There's no such thing as an optimal font size. Looking for one means that you're forgetting something important: legibility of text is not solely a product of size.
I've built around a dozen websites as a UI designer in the past five years, and they've all had different audiences. One of the things I found was that size isn't the biggest factor. It's a combination of different aspects related to displaying text:
- font family
- line height
- position on the page
Combining these leads to a rough metric for overall legibility and I've found that to be the most important design target for text.
As an anecdote from testing (since you asked): I worked on a community site with 700k monthly visits where the main audience was non-computer savvy users. We used 12px Verdana for body type and 14px-16px Arial for titles. Occasionally we would drop to 11px Verdana in grey for less important text. When doing usability tests on the site, we received feedback not about the size of the text, but about how the surrounding colours of the design made it feel like you were staring into a lamp. We interpreted this as the site being too bright and adjusted the contrast of the entire design to be less bright. Partially due to these changes and partially due to changes in the navigational structure, we saw a significant month-on-month increase in pageviews per visitor.
One thing to remember about small font sizes is that they have a purpose: when you need something to be smaller than something else (duh!). But as a UI designer it's important to remember that your job is to create clarity and usability (amongst other things) in the interface, and that by de-emphasizing some elements of the UI you can improve its usability. It's up to you to decide which elements should be scaled down, and which aspects of the text should be modified (from my list above).