Red cup, or blue cup?

Connecting students through a colour-coded coffee station.

Carina Yu
Carina’s Laboratory


Serendipity by design

Cafes is stereotypically used in movies/tv shows/stories/ as the backdrop of romantic fantasies or tone-shifting encounters.

However, our yearning for spontaneous, coffee-scented conversations seems to only manifest in the fictional world.

In the modern world where you can comfortably go online and have a meaningful conversation within minutes, there is not much incentive to reach out to a random stranger in a public space and risk getting rejected.

This led me to think:

How can we encourage serendipitous conversations in cafes?

And I decided to put the simplest solution I could think of to test:

Using the color of coffee cups to signal whether we are open for conversations.

I designed a coffee station with 3 simple rules.

  • Choosing a red cup means that you are open to conversations.
  • Choosing a blue cup means that you want some personal time.
  • Take some coffee and enjoy!
Promoting the coffee station all over my campus.

The day

After I set up the coffee station in the student lounge, I sat nearby and observed how people interacted with it.

Unfortunately, the coffee machine broke down multiple times that day. I was running around to make sure that 30 cups of coffee would be given out properly, so I didn’t participate in a lot of conversations.

So excited to see students interacting with the station!


Positive feedback from students.

Interesting conversations I overheard

“Are you a red cup person or blue cup person?”

“I’m totally a red.”

“I don’t understand who would pick the red cup.”

“ I didn’t encounter anyone holding a red cup like me. So I didn’t really had new conversations.”

“I’m down to talk to people. I feel like I don’t know anyone outside my program.”

“I have a lot to do today so I think I will pick blue.”

Final thoughts

It is refreshing to see students connecting with each other through coffee. I look forward to a day when we could take a break from dating or networking apps, and have organic, genuine conversations in a shared space.

Next time I would definitely be more prepared for the logistical issues. And I would also host it in a space with more room to hang around and talk.

If you want to host your red cup, blue cup event at your school, feel free to mail me at I will send you the promotion materials I used :)