Does Stainless Steel Change the Taste of Coffee?
Does a fork change the taste of food? Could a pot change the taste of soup? We rarely hear these questions asked, but we often hear people discuss taste coming from a water bottle or travel tumbler. In this article we will explore why that might be.
Scientifically, steel does not have any taste. It is an inert compound. No chemical reactions; it will not breakdown, which is why it is widely the choice of commercial kitchens and hospitals where cleanliness is obligatory. Still ... some people swear that their steel tumbler changes the taste of their drink?
There are a few things to consider:
Some tumblers use a rougher, brushed interior which will certainly bring in flavors more often than smoother surfaced steel cups. Even a steady cleaning regimen and you might still taste that chai tea you had to have for weeks.
Porousness is likely the number one cause of imparting foreign flavors into your beverage. Even sweat can find its way into your water bottle (you've tasted it, haven't you?) The way around this is 1) Get yourself a high quality vessel. Electropolish or mirrored interiors are far less likely to hold unwanted flavor. These processes level the peaks and valleys of your container.
Different shaped vessels can provide different experiences. Some people that report unwanted flavors bring their tumbler into work and then pour the coffee into a regular mug and voila! ... The taste goes away. Tests have also indicated that coffee tastes better out of certain colors too, so shape could be psychosomatic. Or ... It could be because they're following their nose.
This is a big one that's obvious, but many people don't consider it. Smell is an important part of taste. Coffee is one of the food or drinks that people have a deep affinity for the smell. Just the smell of the coffee in the morning can change a person's mood.
Follow Your Nose!
Smells impact on taste is quite severe. According to Scientificamerican.com:
"To our brains, "taste" is actually a fusion of a food's taste, smell and touch into a single sensation. This combination of qualities takes place because during chewing or sipping, all sensory information originates from a common location: whatever it is we're snacking on. Further, "flavor" is a more accurate term for what we commonly refer to as taste; therefore, smell not only influences but is an integral part of flavor."
Travel tumblers all but eliminate smell from the drinking experience, so are not a good choice for people that want full enjoyment from their coffee or tea.
It's not the metal, it's the tarnish
Another theory (and it's a good one) is that the taste might only be experienced from tarnishing metal. According to Chemistry.Stackexchange.com, metals will taste metallic not due to the metal itself but due to tarnish forming on its surface. This too is a quality and care issue.
Saliva contains chemicals that react with certain metals to produce electricity. This only occurs when two types of metal come in contact with saliva. Fillings could be the answer as to why only some people say they experience taste. So it might not be taste at all, but a sensation that people confuse with taste.
One thing is for sure: Stainless steel continues to trend as a preferred container for almost any beverage. For health, the environment, and just a better drinking experience, we all should continue to drink better with steel.