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Coffee is one of those drinks without which some people can’t even function normally. The popularity of Coffee is pretty evident as it’s the most consumed hot beverage in the United States. However, have you ever wondered why you like it so much despite its bitter taste? After all, we as humans usually prefer sweet drinks but coffee is an exception. A new study has found that some people are genetically bound to like the taste of certain beverages.

Coffee is one of those drinks that confuses scientists a lot. The human body doesn’t like unpleasant or bitter tasting substances, and understandably so as these substances are mostly harmful ones like alkaloids or poisonous plants. Then comes coffee, bitter in taste yet loved by millions around the world.

Therefore, it’s clear why coffee would intrigue researchers a lot. A new study has now perhaps found the answer to the question of why humans like coffee so much despite its bitterness, and it may have to do with a person’s genetics. Researchers from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, IL, and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia conducted a study.

Image: medicalnewstoday

Image: medicalnewstoday

The Study


This study tried to find a relationship between a person’s average consumption of bitter beverages and their genetics i.e their genetic sensitivity to bitter substances. The study involved the use of two datasets. Both the datasets are important in their own right, as the first one was used to see the link between genetic variation and different tastes.

The second dataset contained blood, urine, and saliva samples from thousands of people. The researchers used over 400,000 of these samples for their study. They also obtained data from a questionnaire about beverage consumption. Using all this data, they were able to make their conclusions.


Using a method called  Mendelian randomization, researchers compared variations in people’s genetics and how that affected their consumption of coffee, tea, and alcohol. During studies like these, it’s also important to clearly define the terms you use to classify your data. In this case, the term “heavy drinker” would be used a lot so that was given a definition.

For the purpose of this study, a heavy coffee drinker would be one who drank more than 4 cups a day. A heavy tea drinker was someone who drank more than 5 cups a day, and people who drank alcohol more than three or four times a week were considered heavy alcohol drinkers.

The researchers also identified what they’d primarily be working with. They believed that three substances widely found in the drinks above were the most responsible for the perception of bitterness in drinks. These three substances were caffeine, quinine (an ingredient in tonic water), and PROP (a bitter compound present in vegetables).

Image: Wikipedia

Image: Wikipedia

The Results

It was determined that a person who was more sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine drank more coffee. However, those who had more sensitivity towards quinine or PROP, they drank less coffee. The results are again, confusing. It’s because those who are more sensitive to bitter taste were yet again found to be heavy coffee drinkers.

However, scientists believe that since caffeine has stimulating impacts on the brain, the body is able to classify it as a positive substance rather than negative. So, regular caffeine drinkers can acquire a taste for it, or even develop the ability to detect caffeine, which results in this behavior.

“If you were genetically predisposed to taste the bitterness in brussels sprouts, then you were more likely to prefer a cup of tea over coffee. The same was true for red wine, with people who didn’t like PROP-rich foods also less likely to pour themselves a glass of red.”- Said one of the authors of the study.


Although the research findings here are intriguing, further research is required in order to establish a causal link between a person’s genetics and their caffeine addiction. This study used datasets largely containing a European population. The results may vary for other areas.

However, the study does give an insight into why people love certain drinks and why so many people like coffee, despite its bitter taste. Scientists are now planning to further study this to get a better understanding. It’ll be interesting to see what the follow-up study yields.

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