I usually drink double espressos and they always seem to taste much better out of a ceramic cup compared to take-away paper cups. I ordered 2 back to back from the same shop within half an hour yesterday, one in a ceramic cup and one to go (I have a coffee drinking problem...) and the difference was still there - so same barista, machine, beans etc. Why is this? For sushi you are told not to eat it with a metal fork since it will supposedly taint the taste, so could this be similar?

  • Hello and welcome to Coffee! Is this a small, conventional, waxed paper cup, or is it something special? What kind of difference do you notice between the cups -- e.g., mouthfeel/astringency, bitterness, sourness? Despite the similarity of the situation (same barista, etc.) you might still be getting a slightly different product from one pull to the next. Separately, you use the sushi tainting clearly as just an analogy, but I haven't heard that; you could probably roll that into a question at Seasoned Advice! :) – hoc_age Mar 20 '15 at 13:53
  • Hi, it's a standard paper cup you get at most places serving take away beverages. I'm assuming it's waxed but I'm not 100% sure . I've experienced this many times, the situation where I ordered 2 drinks back to back was only an example. The sushi example seems reasonable as you can take a fork and lick it and you'll taste metal. I've been advised not to do it in several restaurants so far (eating sushi with forks, not licking them) :) I don't know whether this reasoning is true though or whether it's just an etiquette thing. – schvaba Mar 20 '15 at 14:13

Both cup material and temperature are in play here, I think.

A big part of the coffee taste (and experience as a whole) is the aroma. I personally find that paper cups (not surprisingly) smell and taste like paper. Ceramic (or glass, porcelain, etc.) should be practically neutral. Any smell you get from the cup could affect the perception of taste of the contained beverage. If the cup has a plastic lid, that could contribute both to its own smell, or holding-in / reducing the coffee aroma that you smell, also. (Aside: there are some interesting links to the physiology of smell and taste interplay at the Wikipedia article on taste.)

The very experience of drinking from a paper cup versus a ceramic cup is different; heft, shape, handle, other aesthetics, etc., though this probably reduces to personal preference. For example, I find sometimes that my lip sticks to the outside of the paper cup, which is unpleasant (to me, anyway :). A plastic lid could be a factor here as well.

Temperature may also be a factor. For example, temperature can affect the perception of bitterness. A properly pre-heated ceramic cup/demitasse will help the brewed coffee be at a consistent temperature (without shocking it after pull) and keep it warmer for longer (so it doesn't cool down too quickly). Such temperature changes could result in a difference in taste; keeping brewed coffee at a consistent temperature is recommended -- that and some other general properties are listed here. Temperature stability of the brew will probably be different between paper and ceramic.

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    Thanks, especially for the coffee faq link :) I had no idea that temperature fluctuations were that important but this makes a lot of sense. Also the smell, I definitely smell paper while drinking as well. One thing I forgot to mention was that the cups at my coffee dealer are brown, and according to this that might make a difference as well. – schvaba Mar 20 '15 at 14:42
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    Temperature can affect, for example, the perception of bitterness (link added above). Interplay between things like smell, taste, and temperature is (to me) fascinating. In that vein, the link you sent is fantastic -- suggesting that the color of the vessel influences the perception and experience -- thanks for posting! – hoc_age Mar 20 '15 at 14:57
  • It is, it also seems to be a science on its own :) Also if you check the references section of that article you'll see that there is quite a lot of work on this topic apparently. – schvaba Mar 20 '15 at 15:54

Keep in mind that paper cups are manufactured. I have been in industrial plants my whole career. There are odors, vapors and minute particles in the air that get packaged with the product. They are not harmful per say but are released into the hot beverage on contact and could likely impart a flavor.

  • Makes sense, I guess that's what they are trying to avoid by waxing the cups. I think it's strange though that serious coffee shops (this one offers, courses on coffee history, prep, barista techniques etc.) don't mention this anywhere. – schvaba Mar 20 '15 at 16:02

We at Delpac manufacture paper coffee cups. The inside of the paper is PE polyethylene coated (not wax). There should not be a taste per se from this material but there is a different "experience" from using a ceramic cup or mug.

  • I guess the question was why there is a difference. – Ivan Kapitonov Nov 21 '15 at 0:35
  • I guess it could be subjective, but for me the taste differs. The "experience" could have an effect though. – schvaba Dec 10 '15 at 13:07

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