Does Cup Size Matter?
Despite the double entendre that may have flashed across your mind when you read that title, today we are talking about coffee cups. Does it matter what size cup you use? Do you need to think about cup choice? The answer is yes to both, and you may be surprised how much can be involved in proper cup selection.
First Things First
The most obvious point about cup size is that it will determine the amount of coffee grounds you will use. If you are using a coffee maker then each line on your carafe represents 6 ounces. You’re going to calculate the grounds to water ratio based on how many 6-ounce cups you are making.
If you are doing a pour-over directly into the cup, you will need to know how much the cup holds to determine the proper ratio of coffee.
If you are using a French press or an AeroPress and are pouring coffee for two, you’ll need to select the proper cup size for the brewing device.
I think these are all fairly obvious and straightforward.
The Perfect Cup for the Perfect Drink
Just as Champagne has a traditional glass (the flute) that is different from a wine or cocktail glass, coffee drinks are traditionally served according to the type of drink.
If you are serving shots (or double shots) of espresso, you want to use a cup that allows for a small amount of liquid (1.5-3.0 ounces). Here, a 6-ounce cup would seem half full whereas a 4-ounce cup or glass would seem like a full drink.
A cappuccino is traditionally served in a 6-ounce cup as the espresso shot is standard, but the cup limits the amount of milk foam that is allowed to be added to prevent diluting your coffee too much.
6-8 ounces is considered a standard up in the U.S. for standard drip-brewed coffee.
Most of the tumblers available for on-the-go coffee are 16-20 ounces, so you’re basically carrying around two cups of coffee with you.
Certainly, cafes and restaurants are going to be more concerned with the perfect presentation of their coffee drinks and cup size, but there are times when a little knowledge and forethought may help you become a better coffee consumer.
Serving Coffee to Guests
When friends or family visit, coffee is an important part of our lives and we make sure our guests enjoy incredible cups of coffee.
When you have multiple guests for a sit-down breakfast, it’s ideal to match the cups and have a cohesive look. Our go-to in this case is a large carafe (32 ounces) and matching 6-ounce cups that guests can serve themselves. The coffee in the carafe can be dripped or French pressed, but having it on the table ready is helpful.
During the holidays, our adult kids may all want something different and I find big mismatched mugs help everyone keep track of their own drink, whether they are enjoying a Pink Mocha or an Eggnog Latte.
Come dessert, we always go way down in cup size, and I mean way down. Coffee is well-known to disrupt sleep patterns, (save the anomalous few who caffeine does not affect) so smaller cups (3-4 ounces) allow us to enjoy a petit café with dessert and not be up all night. Please remember that when you are ordering coffee at a restaurant with the dessert course. A shot of expresso has roughly 40 milligrams of caffeine while an 8-ounce drip brew has 110-130 milligrams.
Cooling, Comfort, and Aromatics
There is a lot of debate on how much cup size and shape influence the cooling of the coffee as well as the way it drinks, especially in terms of how aromatics approach the nose.
Others claim the most important thing is how the mug or cup feels in your hand and suggest that comfort is the most important thing.
So, if I had a big lumberjack friend with large hands, should I be sensitive to the coffee cup I offer? Food for thought.
There is some science to support cups with non-flared rims (meaning it doesn’t get wider toward the top) allowing aromas to flow upward easier with each sip. In a hot beverage, however, steam will rise. The wider-rimmed cups are certainly easier to drink from.
If you think I’m crazy, read through this list of the best coffee cups of 2022 and see how much design and care goes into each mug.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
Thinking back on college days when we drank from mason jars, used plastic McDonald’s cups and a random assortment of abandoned drink vessels randomly collected in our house, it’s fair to say we cared less about the vehicle and more about the contents.
If you take anything away from this article, please let it be this. As you move into higher levels of coffee and enjoy finer flavors and nuance, take a moment to consider the vessel that brings you your brew.
Size, shape, material, design, comfort, and capacity all connect to that moment and experience, and your cup may help your coffee be its best.
About the Author
Matt Carter is a retired teacher (1989-2018), a part-time musician, farmer, and currently manages Greenwell Farms Tour and Retail Store Operations.