Does Stevia Make Coffee Taste More Bitter?

Not everybody is a morning person, and often folks — 80% of Americans, according to the CDC — need a jolt of caffeine early in the day. The most common way people around the world get that caffeine is by drinking coffee, and while it's perfect for getting those neurons firing, on its own, it doesn't have what some consider the most appealing taste. Plain coffee can be rather bitter, so it's only natural to want to sweeten it up a bit by adding milk, sugar, flavored syrups, or other artificial sweeteners. However, when trying to take the edge off the drink's bitter flavor, you'll want to be careful which sweetener you use because one calorie-free additive can actually have the opposite effect.

Stevia, which is a naturally occurring chemical derived from the Stevia rebaudiana plant, has been approved as a food additive in the U.S. since 2008 and has been marketed as a zero-calorie alternative to sugar that is more natural than other sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose, which respectively can be found in coffeeshop staple brands like Equal, Sweet'N Low, and Splenda. However, while stevia works as a substitute or partial substitute for sugar in certain recipes, when it comes to coffee, most people agree it does not do the trick.

A matter of tastebuds

In its raw form, the stevia plant contains compounds that are 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar. However, the plant is not approved for consumption by the FDA in this form, even though it's been used in South America as a sweetener and for medicinal purposes for decades. Instead, the agency has only approved Reb-A, which is the compound marketed as stevia in the U.S. It just so happens that this compound, unlike sugar and other substitutes like saccharin or honey, contains chemicals that don't just trigger the sweetness receptors but also the tongue's bitterness receptors which, is not what people are expecting when adding a "sweetener" to already bitter java. 

While researchers continue to breed sweeter stevia plants to isolate the sweet compounds in the plants, most products and recipes that include stevia actually use a blend of stevia and sugar or other sweeteners, which makes them lower in calories than full-sugar alternatives, but still keeps them palatable. 

Unless you like your coffee on the bitter side or science comes up with a way of making this naturally occurring compound taste exclusively sweet, you might want to come up with another option for your morning coffee.