In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re big coffee and tea lovers here at mbg. We just can’t get enough of the smell of a warm latte, the taste of a cinnamon matcha on a cold afternoon, and the helpful boost of caffeine we get from both. But what explains why we love these drinks so much that we have trouble going even a day without them? A new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, shows that our preference for coffee and tea can actually be explained by our ability to detect bitterness. Interesting…
The researchers from Northwestern University and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia used a technique called Mendelian randomization to study data from over 400,000 participants, both men and women. The results showed that the more sensitive a person is to the bitter taste of caffeine, the more coffee they actually drink.
So what makes you more or less sensitive to bitterness? Apparently, this has everything to do with genetics. And this trend doesn’t just apply to coffee; it’s also true for tea and wine at varying degrees. “The findings suggest our perception of bitter tastes, informed by our genetics, contributes to the preference for coffee, tea, and alcohol,” Marilyn Cornelis, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, told Science Daily.
Even more interesting, the researchers explain that we technically shouldn’t like the taste of coffee at all—since our bodies and brains actually interpret bitterness as a warning signal that something might be harmful. That said, people who have the genetic predisposition that allows them to detect bitterness are able to transform their thinking and form positive associations with coffee and tea. If you’re surprised by these results, you’re definitely not alone. It would be easy to assume that being able to detect the bitterness in these beverages would decrease a person’s affinity for them. But as it turns out, it’s exactly the opposite; the positive reinforcement these people receive from caffeine coupled with their ability to detect bitterness is enough to rewire their brain into loving coffee.
This study was part of a larger trend in science to understand the underlying biological mechanisms of taste.