The findings were published in the journal Human Molecular Genetics.
How did they find this out?
The research team gathered 336,000 people to take part in a questionnaire.
They prepared two categories of drink; A bitter-tasting group made up of coffee, tea, beer, grapefruit, red wine and liquor, and a sweet-tasting one made of sugar-sweetened and artificially sweetened drinks.
Then, they asked people to report what they drank over a 24 hour period.
Scientists found that the adults made beverage choices based on mental reward rather than on what the drink tasted like.
Of the participants, many said they chose coffee because of the way it made them feel, and beer because of its calming effect.
Marilyn Cornelis, co-author of the study and assistant professor of preventive medicine at Feinberg School of Medicine said: “The genetics underlying our preferences are related to the psychoactive components of these drinks.”
People like the way coffee and alcohol make them feel. That’s why they drink it. It’s not the taste.
The study highlights the importance of diet, and our relationship with food as well as its connection with reward.
Cornelis said they found one variant in a gene, called FTO which was linked to sugar-sweetened drinks. Those who had this variation in their gene – which has previously been linked to lower risk of obesity – ironically preferred sugar-sweetened drinks.
"It's counterintuitive," Cornelis said. "FTO has been something of a mystery gene, and we don't know exactly how it's linked to obesity. It likely plays a role in behaviour, which would be linked to weight management."
Victor Zhong, the study's first author and postdoctoral fellow in preventive medicine at Northwestern added:
To our knowledge, this is the first genome-wide association study of beverage consumption based on taste perspective. It's also the most comprehensive genome-wide association study of beverage consumption to date.