I drink half/half tea. Half sweetened, half unsweetened. I think it tastes better when I put sweetened in the bottom of the glass. A friend says that's silly. It all mixes together. Is my imagination making me think it tastes better when sweet goes in first?

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    Are you stirring it thoroughly enough that it really does all mix together? If you have a straw, you can try drinking from the top and bottom to see. – Cascabel Feb 2 '17 at 15:41
  • ...I'm kinda curious, but is there a reason not to just sweeten the tea half as much? – Megha Feb 3 '17 at 0:27
  • @Megha Might not be homemade. Plenty of fast food places in the southern US have both sweetened and unsweetened tea, and you get it yourself, so you could do exactly this. – Cascabel Feb 3 '17 at 1:35
  • @Jefromi - makes sense. Of course, "because I want to" is a perfectly good reason as well, I was just wondering. – Megha Feb 4 '17 at 2:06

The answer of the question has little to do with cooking, and more with knowing how human cognition (= how do we know that we like something) works. To your brain, "X makes me think it tastes better" is the same as "it tastes better", no matter if X is the chemical composition of the drink or the knowledge that the sweetener went there first, or something entirely else.

It is possible that there is some objectively measurable difference in the drink. It is also possible that there is no such difference. In both cases, the outcome is the same - you have some reasons to like the drink sweet first better. Dividing them into "objectively measurable properties of the drink itself" and "anything else" is irrelevant to the outcome (your taste preferences). It specifically does not mean that, if your reasons turn out to be "anything else", your liking is somehow less real, or that you are being silly.

So, the answer is basically tautological. If for you it matters that the sweetened goes in first, then for you it matters that the sweetened goes in first. And it has nothing to do with whether if matters for your friend or not, whether you could taste the difference in a blind test or not, or any other possible tests of the "reality" of your feeling of liking.

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    Except for milk and hot tea. That one matters. – Joe Feb 2 '17 at 15:40
  • @Joe The "milk and hot tea" question has been around before psychology came up as discipline and recognized that human senses are not intended to provide exact unbiased measurements of our environment. In fact, Fisher's exact test is said to have been developed over a "milk first or tea first" argument. But note that the other question asks "is there a measurable difference" and this question asks "am I imagining that it tastes better", which are different things, and I hope my answer here was able to clarify that difference. – rumtscho Feb 2 '17 at 15:44
  • I'm just saying that there are reasons to believe the milk/tea one isn't solely psychological (as pouring the milk into the hot tea may scald the milk slightly, which you don't get the other way around). – Joe Feb 2 '17 at 15:53
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    I thought that this is what you are saying, but my whole point was that dividing it into "solely psychological" and "not solely psychological" is not a constructive way of looking at it - all times I have seen it used, it is used as an argument that liking with "not solely psychological" reasons is somehow different from liking "with solely psychological" reasons, which is simply wrong on a purely factual level. Worse, people also love to imply that liking "for solely psychological reasons" is somehow less worth, or fake, or morally wrong, than liking for measurable reasons. – rumtscho Feb 2 '17 at 15:56
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    @rumtscho : start it with 'you suck', so it's seen as an argument and not a rant? – Joe Feb 2 '17 at 16:07

Pretty minor but sugar tea is more dense so pouring it on top will be a little faster mixing. But just a quick stir will mix the sweetened and unsweetened tea. No stir is not as fast of mixing as you might guess.

You might be using a different ratio when you pour sweetened first.

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    Actually, the different ratios might be quite significant -- if you're pouring over ice, unless the ice comes all the way to the top, it's much more difficult to judge where 'half' is. I've frequently had that problem when trying to cut things with water 50/50. – Joe Feb 2 '17 at 19:19

This is such a pet peeve of mine so I’m loving this question! My personal opinion: When sweet tea is added first (like they do at about every restaurant here in SC since I’ve been here 20+ years) it will just sit at the bottom of the glass (since tea sweetened with sugar is much heavier that tea with nothing added to it) and the unsweetened will not drop down. No big deal if you have a tea spoon handy, but If you get tea thru the drive thru a lot like I do, it’s so inconvenient. When sweet tea is added after the unsweetened it automatically combines, no tea spoon needed!

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