Science Focus - the home of BBC Science Focus Magazine
Study aims to solve mystery behind having sugar in your tea © Getty Images

Study aims to solve mystery behind having sugar in your tea

Published: 31st July, 2015 at 12:00
Subscribe to BBC Science Focus Magazine and get 6 issues for just £9.99

Craving your morning coffee, or pining for a cup of afternoon tea? New research has been brewing that has discovered just why tea and coffee taste so good with a spoonful of sugar.

The research, carried out at the University of York, has found that sugar has an important effect in reducing the bitterness of tea and coffee: not just by masking it, but also by changing its fundamental chemistry. So, if you previously thought all sugar did was make your tea sweeter, then you’re going to feel a bit of a mug.


You might think this is all just taking the biscuit, but by using statistical thermodynamics in tea and coffee, it was found that the caffeine, sugar and water interact at the molecular level to change the taste of your favourite brew.

Thirsty for more knowledge, they found that the caffeine, often appreciated for its reviving stimulant effect, is partly responsible for the bitterness in tea and coffee. In the water, caffeine molecules stick to each other, and even more so with the addition of sugar.

It was previously assumed that this phenomenon was due to the strengthening of bonds between water molecules around the sugar, however, the new study found that the reality is much sweeter: the sugar molecules share an affinity with the water, causing the caffeine molecules to stick together to avoid the sugar.

Not only were the researchers investigating tea and coffee, but, hungry for answers, they also investigated the unanswered questions of food, such as how to make jelly less wobbly.

“It is delightful indeed that food and drink questions can be solved using theory, with equipment no more complex than a pen and paper,” said Dr Sheish Shimizu, of the York Structural Biology Laboratory. “Encouraged by this discovery, and our recent success on how to make jelly firmer, we are working hard to reveal more about the molecular basis of food and cooking.”

So while we think about why anybody would want to make jelly less wobbly, perhaps it's time for a brew. Is it one lump or two?


Follow Science Focus on TwitterFacebook, Instagram and Flipboard



Sponsored content