Do you enjoy the bitter taste of coffee? It could be in your genes

A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that sensitivity to the bitter taste of caffeine increased people’s coffee consumption. Scientists have differing opinions on the evolutionary purpose of bitterness perception. “The conventional answer is that taste is a sentinel that protects us from harm. It allows us to sense toxins, poisons” explains Dr. Danielle Reed, a researcher at the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, in the report.

"You'd expect that people who are particularly sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine would drink less coffee," said Marilyn Cornelis, who is an assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of the study’s authors. Why then do they like it so much?

Reed explains that some people think “taste is a little more nuanced than that … we often have the idea that bitters are poisonous, but in a sense, bitters are also medicines. The bitter perception system is very sensitive because a little bit of bitter might be a good thing.”

The later view might better explain the results of this study. The authors believe that people with genetic variations that provide extra sensitivity to the taste of caffeine learn to associate it with its benefits — namely staying awake.