The Art of Making Coffee |July 6, 2021

Small Cup Vs. Big Mug

In our continued quest to have the best cup of coffee, a question came to me by a loyal reader that stopped me in my tracks. Simply…what size cup of coffee is the best? Are small cups better than large ones?

In the last two months, I had just transformed the size of my coffee cup and wondered if someone was spying on me. It is a tough question to talk about as many people are really attached to their daily coffee mugs. It can be both a type of security blanket, a moment of comfort at the start of a long day, and a shield against the cruel and cold world.

It also really depends on where you are in your personal journey of coffee. For many, a giant vessel that delivers the warm, caffeinated elixir is more about what is inside of that person than what is inside of that cup.

The simple answer is the best cup size for coffee is the one that suits your individual needs. Why then do we need to discuss it?

Third-Wave Coffee

If you have heard of the Third-Wave Coffee and wondered what it is, let me first describe it as understood by coffee industry pros. Third-Wave coffee is an understanding of the relationship between the farm, the roaster, and the barista. (Even if you are the barista)

It started with buyers understanding regional differences in the coffee and how better results were achieved by better farming and processing. This led to more sustainable practices, lighter roast profiles, and experimentation with extraction methods, water quality, and temperatures.

Third-Wave Coffee drinkers chase a sweet, complex cup, exalting character and uniqueness, and are willing to pay for that experience. More than anything, the Third Wave is a mindset, which seeks out deep and unique coffee experiences.

Now if that does not describe you, it is ok. Specialty Coffee drinkers all over the world can enjoy a very good cup of coffee without being fanatical about it. I bring it up because Third-Wave Coffee drinkers have trended toward a smaller cup, masterfully grown and processed, and expertly extracted.

I don’t call myself a Third-Wave Coffee drinker because I think it’s annoying, but I certainly have come to appreciate coffee on a whole new level from my early years as a cream and sugar spiked Folgers drinker.

For me, specialty coffee is a high-scoring gourmet coffee (technically over 80 points), but the Third Wave is the experience of enjoying that coffee through its history, origin, culture, process, taste, aroma, and linger.

What Judy Said

Judy likes a couple of cups of coffee in the morning. She has one at home, but usually doesn’t have time to finish it. She starts her day at work with a big mug (20 ounces) while she is checking her mail and getting through the morning routine. About ¾ of the way down, the coffee starts to gets cold and she refills the cup with hot coffee from the pot. If she gets distracted and the cup goes cold, she sometimes heats it up in the microwave although she notices it doesn’t taste as good as it did fresh. For her, a warm mug of comfort is better than nothing.

She tries not to drink coffee after 3PM because it affects her sleep. Occasionally she will have a coffee with dessert if she is out for the weekend and needs a pick me up to get through the evening.

When I look at Judy’s story, I wonder if switching to a smaller cup wouldn’t make her drinking experience better in each case. If she was to start with a 3oz Moka pot extracted cup, she would have time to finish it and use less coffee. She would enjoy the flavor, the caffeine boost and have a chance to finish her small cup.

At work, might she switch to a small espresso cup? Could she not regulate her daily intake differently? Meaning, she could still drink as much coffee but in smaller pours that would allow her to enjoy the small sips and never worry about a cup going bad or microwaving her coffee. (yuck)

Same deal with dessert, an espresso shot has about 40mg of caffeine as opposed to near 80-100mg in a brewed 6oz cup. She would get the boost to get her through the evening, but not to keep her up all night.

So, Where Do We Go From Here?

Now if you see the logic in switching to a smaller cup in her case, consider this. Most people claim that in many cases they enjoy the first few sips of their coffee and after a certain time/temperature drop they are just drinking it because it is there.

In some ways, society has pushed us into believing that more is better and that bigger is preferable.

The way I like to look at it is as “options.” If a big mug works for you and you are satisfied with what you are drinking, then by all means carry on, go forth and do the good work that you do.

If this constant, re-heating, re-filling and lackluster coffee experience connects with you, one of the many options out there to enhance your experience is to try smaller cups. That’s it. While it may seem obvious, until someone suggests it, it may never have crossed your mind to use small cups instead of large ones.

My Personal Transformation

Now considering that I work around coffee all day, my small cups (1.5oz) have really allowed me to appreciate the few sips I get. I can drink it at a consistent temperature, spread out my 8oz cup over a longer period of time which has helped my body process the caffeine in a way that feels better for me. Overall (I switched about 2 months ago) I am enjoying this new method, and look forward to seeing where it takes me. Happy sipping!

7 thoughts on “Small Cup vs. Big Mug

  1. Keith R Snyder says:

    While I get the reasoning, I’ll just keep my mug. I drink my coffee hot, but if it cools off, I still enjoy it. Rarely does my glass or mug get put down long enough to get cold though. Since I’m the only coffee drinker at home I use an Aeropress except when I have company, so my double-walled glass isn’t completely full. At work I drink plenty more and the mug is just the right size — over and over again. If I’m starting to get “coffee’d out,” I can always pour less. I have not come across this Third Wave of which you write. My buddies and I just drink coffee and enjoy it.

    1. Matt Carter says:

      Aewsome. Happy Drinking!

  2. Jim says:

    I enjoy coffee but get coffee jitters when drinking too much. Is there a recommended decaf brand or a “weak caf” brand you could recommend?

    1. Matt Carter says:

      We recommend the Swiss Water processed decaf.

  3. Zoe says:

    You present some interesting concepts! I switch my cup daily, depending on my mood. Sometimes I want a small fancy cup and other times I’ll take that big mug. Either way, my coffee always gets cold, whether in the cup or in the pot. I use a small French press and inevitably, whatever size my second cup of coffee is, it’s cold, and yes, I do breakdown and microwave it for lack of a better process. How do you recommend keeping coffee warm if I don’t have a pot plugged into an outlet?

  4. Matt Carter says:

    Hi Zoe! There are a couple of strategies you can employ to avoid microwaving your coffee. One is to make a smaller cup. Are you familiar with the Bialetti Moka pot? The small one makes 3oz of coffee like an espresso shot that can be either diluted with hot water(Americano style) drunk black and also takes milk well. Sure to stay hot for breakfast. If you need a second cup you can make another without much trouble. They also sell French presses with double walls to preserve heat. However, my personal preference is to use a small french press and if I want another cup just start over. What you gain in the convenience of making two cups at once you end up losing in flavor and overall enjoyment. As you said, depending on your mood, some days making two cups is no problem and other days a chore.

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