Why we actually like coffee, according to psychology

By Shannon Sweeney — / Death Wish Coffee Blog

The scientific reason behind our caffeine craze 

Throughout our lives, we're presented dozens of tough questions that are supposed to lead us on the right path. What am I going to do with my life? Am I really happy? Could Jack and Rose really both fit on that door? (YES). 

But perhaps life's most important questions aren't about our careers, our goals, or James Cameron's 1997 masterpiece. The most important questions in life revolve around one thing: coffee. 

Why do we like coffee? Do we like the taste, or the energizing feeling it gives us? Why do we prefer certain roasts over others? Why does decaf exist? 

There are a million reasons to love coffee. Its taste gives us life every morning, it gives us a much needed pick me up during the day, and it even improves our mood. But there also could be a psychological reason for it.

A psychologist has some thoughts. Gary L. Wenk, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Ohio State University, says part of the reason why we like coffee — besides genuinely liking the taste — has to do with watching others do it and feeling the need to do it ourselves. Essentially, we like coffee because we like liking what other people like (try saying that five times fast). 

“Goodness, there are SO many examples of people liking things that initially taste terrible, like tobacco, beer, hot peppers, and tea,” says Wenk said in an interview with Jeremy Glass. “All that matters at first is that we see others enjoying it. Humans, similar to all primates, benefit by mimicking the behaviors of others.” 

Think about the first time you tried coffee, beer, wine, etc. Chances are there was an adjusting period to get to a point where you actually liked the taste. But coffee is emerged in our culture — it's what we saw our parents do growing up, what people on TV drink, what you associate with office life. Coffee is EVERYWHERE (and I love it).

And there's more of a science to it than just following what others do, Wenk said. 

“It starts out as societal pressure and then we enjoy the smell of the ground powder, the ritual of its preparation, and the time taken to sit down and enjoy the coffee either alone or with others. Ultimately, our brain responds with a nice release of dopamine," Wenk continued.

And once you find that great tasting bean, it's hard to go back to cheaper and stale coffee. Not to mention that when we repeatedly consume caffeine, our brains become addicted (caffeine is a stimulant and the world's most widely consumed psychoactive drug, after all). 

Of course, every one has different preferences when it comes to coffee. So instead of asking why we like coffee, maybe we should be asking what kind of coffee we like and why? If you ask us, a cup of strong yet smooth coffee is the way to go

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