Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What's the best Cup Shape?

The cup that holds your coffee contributes a great deal to how much you are going to enjoy your coffee. Even the best coffees in a bad cup can lose their appeal, and even diner coffee can be a guilty pleasure because it is often served in a very comforting mug.

A couple weeks ago we looked at figuring out what the best material for your coffee cup is. Although there are some exceptions (double walled glass cups, insulated metal cups, etc.) I generally prefer drinking out of ceramic cups.

This week we are going to explore some common shapes that coffee cups are formed into and evaluate the relative merits of each.

Round Cup
The round cup is the most common cup shape you will find. When you think of a cappuccino cup this will often be the first thing that comes to mind. If you go to a major espresso chain this will almost always be the cup shape they offer, and there is a good reason for it. This shape allows the espresso to mix well, and if you are adding milk you have more control. This cup also has a wider mouth which gives you more room to play around with latte art if you like to do that sort of thing. I love to drink coffee of all kinds out of this cup. A cup of drip is very good in it as well. There are, however, a few potential downsides to a round cup.
  1. Round cups generally allow more heat out. There is a big wide open mouth at the top which means heat will escape more easily. This might be a good thing if you like to taste how the coffee flavours change as the coffee cools, but if you are simply hoping to sip on coffee as you work or read the loss of heat might  be annoying. To counter this it's best to get round mugs with THICK walls. This will help keep the heat in. Another thing you can do is preheat the cup before you add coffee to it. This will help the coffee maintain it's temperature rather then having it leached into the ceramic.
  2. A round cup makes it more difficult to get a good smell of the coffee. The wide mouth means that the aroma is less concentrated and getting a god smell requires you getting your nose right in the cup.
Tulip Cup
The tulip shaped cup should not be confused with the "tulip" shape that you see in brandy glasses. The brandy cup has lips that curve over the liquid in order to trap the maximum amount of aroma in the glass.  Coffee cups in the tulip shape don't employ this strategy, although they do contain aromas better then round cups. The tulip cup is a great cup of you want your coffee to retain heat, but still have room to be creative with latte art near the top. It is tapered in a special way so the top of the cup maintains a reasonably large canvas for latte art, but is not so wide open that heat escapes. Tulips also are less common so they can give your customers a more unique experience and set your cafe apart. There are some disadvantages to a cup like this though.
  1. There is a tendency for espresso and milk to form into layers more easily with the tulip.
  2. Pouring into a tulip is less smooth. There are hard edges or more extreme angles that you have to deal with. This can make it difficult to get the milk to behave when you are pouring it.

The Traditional Mug
Most people are used to drinking coffee out of a mug. Offering a high quality mug, thick walled, dinner style mug, can be a great way to give your coffee a comforting feel to the consumer. These are generally great options for seving drip coffee, but less great for serving espresso.
  1. Things don't mix well in them
  2. They are awkward to pour into
  3. They don't often come with saucers
  4. Expanded milk gets trapped at the edge and people aren't able to enjoy the foamy part of a drink as easily
  5. They make people feel comfortable when they are drinking coffee, but when people are drinking espresso based beverages they often feel like it's "cheap."

You don't need to choose just one. You can choose to buy a set of tulip demitasses for espresso, round cups for lattes and mugs for coffee. These cups come in most sizes so have fun.


  1. What about a cup with strait up and down sides but a bottom that curves in so that it would be rounded in the bottom inside? I want to make some espresso cups , so I am looking for the best shape

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