Espresso shot being poured into a breakfast cup
Espresso shot being poured into a breakfast cup

A coffee cup is a container that coffee and espresso-based drinks are served in. Coffee cups are typically made of glazed ceramic, and have a single handle for portability while the beverage is hot. Ceramic construction allows a beverage to be drunk while hot, providing insulation to the beverage, and quickly washed with cold water without fear of breakage, compared to typical glassware.

A coffee cup may also be a disposable cup in which hot beverages, including coffee, can be contained. Disposable coffee cups may be made out of paper or polystyrene foam. At coffee shops, paper cups are commonly used to give beverages to customers on the go, usually with a coffee cup sleeve to provide insulation against heat transferred through the container.

A new alternative trend sees consumers purchasing reusable coffee cups instead of disposable cups as a more sustainable approach to coffee consumption becomes more popular. These can include bamboo cups, americano cups made from polypropylene as well as other organic materials such as starch and paper pulp. Research shows that only 1 in 400 single-use cups are recycled and media coverage has encouraged consumers to look for alternatives.[1]


In the past, other materials which have been used to make coffee cups are carved bone, clay, wood, strengthened glass, metal, ceramic and porcelain.[2]

Coffee cup lids

Usually made of plastic, the first patent for a coffee cup lid design was filed in 1967, and focused on creating a tight seal between the cup and the lid to reduce leaking and a vent hole to allow steam to escape.[3][4][5] However, there was no opening for drinking, and the consumer would have to tear into the lid.[6] In 1986, the Solo Traveler lid was created; it is found in the Museum of Modern Art's 2004 exhibit "Humble Masterpieces".[7][8] Recent lid designs like the Viora have improved on Solo Traveler's design, which has too small a vent to allow sufficient air to enter while drinking.[4] Louise Harpman, co-owner of the world's largest collection of coffee cup lids and co-author of the book Coffee Lids (Princeton Architectural Press, 2018), suggests that coffee cup lids "represent a major shift in American 'to-go' culture".[9]

Shapes and sizes

Cafe drinkware

A paper coffee cup

There are cafe cups in various sizes, standardized to reflect paper cup sizes. There are even cafe cups for people who spend their time traveling. They are typically 225, 336, 460 and sometimes 570 ml. Slight variation is to be expected among various coffeehouses, but these sizes are the standard. These are the cups that house mochas, lattes, and other coffee drinks. These cups are also made of porcelain and shaped to encourage and aid in creating latte art.


Traditional 6 oz cappuccino served in a ceramic cup, on a saucer, with a spoon and napkin
Traditional 6 oz cappuccino served in a ceramic cup, on a saucer, with a spoon and napkin

The cappuccino is served in its own cup, a 171 ml porcelain cup served on an accompanying saucer. The size of the cup reflects the traditional cappuccino, a drink with a 1:1:1 ratio. 57 ml espresso, 57 ml steamed milk, 57 ml integrated foam.[10]


The demitasse is a cup specially crafted for espresso. It is 60-80 ml in capacity, and usually served on a saucer. The macchiato, made up of a shot of espresso and a dash of steamed milk, is also served in a demitasse.

Gibraltar or cortado

Some shops serve a cortado in a 4-ounce Libbey Gibraltar glass, calling the drink a Gibraltar.[11]

Shape innovation

NASA designed "Space Cups" for use by astronauts in the International Space Station. The specially-shaped coffee cups, which are 3D printed, can be used to replace the old method of drinking liquids in space by sucking them out of a bag. The sharp inner corner of the Space Cup allows the liquid to flow toward the drinker's lips through capillary flow. The data from experiments conducted with Space Cups can be used to better the design of fluid systems used in space, such as toilets, oxygen, air conditioning, and water coolants. The data can also be applied to societal uses of fluid systems on Earth, such as improving the design of portable medical blood testers for infectious diseases.[12]


Latte with latte art in a 12 oz ceramic cup
Latte with latte art in a 12 oz ceramic cup
Turkish coffee set containing a coffee cup (fildjan), a coffee pot (cezve) and a sugar bowl, as traditionally served in Bosnia and Herzegovina
Turkish coffee set containing a coffee cup (fildjan), a coffee pot (cezve) and a sugar bowl, as traditionally served in Bosnia and Herzegovina


Porcelain allows for heat retention and crema preservation. However, porcelain cools down quickly due to air bubbles in the cup. Crema is the coffee foam at the top of a shot of espresso. Preserving it in cups allows for latte art to occur in milk based espresso drinks.[citation needed]


Ceramic is a general term for all clay materials excluding porcelain. It is a sturdier material than porcelain, and since the material is thicker the cup walls have better heat retention abilities. Ceramic is a preferred material when the coffee cup must be more robust and resistant to damage.

Coffee cups selling on Indian Street, Kolkata, West Bengal, India
Coffee cups selling on Indian Street, Kolkata, West Bengal, India


Paper cups may be lined with wax or plastic to prevent leakage. The Anthora paper cup designed by Leslie Buck for the Sherri Cup Company in 1963 is recognized as an iconic part of New York City daily life.[13][14] Unfortunately, the plastic-lined cups, although accepted by a few composting facilities, produce plastic fragments and contaminate the ecosystems where they are processed.[15] Once the plastic contaminates the environment, it has not shown to biodegrade, and after a lot of accumulation it will be nearly impossible to clean up.[15] Moreover, paper coffee cups release trillions of microplastics-nanoparticles per liter into the water during normal use as they are lined with a thin plastic film inside.[16][17]


Bamboo coffee cups, promoted as a "natural" product, are made of powdered bamboo fibres suspended in a glue containing melamine and formaldehyde. German consumer group Stiftung Warentest has raised concerns that the use of these substances make such cups a health hazard when used for hot drinks.[18]


Polystyrene, sometimes known as styrofoam (not to be confused with the trademarked brand name Styrofoam), is used mostly because of its insulating abilities. The use of polystyrene is controversial in coffee cups and other containers because it is non-biodegradable,[19][20] a major part of marine litter,[21] difficult to recycle, and has various health risks. It is banned as a food and drink container in several U.S. cities including Portland, Ore.; San Francisco, Calif.; and Amherst, Mass.[22] Many more cities are proposing banning the cups. The doughnut company and coffeehouse chain, Dunkin' Donuts, has been criticized for continuing to use styrofoam cups. The company has argued that there is no other material that is as insulated,[23] and has an official statement about their foam cups on their website.[24] However, they have begun phasing in doubled-walled paper cups designed to look like their signature foam cup.[25]

Coffee cup sleeve

Main article: Coffee cup sleeve

Coffee cup sleeves are roughly cylindrical sleeves that fit tightly over handle-less paper coffee cups to insulate the drinker's hands from hot coffee. The coffee sleeve was invented and patented by Jay Sorensen in 1993 and are now commonly utilized by coffee houses and other vendors that sell hot beverages dispensed in disposable paper cups. Coffee sleeves are typically made of textured paperboard, but can be found made of other materials.


  1. ^ "Just one in 400 coffee cups are recycled even if you put them in recycling bin, poll finds". The Telegraph. 2017-04-06.
  2. ^ "History of the Coffee Mug". Whole Latte Love. September 1, 2019. Retrieved 24 August 2019.
  3. ^ Garber, Megan (2011-05-09). "The Rise of the Plastic, Disposable Coffee Cup Lid - Nicola Twilley". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  4. ^ a b "To-Go Cup Lid Makers Hoping to Capitalize On 'Third Wave' Success". Roast Magazine. 2014-05-02. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  5. ^ "Patent US3421681 - Cup and lid - Google Patents". Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  6. ^ Kennedy, Pagan (2013-10-25). "Who Made That Coffee Lid?". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "Patent US4589569 - Lid for drinking cup - Google Patents". 1983-10-24. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  8. ^ "Humble Masterpieces". MoMA. 2004-09-27. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  9. ^ "History, Travel, Arts, Science, People, Places". Smithsonian. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  10. ^ "cappuccino: definition of cappuccino in Oxford dictionary (American English) (US)". 2014-05-14. Archived from the original on December 31, 2013. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  11. ^ Nguyen, Tien (2011-02-10). "Drink This Now: Cognoscenti Coffee's On-the-Menu Cortado". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2020-12-19.
  12. ^ Regan, Helen (4 May 2015). "Astronauts Now Enjoy Espresso Out of Special Cups". Time. Retrieved 6 May 2015.
  13. ^ Fox, Margalit (2010-04-29). "Leslie Buck, Designer of Iconic Coffee Cup, Dies at 87". The New York Times.
  14. ^ "Urban History to Go: Black, No Sugar". The New York Times. 2005-06-26.
  15. ^ a b Brinton, Will (April 2016). "The Environmental Hazards Inherent in the Composting of Plastic-Coated Paper Products" (PDF).
  16. ^ "Take-out coffee cups may be shedding trillions of plastic nanoparticles, study says". UPI. Retrieved 14 May 2022.
  17. ^ Zangmeister, Christopher D.; Radney, James G.; Benkstein, Kurt D.; Kalanyan, Berc (3 May 2022). "Common Single-Use Consumer Plastic Products Release Trillions of Sub-100 nm Nanoparticles per Liter into Water during Normal Use". Environmental Science & Technology. 56 (9): 5448–5455. Bibcode:2022EnST...56.5448Z. doi:10.1021/acs.est.1c06768. ISSN 0013-936X. PMID 35441513. S2CID 248263169.
  18. ^ "Die meisten setzen hohe Mengen an Schadstoffen frei" (in German). Stiftung Warentest. 23 July 2019.
  19. ^ "Drinking Coffee in a Styrofoam Cup? Pour It Out". Rodale News. Archived from the original on 2013-07-07. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  20. ^ Bandyopadhyay, A.; Basak, G. Chandra (2007). "Studies on photocatalytic degradation of polystyrene". Materials Science and Technology. Maney Online. 23 (3): 307–314. doi:10.1179/174328407X158640. S2CID 137115006.
  21. ^ "Marine Litter". Archived from the original on 2013-03-23.
  22. ^ Matthew Daneman (21 December 2013). "More cities ban polystyrene foam, citing environment". USA Today.
  23. ^ "Dunkin' Donuts Opposes Proposed Somerville Styrofoam Ban". Somerville, Massachusetts Patch. 2013-02-28.
  24. ^ "FAQs".
  25. ^ "Dunkin' Donuts introduces paper coffee cups in Brookline - Business". The Boston Globe.