How you take your coffee is linked to your genes

A group of scientists now believe they know why some humans prefer coffee while others opt for tea

A group of scientists now believe they know why some humans prefer coffee while others opt for tea

"Taste has been studied for a long time, but we don't know the full mechanics of it. Taste is one of the senses".

Co-author Professor Marilyn Cornelis, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in the United States, said: 'You'd expect that people who are particularly sensitive to the bitter taste of caffeine would drink less coffee.

So the researchers used genetic analysis of samples from the biobank to find people who were more or less sensitive to three bitter substances: caffeine, quinine (think tonic water) and a chemical called propylthiouracil that is frequently used in genetic tests of people's ability to taste bitter compounds.

But, importantly for tea drinkers everywhere, that doesn't make them right.

The first was a large twin study which showed that, at least in those of European ancestry, particular genetic variants are linked to the strength of perception of different tastes: one specific variant was associated with slightly higher ratings of bitterness for caffeine, another to greater bitterness for quinine and a third to greater bitterness for a drug known as propylthiouracil, or PROP. Scientists have found the answer may in fact come down to your genes. So why is coffee-a bitter-tasting drink-so popular around the world? This makes flawless sense, given the evolutionary reasons humans are sensitive to bitter tastes in the first place: It's adaptive to not eat bitter things that might be under-ripe or poisonous.

For alcohol, a higher sensitivity to the bitterness of propylthiouracil resulted in lower alcohol consumption, particularly of red wine.

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There's also a subset of people called caffeine "super tasters", who have extra copies of the caffeine gene.

"Given humans generally avoid bitter tastes, we interpret these findings as possibly a learned behaviour: if we can perceive caffeine well we associate this with the psychostimulant properties of caffeine and so seek more coffee", said Cornelis.

How could this be? Again, double-ups of these two genes tends to mean you're more likely to slurp down five or more cuppas a day.

This may be because people who are better at detecting caffeine are more prone to becoming addicted to its effects, and coffee contains more caffeine than tea. The association with the stimulant is enough to over-ride an adaptive aversion to the taste. "We want to understand it from a biological standpoint".

But genes likely aren't the only factors driving people's tastes.

"The study adds to our understanding of factors determining beverage preferences - taste, in particular - and why, holding all other factors constant, we still see marked between-person differences in beverage preference as well as the amount we consume", Dr Marilyn Cornelis, author of the research from Northwestern University in IL, explains.

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