Coffee? It’s in your genes!

Bitter equals poisonous, at least according to our brain. There seems to exist only one exception from this evolutionary dislike for bitterness: coffee. Why many of us cannot even imagine a morning without a cup of espresso or latte, although its bitter taste should make our body issue a poison alert?

Researchers from Northwestern Medicine and QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Australia discovered that, paradoxically, genetic sensitivity to bitter taste makes us even more likely to drink larger amounts of coffee.

“You’d expect that people who are particularly sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine would drink less coffee,” argues Dr. Marilyn Cornelis, the assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and senior author of the study. “The opposite results of our study suggest coffee consumers acquire a taste or an ability to detect caffeine due to the learned positive reinforcement (i.e. stimulation) elicited by caffeine.”

Why do we love these bitter beans so much?

This means that people with high sensitivity to bitterness of caffeine form positive associations with coffee — and enjoy more cups a day than their friends without this genetic variant.

Researchers studied genes and daily coffee consumption of over 40,000 participants from the UK. “Using the genes related to our ability to taste bitterness, we were able to assess whether those that have a higher genetic predisposition to tasting bitterness are more likely to prefer tea over coffee,” explained Jue Sheng Ong, the lead author of the paper, a PhD student in the Department of Genetics and Computational Biology at the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute in Brisbane.

They found out that people with genes responsible for recognising bitterness of tonic water or green vegetables, for example Brussel sprouts, tend to prefer tea over coffee. Interestingly, in comparison to people without such gene variants, they are also less likely to drink alcohol, in particular red wine. This result could potentially help improving treatments for alcohol addictions.

Ong admitted that they did not take into account milk, cream, sugar or other additions often put into coffee cups. They focused on the general links between genes and coffee consumption.

Taste remains one of our most secretive senses, but this study contributed to its understanding. And I will stop fighting my coffee addiction — what can I do, it is in my genes!

First appeared in

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


Blog of the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders

Violent metaphors

Thoughts from the intersection of science, pseudoscience, and conflict.

Our World in Data

Maths is fun. And fun is maths!


Strength in Numbers

Paul Cairney: Politics & Public Policy

Professor of Politics and Public Policy, University of Stirling

To tylko teoria

Maths is fun. And fun is maths!

Mathspig Blog

Just another weblog


Economics and statistics in plain English


To estimate, compare, distinguish, discuss, and trace to its principal sources everything

Infinity Plus One

math is awesome


Math, Madison, food, the Orioles, books, my kids.

PhD Life

a blog about the PhD student experience, University of Warwick

The Thesis Whisperer

Just like the horse whisperer - but with more pages

Next Scientist

Digital Hacks To Be A Better Scientist

Daily Writing Tips

Maths is fun. And fun is maths!

Count Bayesie - A Probability Blog

Maths is fun. And fun is maths!

Eventually Almost Everywhere

A blog about probability and olympiads by Dominic Yeo

%d bloggers like this:
search previous next tag category expand menu location phone mail time cart zoom edit close