Tealeaves Folio



Color in Food: Is there more to palate than flavor?

This month, we cheers to the new TEALEAVES x Pantone packaging design of our iconic Whole Leaf Pyramid Teabag collection with #PaletteForYourPalate. An online exhibition of tea+color+mood, we explore the detail of color through a culinary approach as well as a documentary on why color matters— at TEALEAVES, we not only blend for aroma and taste, but also for color.


Understanding that “the first taste is with the eyes”, we filmed and learned from influencers, thought-leaders, movers and shakers of industry to see how they apply color in their respective domains. With this same philosophy and curious spirit, we believe that the best “condiment” to any cup of TEALEAVES is wisdom to share and a great story to tell. Sip, reflect, enjoy.

It’s not difficult to see that food and color have become a package deal. Grocery aisles overflow with colors. Hues act as flavor cues, palette serves as visual palate. Marketing science researchers, Dr. Lawrence Garber of Elon University and Dr. Eva Hyatt of Appalachian State University, study the effects of color preferences among consumers in modern society.

Listen in as Dr. Garber & Dr. Hyatt discuss the intimate links between culture, color, and individual—
after all, there’s more to palate than flavor.

Over a Cup of TEALEAVES with Dr. Lawrence Garber & Dr. Eva Hyatt
Consumer Behavior Researchers

TEALEAVES: Let’s start with introductions. Can you tell us about what both of you do?

Dr. Garber: I am a marketing college professor with a visual stream of research. I went to art school for painting and illustration, and spent time as a freelance illustrator, publishing in Fortune Magazine among others. I went on to get an MBA and got diverted into marketing science, a form of quantitative marketing research. Putting these two together, as an academic, I study the effect of aspects of appearance on consumer behavior.

Dr. Hyatt: I am an academic, specifically a Marketing professor. My educational background is in social sciences of Sociology and Psychology, along with Business, which I see as a practical area of application for social science theory. This puts me squarely in the field of Consumer Behavior, which I teach and do research in.

TEALEAVES: Consumer Behavior is a large field. Why did you choose to focus on food and its relation with color? How do food and food products differ from any other items?

Dr. Garber: Food color has always played an important role for consumers as a flavor signal for color associated foods. I was fascinated by the idea that color, as a flavor signal, could be more powerful than other flavor signals that are available to the consumer. For example, mouthfeel and taste also play roles in flavor identification. But visuals including color dominate other modes as flavor identifiers to the extent that when consumers mis-identify a flavor that has been mismatched with a wrong color, consumers will evaluate that flavor as the one that they would normally associate with that color. Taste itself does not overrule their initial incorrect, color-based mis-identification.

TEALEAVES: Which factors do you think have the most impact on color preferences in a culture? How much does marketing and design affect consumer associations with a color? And the vice versa?

Dr. Garber: I think the question of impact, both its strength and nature, are very much category and context specific. In the cola aisle, red color means Coke. On a street sign, it means stop. In these cases, though the designers who chose red for these contexts may have been guided by the intrinsic sensory effects of red, and its meaning in other contexts, the association of red with Coke, for example, is otherwise arbitrary, and it is marketers who then teach us to associate red with Coke. So, marketers can have a great deal of effect with color associations. Although, the discretion that designers and marketers have with food color in associated foods can be constrained by these prior color flavor associations. A constraint that some food marketers have tried to break away from for communications purposes, such as Gatorade with it non-flavor-associated drinks, such as their Glacier series.

Dr. Hyatt: And related to this is the fact that Western fashion marketers largely determine what colors are ‘in’ during certain seasons and over certain time periods. We see certain colors become popular for everything from clothes to appliances to home décor, then go out of vogue, inspiring consumers to make over their wardrobes and homes. In developing nations, color preferences are less fleeting since focus is less on fashion, more on function and tradition.

TEALEAVES: How adaptable do you believe color preferences to be?

Dr. Garber: That’s a good question. I would think that preference for food color, and openness to novel food color, would be less labile than color in other-than-food contexts. Putting people into new and unfamiliar contexts, such as with visiting other countries and cultures, does likely increase receptivity to new ideas and experiences, but, again, I think we are less open to accepting new food colors than colors on other objects.

Dr. Hyatt: The exception may be kids here—they were the ones that liked the green ketchup and the blue mac and cheese. Their food color associations and preferences are much less ingrained.

· On Black Ramen & Pasta ·

TEALEAVES: What do you personally think of Japanese ramen with black charcoal broth, such as the dishes served at the Vancouver restaurant Motomachi Shokudo?

Dr. Garber: It does not appeal to me personally, but, I do recall that North Americans came to accept and to like blackened fish and chicken, and so on, so…

Dr. Hyatt: This looks appealing to me, but I love exotic Asian foods, especially noodle dishes. It looks rich and interesting and spicy. I think the charcoal color is more palatable in liquid form and in an ethnic food, rather than in the iconic American burger. Again, a contextual effect.

TEALEAVES: Do you think that most North Americans would be receptive towards squid ink dishes, such as squid ink pasta?

Dr. Garber: Again, anything is possible, but I think a hard sell that will require the clever marketer. Asked my Indian students about this last night, their first reaction was not favorable. If their response is representative, then it would be a hard sell in India as well.

Dr. Hyatt: I think the term “squid ink” on the menu would be more of a turn-off to most North Americans than the actual color of the food. But I think the pasta color is also quite unappetizing in this form, looking creature-alien-worm-like…I doubt it would do well unless it was targeting some real adventurous types that go for the weird and gross. There’s a market for everything.

· On Color ·

TEALEAVES: What is your personal definition of color?

Dr. Garber: A good question. I don’t think I have ever tried to define color, having instead relied on readers’ intimate and lifelong experience with color to know to know what I am referring to when I write about it. It is a know-it-when-I-see-it thing. It is a when-light-reflects-off-a-box-of-Tide-in-the-forest-does-it-have-a-color? kind of thing. It is more a matter of human experience, and less a matter of the length of a light wave, in terms of how we are discussing it here.

Dr. Hyatt: I agree with Larry about the experience part. I think of looking at a ray of sunlight shining through one of the crystals I have hanging in the window and seeing the color change across the spectrum as I move my head, but it is my experience of each color as the colors change that make me think of them as colors.

TEALEAVES: So what about your favourite color? Or, the color you would hate to lose sight of?

Dr. Garber: I love the sensation of complements placed against each other in such a way that they seem to vibrate. This sensation is perhaps analogous to a dissonance in music. Which is not to say that I pick my clothes in this manner.

Dr. Hyatt: Growing up my favorite color was orange—it was exciting and bright and I rarely got to wear it—my mom would cringe when I asked for clothes and room decorations in orange, which was probably part of its appeal. But as I got older, I realized that I really like green and green tones the best, especially Spring green, probably because of my strong nature/outdoors orientation. Anyway, there is one particular color that is my absolute favorite, and I think it is because of its fleeting nature; this is the specific green-blue-turquoise color that waves in the Pacific Ocean turn right when they are cresting on a sunny day, right before they crash. I can sit for hours watching waves just to see this color for a split second over and over.

TEALEAVES: The opposite— which color do you dislike the most and why?

Dr. Garber: I’m a painter, and a colorist, Just as weeds are only plants that are not in the right place, there are only colors that are not in the right place. Or amounts. I like them all.

Dr. Hyatt: I dislike Peptol Bismol pink, that bright, sickening pink color that is aggressively marketed to girls on every toy and outfit; that is used to symbolize girliness and all things girly. I always associated it with being sick to my stomach and needing Peptol Bismol, and with conformity to what I was supposed to like just because I was female. It still makes me cringe.

· On #TheDress ·

TEALEAVES: Are you familiar with #TheDress? Which colors did you initially see?

Dr. Garber: Sorry, not familiar with this event, though I did just go to the above URL. No amusing anecdote, I am afraid. Would only note that this phenomenon is testament to how affect-loaded and robust a stimulus color is to humans. We attribute color when it is withheld from us. And we have powerful feels about the correctness of our attributions. This underscores the fact that color is a perceptual phenomenon, and subject to individual interpretation. Sorry not to be as fun as you were hoping.

Dr. Hyatt: I do remember seeing this in the news a few months ago and wondering what the big deal was. I saw the dress as blue and brown, which I now see is a minority opinion after going the URL above. No funny anecdotes for me, either. I do remember thinking that their might be a gender effect here, as men tend to be more likely to be color blind and to not see things as the same color as women do.


TEALEAVES: What is your favorite kind of tea that you enjoy drinking? Why?

Dr. Garber: Assam. It is strong and I like the way it tastes. My Indian friends chide me for it, because they see Assam as a low-end tea. For them, the only respectable tea is Darjeeling.

Dr. Hyatt: I like Cardamom (Elaichi) tea, which I just discovered in India. It has to be served with milk and sugar. It’s like dessert, and is served often in the afternoons, to wake you up and keep you going through the evening. To be honest, I have never been much of a tea drinker, but going to India and drinking tea everyday heightened my appreciation for tea, and for tea-drinking rituals. I hope to explore this more with all the TEALEAVES tea you sent.

TEALEAVES: Do you have a favorite TEALEAVES tea?

Dr. Garber: Have not tried them all, yet, though enjoying the large box you sent. I think your teas are very nice. Thank you.

Dr. Hyatt: I just got home from India and have yet to try many of the teas you sent…I am looking forward to it. Thanks so much for the great selection!

TEALEAVES: What is your fondest memory of tea?

Dr. Garber: My fondest memory is all the tea that I have drunk with my wife, Diane, and that is a lot. She is a Canadian of English descent (a father from Liverpool) who has that English mien for knowing the only proper way to make tea. And we are always proper. Brown Betty Pots. Tea balls. Truly boiling water. I am bringing her back from India a really nice elephant tea cozy this trip. Hope she likes it. The second fondest memory is discovering Masala chai tea my first time in India.

Dr. Hyatt: My fondest memory of tea is joining Larry and his wife Diane in London for high tea, complete with crumpets, clotted cream, and a whole assortment of goodies. This was my one and only true high tea experience, and a definite highlight of all my travel experiences in England.

Why color? Stay tuned for TEALEAVES documentary, Color In Sight.


We blend teas specifically for color, alongside aroma and taste, with understanding that “the first bite is with the eyes”. Fascinated by color’s potential to excite and delight, TEALEAVES reached out to experts in design to see how they thought about—and used—color. From Nike and OPI to Herman Miller and PANTONE, these experts volunteered their time for this exciting project. Our goal, together, was to bring about appreciation for the little detail of color selection and how it can have a big impact on the products and services enjoyed by many. Coming Soon.

Explore the Documentary on the #PaletteForYourPalate exhibit of tea + color + mood



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