Lucia’s Pays Attention to Color in Cocktails

Research shows intensely colored drinks are considered by most consumers to be especially enticing because they promise intense flavors.


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Photo by Lance Yamamoto

To make a good cocktail, you need good ingredients. But to design a popular cocktail, you need to add visual appeal. Fancy glass, pretty garnish, sure — but mainly a beautiful color. Deep, rich, vivid, distinctive, and above all, natural.

As cutting-edge mixology focuses more and more on flavor and authenticity, the role of color is being somewhat overlooked.

That’s a shame, because even the world’s tastiest cocktail would be ignored if it looked like a muddy, murky mess.

Even more challenging than crafting one beautifully colored cocktail is choreographing an entire menu of them, each a unique resonant hue in a distinctive color palette. Yet that’s exactly what the owners of Lucia’s in Berkeley accomplished recently after finally receiving their full liquor license after a long wait.

“I absolutely notice the customers’ eyes light up when they see the colors of our cocktails,” said co-owner Steve Dumain. “It is a commonly accepted notion that food is first ‘eaten’ with the eyes, hence presentation is as important as taste. By incorporating this aspect into our cocktails, focusing on the colors, we knew that our cocktail program would generate this sort of reaction among guests, and the drinks would sell themselves.”

Studies exploring the psychological ramifications of colors in consumables reveal that while children can easily be fooled into believing that brightly colored drinks are especially tasty, adults are less naive. In fact, gussied-up food which, when tasted, proves to be mediocre generates in most adult consumers a counterintuitive angry disappointment or “Negatively Valenced Hedonic Disconfirmation of Expectation” in academia-speak.

In practice, this boils down to: If you expend extra effort making something look delicious, you’d better ensure that it is delicious, or you’ll earn customers’ wrath.

Fellow co-owner Alessando Uccelli, who designed Lucia’s cocktail program, knows this principle full well.

“We don’t use any artificial coloring in any of our cocktails. We preserve the natural colors of our real ingredients by using preparation techniques that keep the temperatures super-low. That way, for example, the intense green of the fresh basil that’s the basis of our Basil Gimlet doesn’t darken” during the drink making, because “we hand-make in-house basil syrup with special techniques that preserve the flavor and color.”

Rivaling the Basil Gimlet’s head-turning intensity is the vivid orange of Lucia’s DeChirico Daiquiri.

“We named this cocktail after surrealist artist Giorgio de Chirico because of his oeuvre’s color palette, particularly this shade of orange,” noted Uccelli. “The drink’s hue derives from a combination of amber agricole rhum, grapefruit juice, and the bright red of Cappelletti, an Italian aperitivo.”

Research has proven that intensely colored drinks are considered by most consumers to be especially enticing because they promise intense flavors. Lucia’s Emiliano cocktail delivers on that expectation: a layer of deep purple topped by creamy white foam hides the unexpected punch of ghost-pepper-maple syrup — also made in-house.

“The purple comes from another secret ingredient: Visciola, a cherry-infused Italian dessert wine,” added Uccelli. “We use a little splash for color and flavor.”

The pure citrine yellow of Lucia’s classic Vesper cocktail results from the inclusion of Genziana, an Italian gentian root liqueur, along with an artisanal vermouth.

“Everyone at Lucia’s loves the bright colors of Italy and California, which we try to bring to our food,” explained Dumain. “The techniques we use with our fresh ingredients preserve their colors and are also key to the rainbow look of our cocktails.”

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