Coffee: Why Do We Like It?

Growing up in a home where a 10-cup pot of coffee was brewed twice a day by a mother who can't go more than eight hours without a java fix, I was conditioned to love the smell of coffee. I didn't develop a taste for it until college (hey, everyone else was doing it), and even now I think it's the Pavlovian response to the smell and the cream, not the caffeine, that keeps me coming back for more.

Apparently not everyone likes the smell. When faced with a mug of steaming coffee, my grandparents' cat performs that weird litterbox ritual, scraping his hind legs toward the mug as if attempting to bury the foul-smelling liquid. I'm assuming the cat is trying to tell us it smells like crap.

All reasons why I found this epicurious.com Daily Dish item on why we like coffee so interesting. Overcoming the initial bitterness, the author writes, has a lot to do with smell. "[W]hen black coffee enters your mouth, you perceive bitterness with your tongue, but you also perceive a complex coffee odor with your nose as the java molecules are pumped from your mouth into your nasal cavity (appetizing, huh?). Positive and negative responses to smells are learned, not visceral. And with coffee, it seems, these preferences override our preprogrammed distaste for bitterness," the article states, citing an explanation from Linda Bartoshuk, a Yale professor who researches the sense of taste. "[S]he believes that people like coffee because its smell becomes associated with its accompanying rush of caffeine and pleasures of cream and sugar."

What's your first coffee memory? And if you consider yourself an addict, how did you get there?

For the previous Metrocurean discussion on the city's best coffee, check out the comments on this post.


Anonymous said...

I don't know about the Yale researcher's theory. I always drink coffee black (and always have) and usually drink decaf these days. So no sugar, cream or caffeine (usually), but I still love my coffee.

Amanda said...

It is just a theory after all. When did you first start drinking coffee?

Spiral Stairs said...

My earliest coffee memory was tasting a tiny sip in kindergarten while studying the taste buds. Coffee demonstrated the "bitter" buds.

I didn't drink coffee again for many years.

Slowly, but surely, I started drinking in grad school. I never got started with the milk and sugar thing; it's always been black. Whether I am an addict is a judgment call, but it wouldn't be far off the mark.

To the anonymous commenter above: You still may associate the smell of coffee with a caffeine rush, even if you now usually choose decaf. Just like Pavlov's dogs would slobber at the dinner bell, even if dinner wasn't served.

Anonymous said...

I did not like the taste of coffee until I was in my late twenties and had Italian coffee which is rich and round cut by acidity rather than bitterness... but no astringency. It is made with Arabica beans rather than Robusta. French coffee is often made with Robusta (because that is what was grown in French colonies) and is not a great cup of coffee.

Amanda said...

Any coffee brewing experts out there know if the fineness of the grind affects bitterness? I'm never sure if I'm grinding too long or too short.

Mary Jane said...

Hey I know a cat that does the same thing! Actually sometimes cats do that to protect their food from competition! The cat probably wanted to save that coffee so he could stay up all night and have fun.
Anyway that's why I started drinking coffee.
Happy birthday ;-)!

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