Best Coffee Cup Material: Ceramic vs Glass vs Steel vs Plastic

Most of us can’t start our day without that delicious, aromatic cup of coffee. According to the National Coffee Association, we drink an average of 1,100 cups of coffee each year.

Coffee has become the second most consumed beverage in the world, coming in after bottled water. It’s the second most traded commodity worldwide, after oil. That’s how much we need and love coffee.

So it’s important we find the best coffee cup material for our favorite drink.

How to Choose the Best Coffee Cup Material

We love coffee. We can drink it hot or iced (How Is Iced Coffee Made?). There’s coffee with milk and sugar, or just black with nothing added to it. There’s mocha, macchiato, frappé, cappuccino, espresso, and the list goes on and on. You can in many cases substitute the dairy milk for soy milk in your coffee if you prefer!

But have you ever thought about what type of material your coffee cup is made of? There’s a lot to consider when choosing the best coffee cup material. The first thing you think about is the size of your mug. Then you look at the color and design. But before you pick the first pretty mug you see, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is it durable?
  • Can it be used as a travel mug?
  • Does it retain heat?
  • Can you use it in the microwave?
  • Is it dishwasher-safe?
  • Is the price affordable?

What Kind of Cups Can You Get?

We reviewed the main types of coffee cup materials. We checked to see if there’s one type that makes your coffee taste and smell better than the others. So let’s dive in!

  • Paper
  • Stainless steel
  • Glass
  • Ceramic
  • Plastic
  • Melamine

Melamine is one of those types of material that don’t get their fair share of attention. However, it’s considered one of the best materials for coffee cups. Melamine cups are durable, microwave-safe, and easy to clean either by hand or in your dishwasher.

They’re also good insulators. Melamine coffee cups keep your coffee warm without the fear of scalding your hand. This material is one of the most affordable types of best coffee cup material.

The downside to melamine is that you shouldn’t heat your coffee in it. The science behind it is that melamine is a chemical compound that can seep harmful chemicals into your drink.

Why Does Coffee Taste Better in a Ceramic Mug?

A ceramic mug gives the perception that you’re drinking your coffee in a serene, calm setting. We connect the color, size, and weight of the mug with a great cup of coffee. We also feel the texture of the ceramic cup in our hand, and how it keeps our coffee warm for a long time. Our brain registers all that in a few milliseconds.

While ceramic coffee mugs are porous, they’re also a neutral material, which is great at retaining the taste of your coffee. They’re also easy to clean and microwave-safe.

Another great advantage of drinking coffee in a ceramic mug is that it’s a neutral type of material. It doesn’t absorb any of the liquid or leak anything into it. In a ceramic mug, coffee tastes exactly as it should, rich, pure, and delicious.

However, they can easily shatter. This makes them not ideal as travel mugs. Plus, they retain flavors from previous drinks, so make sure you set aside one special ceramic cup for your coffee.

What Is the Difference Between Coffee and Espresso?

Are Stainless Steel Mugs Good for Coffee?

Stainless steel coffee cups are very versatile. They can be used as travel mugs if you’re used to drinking your coffee on-the-go. Stainless steel is non-porous, durable, and a good insulator 

The negative side effect of using stainless steel is that its inner lining may break down and seep into your coffee. There is a number of components in your coffee that can be negatively affected by steel. This can give your coffee a weird taste and smell.

Also, you can’t put it in the microwave to warm up your coffee. Stainless steel can damage your microwave.

Does Plastic Give the Coffee a Different Taste?

Plastic cups are cheap and convenient. They’re also lightweight compared to other types of coffee cups. But anything made of plastic contains chemical materials that don’t react well to hot liquid. This increases the risk of the cup’s inner lining slowly breaking down into your drink and releasing harmful chemicals.

Plus, it absorbs flavors and odors. This affects the taste and smell of your coffee. Even with cold liquids, plastic seems to change how drinks taste and smell. Plus, plastic is bad for your health and for our environment.

Is Glass Good for a Coffee Mug?

Glass is one of the best materials for coffee cups. When you use a glass coffee cup, you know your coffee will smell and taste exactly as it should, because it’s a neutral type of material. Glass is non-porous. This makes it easy to clean and maintain. You can place it in the microwave and dishwasher. Another great advantage is that the glass is recyclable and eco-friendly.

There are two main problems that come up with glass coffee cups. The first thing is that they don’t retain heat well. Even ice coffee will warm up quicker than other types of coffee cups. Plus, it can be dangerous to touch your glass coffee cup when you’ve just poured your hot coffee.

The second problem is that they’re fragile and can easily break. The most durable type of glass to look for is either tempered or borosilicate glass.

Is Paper Better than Styrofoam for Coffee?

While you’re out and about doing your shopping and getting your chores done, you’ll see all types of cafés and coffee shops selling their delicious coffee. And since people want to take their coffee with them, there will also be a lot of to-go coffee cups.

These mostly come in two choices: paper or styrofoam. So which is better?

Paper coffee cups are on the thin side. So when you first get your hot cup of coffee, you’ll probably need a sleeve to protect your hands. At the same time, your coffee will quickly cool down because the paper isn’t good at retaining heat.

While it may seem like the most eco-friendly way to drink your coffee, paper cups have some disadvantages. Paper is porous. It easily absorbs flavors and that can give your coffee a bitter aftertaste.

Plus, paper cups aren’t very good insulators. It’s difficult to maintain the temperature of your coffee, whether it’s hot or cold. On top of that, there’s a chance you can end up scalding your hand if you touch the paper cup just after pouring your hot coffee.

Someone thought of a solution to this problem and came up with paper cups that have air pocket insulation. These get rid of the need for cup sleeves. They have two layers separated by air to protect your hands and keep your coffee warm.

Another disadvantage is that paper cups are disposable. They’re temporary and give you the impression that you’re in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable setting.

Styrofoam is thicker so it can act as a good insulator, which means your coffee stays warm longer. But it’s not as aesthetically pleasing. Plus, it may change the way your coffee tastes and smells.

The problem with styrofoam is that it’s not biodegradable. This makes it a hazard to our health and environment. But contrary to what many people think, a good number of paper cups designed specifically for hot drinks might be even more damaging to our environment than styrofoam cups.

Most paper cups are given a coat of paraffin wax to boost their durability. The wax prevents them from degrading or breaking down naturally.

Which Type of Cup Keeps Coffee Hottest the Longest?

Coffee is at its finest when it’s still hot and delicious. Once it cools down, you can definitely feel a change in its taste and texture. This is why it’s important to find the perfect coffee cup to keep your coffee hot and delicious for a long time.

If you want something that keeps your coffee hot for a long time, then ceramic mugs are your best choice. They also come in a variety of stylish designs and colors. So if you plan on choosing something for enjoying coffee at home, then go with a ceramic-based coffee cup.

The runner-up is steel. It’s a great material that makes coffee cups versatile and durable. So if you need to take your coffee with you, they’re the best materials for travel mugs.

What is Pour-Over Coffee?

The Science Behind Finding the Best Coffee Cup Material

Before we take a sip of our coffee, our eyes take in the color of the mug, as well as its size and shape. The presentation governs how our coffee tastes.

Flavour” journal carried out a scientific study on how the color of a coffee mug can change the flavor of our coffee. Using three baseline colors, white, blue, and transparent, they set off to prove that presentation dictates how we taste food and drinks.

The experiment consisted of several variables, but the colors remained consistent. Those who tried the coffee in the white mug recorded how intense the coffee tasted. They also remarked that it was less sweet than the coffee in the other mugs.

It could be that our eyes see the stark contrast between white and dark coffee (What are the differences between Black and White Coffee?), and instantly assume the coffee will be bitter. The blue color and the transparent mug seemed to enhance the sweetness of the drink, while at the same time, giving it a less intense taste.

Another study was carried out to test the heat intensity of different colored mugs, red, blue, green, and yellow. The participants waited in one room while coffee was poured in the four mugs at the same time in a different room. Then the participants were asked to enter the room and choose the mug with the warmest coffee. Over 40% picked the red mug. They seemed to associate the color red with heat, even though the rest of the mugs were exactly the same temperature.

There’s also a belief that the shape of the coffee cup may also affect how your coffee tastes and smells. This was carried out in a similar online multi-cultural study. The study showed that wide-mouthed coffee mugs make you feel that your coffee is sweeter, while coffee presented in narrow coffee cups were seen to be more aromatic.

These results prove that we perceive quality through context.

Coffee Cup Inventions that Have Made Our Lives Easier

In 1981, the coffee-making industry was blown away with the introduction of the first-ever coffee cup with a lid. It was invented by The Dart Container Corporation. Even though it was an immediate success, it had to go through years of further development to reach the beautifully engineered way it looks now.

Another great invention was the coffee cup sleeve. It was invented by Jay Sorensen and first appeared on the market in 1991 

Other cool inventions are the ceramic Lock-Cup for those who share workspace and don’t want others to use their coffee mug. The idea is simple. It has a hole in the middle that prevents anyone from using it. The only way to close that hole is with the key that comes with the mug.

Those who enjoy drinking their coffee while munching on cookies have the handy Cookie Mug. It’s a ceramic mug with a nook at the bottom for holding your cookies. It eliminates the need for plates. Another benefit is that since space isn’t too big, it limits the number of cookies you eat, which is great for your health. It comes in different shapes and designs. Some even come with side pockets to hold your cookies.

There are stainless steel travel mugs you can heat up in your car. There are also high-tech coffee mugs that can be pre-programmed to self-heat. These digital mugs are able to reach a certain temperature at a certain time. They come with a charging coaster.

Ceramic mugs that can change color or designs as they heat up are also a fun and unique invention. They’re heat sensitive. This means they change color when you add hot liquid. Some even change into a beautiful picture of your choosing.

Final Thoughts

Finding the best coffee cup material is just as important as the type of coffee you’re drinking.

There are so many options to choose from that it can be hard to know whether you’re making the right decision. Some are reusable but aren’t good insulators, such as styrofoam, paper, and plastic coffee cups. They also leave a weird aftertaste in our coffee.

At the same time, there are other types of materials that are eco-friendly and can be recycled, such as glass and ceramic coffee cups. But they’re fragile and can break easily.

Our top picks for the best coffee cup material in order are ceramic, glass, then stainless steel. Paper, styrofoam, and plastic should be a last resort if nothing else is available. But, bear in mind that they’re not good for the environment. They also pose a risk to our health.

Now that you know all there is to know about the different materials for coffee cups, it’s up to you to decide on the best coffee cup material for you.

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