What is important in a coffee cup?

Published 24 September 2019
Billions of people everywhere enjoy coffee from paper cups on-the-go, at cafés or at work daily, but what do they really think and feel about the cups? Our insight study from the United Kingdom and Germany provides interesting answers.
The research included a survey to coffee consumers and interviews with different stakeholders such as coffee industry experts, baristas, waste management experts, social scientists and sustainability influencers. The results show that the cup experience matters a lot, but in ways that are not immediately obvious.

A haptic and social experience

Drinking coffee is a haptic experience, meaning that sense of touch plays an important role. Cups perform a vital function, and a flimsy cup can lead to an 8% drop in perception of the quality of the coffee. The cup needs to keep coffee warm, as well as warming the hands of the drinker - but without burning. The inside of the cup could be used for a surprise effect, as most people tend to remove the lid to see and smell the coffee! 

According to psychologists, drinking warm coffee also affects the way people interact with others. 
“If your cup is made from a material that the consumer associates with natural, authentic or homemade qualities, then you’ll convey those attributes and produce that feeling in others,” one of the interviewed experts explained. 

A cup says something about the person holding it – there are millions of Instagram posts hashtagged with #coffee, and almost two thirds of people under 40 share pictures of their take-away coffee on social media. More than a third of Germans and two out of five Brits choose to drink coffee in take-away cups even when remaining at the café. In this era of social sharing, posting a picture from a popular café with a branded cup in your hand communicates your lifestyle. The printable surface of a paper cup is a great media: the brand is just a short distance from the consumer who even shares it socially.

Paper cups are convenient and hygienic

For both experts and consumers, plastic cups are out (for obvious reasons), whereas paper cups are more acceptable. According to our study, British consumers in particular prefer paper cups over reusable cups as paper cups are more convenient and hygienic. 

Several experts point out that media criticism of paper cups is not fact-based, and that the value chain is working hard to take responsibility for recovering and recycling the fibres from these cups. There is an industry-wide acknowledgment of the need for a more collaborative effort in the paper cup value chain to protect against public misinformation. Adding information on how to recycle cups directly to the cup itself is therefore an easy win.