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Coffee Makes Things Sweeter (According to Science)

healthier sugar alternatives for coffee

Coffee can help you focus, boost your mood, and even protect you from diseases like Alzheimer’s and cancer. But new research shows that it can do even more: alter your sensory perception!

A new study shows that coffee’s effects don’t end when you finish your cup: drinking coffee can change how sweet or bitter something else tastes. But does it matter if you’re drinking regular or decaf, and does the distinctive aroma of coffee change your sense of smell? Scroll down to find out!

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The Study

How was the study set up and what were its goals? Researchers from Denmark’s Aarhus University wanted to see if drinking coffee changed our sensory perceptions. To test this, they recorded the participants’ sense of taste and smell before and after drinking coffee.

black coffee

The study used Arpeggio capsules from Nespresso — an intense, popular South and Central American Arabica blend — to maintain consistency and strong flavor. It also used regular and decaf versions to test for the effect of caffeine on your tastebuds.

To test the senses, researchers gave their test subjects droplets of water calibrated to be bitter, sweet, salty, or sour. They recorded how many droplets each subject needed to perceive that flavor, before and after drinking a cup of coffee.


The Results

So what were the results? The researchers quickly saw that drinking coffee didn’t affect the sense of smell — participants perceived aromas in the same way before and after drinking coffee. But it did affect another sense: taste.

coffee aroma

Compared to the baseline pre-coffee perception, the study’s participants were a lot less sensitive to bitterness — and a lot more sensitive to sweetness. The bitterness of the coffee meant that other bitter flavors were harder to taste, whereas sugar was much more obvious. This suggests that coffee primes your tastebuds for bitter flavors, which explains why the sugar would be such an unexpected flavor.

And the difference between regular and decaf coffee? Negligible — meaning that you can switch to decaf and still enjoy that chocolate croissant. Caffeine doesn’t seem to affect your tastebuds — who knew?

coffee sugar

Essentially, researchers found that coffee makes you more sensitive to sweet flavors and less sensitive to bitter ones. Interestingly, the effect is the same whether you drink regular or decaf. And your sense of smell remains unchanged.

Want to know more? You can read the full study (complete with all the scientific details) here.

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Conclusion

So what’s the takeaway? Drinking coffee makes other things taste sweeter and less bitter. Maybe that’s why so many of us enjoy cinnamon toast or a glazed donut with our cups of joe. But despite that powerful fresh coffee aroma, it doesn’t affect your sense of smell at all. Interesting, right?

Now it’s your turn! Why not conduct this experiment at home? Try a cookie (like Match Made’s tasty cookie and coffee pairing) before and after your morning cup of coffee. Does it taste sweeter after that first caffeinated sip? We’re betting it does!

More interesting coffee studies:

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Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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