in which they originate. Using this definition, it would seem that the orange colored mugs, and plastic ones at that, have become the heroic figures of our culture!

I asked my husband if his coffee really tasted better in the plastic orange-colored mug. He said that it would only taste better in a “blind test”, not when you expect it to test better. I told him the real story, not what he read in the sensationalized version. I mentioned the small size of the sample and explained that the test was on color – the plastic was incidental, it was a cup not a mug and the drink tested was hot chocolate not hot coffee. But the legend has already taken root and he was skeptical with my explanation. Why spoil a good story with boring facts. Such is the power of a legend!


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