Here’s The Real Reason Your Brain Lights Up When You Have Coffee

Ashley Batz/Bustle

There's nothing quite like that first cup of coffee in the morning and that first after-work bottle of beer. Sure, these drinks might taste good, but the reason why you love coffee and beer actually doesn't have anything to do with taste at all. A new study from Northwestern University suggests that the desire for coffee and booze is grounded in genes related to the psychoactive properties in both coffee and alcoholic drinks.

"People like the way coffee and alcohol make them feel. That's why they drink it. It's not the taste," lead study author Marilyn Cornelis, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a press release. The study, published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics, found that an affinity for coffee and alcohol most likely has to do with chromosomal variants. And this could be why some people never develop a taste for coffee or beer no matter how many times they try to get on board. Blame it on your genes!

The experiment divided beverages into sweet and bitter tasting groups. Bitter beverages included coffee, tea, grapefruit juice, beer, red wine, and liquor while sweet drinks included sugar-sweetened beverages, artificially sweetened beverages, and non-grapefruit juices.

After collecting the taste-test data, scientists conducted a genome-wide association study of bitter and sweet beverage consumption to look for genetic variants. While more research is needed, the study suggests that it's these genetic variants related to alcohol and coffee consumption — not taste — that drive your love for bitter or sweet drinks. Over the course of the study, researchers also identified a specific genetic variant that's linked to people's desire for sugary-sweet beverages.

"To our knowledge, this is the first genome-wide association study of beverage consumption based on taste perspective," Victor Zhong, the study's first author and postdoctoral fellow in preventive medicine at Northwestern, said in the press release. "It's also the most comprehensive genome-wide association study of beverage consumption to date."

These results actually make a whole lot of sense as new studies uncover that tastebuds aren't solo artists. They're actually linked to different parts of the brain and work in tandem with other senses to determine preferences. If you follow this line of reasoning, the research could also mean that genetic variants might be responsible for the types of coffee and alcohol you prefer.

For example, do you like sweet wine or bitter beer? A bourbon and soda or a piña colada? Is black coffee your jam, or do you always order a super-sweet latte? Personally, I look forward to my first cup of coffee as soon as I open my eyes in the morning.

However, I know other people who think coffee tastes about as good as cardboard. And while sugary drinks make me feel ill, others can down several a day and feel fine. Like most things that make you feel good, the desire for bitter or sweet beverages is likely related to the behavior-reward center in your brain.

For some people, the act of drinking coffee or alcohol (the behavior) makes them feel good (the reward). Researchers speculated that this discovery could eventually help scientists better understand the potential barriers involved in helping people seek out nutrient-dense diets. If you don't like coffee and alcohol, there's nothing wrong with you. And if you just can't handle a sugary soda, there's nothing wrong with you either. Drink what you want — in moderation, of course — and don't apologize. #TheMoreYouKnow