Why Your Second Cup of Coffee Is Never as Good as Your First

published Nov 30, 2018
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(Image credit: Leela Cyd)

Tell me if this scenario sounds familiar: Every morning when I wake up, I brew a giant pot of French roast, and pour myself a cup. After adding sugar and cream, I take that first sip, and every morning it’s like the first time I’ve ever had such a drink in my life. It’s absolute perfection. It’s like vanilla, sugar, cream, and coffee beans were made to be tasted by me this morning and me alone.

But then, each subsequent sip is a little less satisfying. I think to myself maybe I can recreate that experience with another cup of coffee made exactly the way I had before. Reader: it’s never the same, until at least the next morning. I always thought that this was just me being finicky, but it turns out there are a couple explanations behind why the first sip tastes best.

Remember: Caffeine Is a Drug

First, there’s the hit of caffeine that I’m getting in the morning after a full day of abstaining. As we often forget, caffeine is actually a drug. You can experience withdrawal symptoms from caffeine, and experience a dopamine response when you finally have it again. The only dose of caffeine I get during the day (since I don’t drink soda) is in the morning when I have, admittedly, two or three cups of coffee. That first sip is tantamount to someone having their first drag of a cigarette after going a whole day without a smoke.

The More You Have, the Less Special It Is

That’s not the only thing affecting the diminishing wonder of my morning joe. “This experience is related to a concept in economics of ‘diminishing marginal utility,’says Quora user Peter Baskerville, who purports to be a coffee expert and owner of multiple cafes. While I can’t verify whether or not he actually owns multiple cafes, I can verify the concept.

The definition of diminishing marginal utility is pretty heady stuff since it comes from your local economist: that “the marginal utility of a good or service declines as its available supply increases. Economic actors devote each successive unit of the good or service towards less and less valued ends.”

If that makes no sense to you, allow me to give you an example of the concept in action for you: during the holidays, there’s always that one delicious dish that doesn’t seem to get any play any other time of the year. For my family, it’s my sister-in-law’s cheesy potatoes. Before Thanksgiving, I hadn’t had it in quite some time, and the last time she made it, I forgot to bring Tupperware. (I am shameless in this regard usually.)

This time I came prepared and loaded up on that cheesy potato goodness at the dinner table, and devoted an entire Tupperware container to just that dish on my way out. But, when I got home, nuke a big heaping gob of that starchy joy with some leftover turkey and stuffing, the bliss was *not quite* there.

It’s because the anticipation of waiting almost a year for that taste, combined with my taste buds, brain, and stomach getting that reward again so soon was nothing compared to the fact that I had a more significant breaking of the fast just two hours before. That’s diminishing marginal utility.

In summary, for a lot of us it’s been a hectic year, and with these times when things don’t seem as secure as they could, the creature comforts that pepper our days hold special meaning. For me that’s my morning cup of coffee. And a little thing called data is not going to keep me from having a little faith and at least trying to enjoy my second, third, or fourth cup.