Why coffee tastes different in steel, plastic, and ceramic mugs

Have you ever thought your coffee tasted better when drinking out of a nice mug at a quaint coffee shop?

Well, your taste buds are not deceiving you. There are reasons that drinking from cups made of different materials will affect how your coffee tastes. And it’s not just coffee. All the utensils, dinnerware, and containers can affect the taste of the food and drink you are consuming. All materials react with each other and can change the flavor of what you are putting inside your body.

Taste is just one factor that can be affected by what your mug is made out of and it will be what we are focusing on today. Taste can be affected by a lot of things. You may be making your coffee bland and flavorless without even knowing.

Today, we will be learning why your coffee tastes different depending on your cup and which material is the best for your favorite brew.

Why coffee tastes better in a ceramic cup

There have been studies done that show that your eyes and how your food looks actually play a part in how it tastes. This is why when you go out to a fancy restaurant it may taste better than normal food that is carelessly plopped onto your plate.

A carefully arranged and organized portion represents in your brain a higher quality and tastier meal, and as a result, you actually think it tastes better. This is the same a drinking coffee out of a proper ceramic mug.

It is part of human nature to perceive things based on all of our senses, not just the taste. This is why the coffee tastes better in a ceramic cup as opposed to a paper cup. The weight of the cup and the texture can also play a part in getting you in the state of mind to enjoy your coffee just a bit more.

The coffee will also be insulated more in a ceramic cup. A paper or stainless steel cup does not have any insulating properties and can cause your coffee to rapidly cool off changing the flavor of the coffee.

Believe it or not, the color of your cup also plays a part in how your coffee tastes. Ceramic cups allow for more expressive designs and beautiful glazes which play a part in how your coffee tastes.

The coffee journal Flavour did research that showed people thought that coffee in white mugs would taste sweeter. They also reported that tasters thought there were significant differences in the taste of the same coffee when served in blue, clear, and white mugs.

How cup shapes can affect the taste of your coffee

A study published about Food Quality and Preference showed that people perceived coffee to be sweeter when presented in a larger and deeper mug. This is probably because these kinds of mugs are usually served with milky lattes or specialty drinks.

When given smaller cups people usually associate them with darker and more bitter drinks with less milk. Espresso and other espresso-based drinks can come to mind when being served coffee in a smaller cup.

Another interesting remark from the 300 participants that attended the study was, a majority of the participants would expect to pay more when given one of the larger mugs.

We also pinpointed the two shapes of a mug that can affect how people taste their coffee. It is at the headspace, the area between the lip of the mug and the coffee, and the circumference of the cup.

The headspace can affect the taste of the coffee because this space between the coffee and the top of the cup allows the coffee to aerate when you take a sip of your coffee. This causes you to smell all the nice coffee aromas which is a large part of the taste.

The circumference of the cup also matters because it allows your nose to be closer to the coffee further improving the scent of the coffee. Studies have shown that the smell of coffee is one of the largest factors to how much we enjoy it.

The taste of coffee at different temperatures

According to Barry Green, a taste perception scientist at Yale University, hot coffee releases more aromatic compounds so like we stated before it will impact the taste of your coffee more. If you’ve ever smelled room temperature or cold coffee, you would know that it does not compare to a freshly brewed pot of coffee.

Ceramic mugs keep your drinks hot for longer and as a result, keeps the delicate aromas and flavor notes in your coffee.

Once your coffee starts getting cold there are actually chemical changes that happen that can change the way the coffee tastes.

Coffee is an extremely complex and sophisticated drink comprised of over 1000 aroma compounds that we can smell and taste, even if we are not consciously aware of it. A lot of the compounds are released when there is heat as volatile compounds which are turned into gasses and slowly evaporate over time.

Over time all these compounds are released and when the coffee is cold we are usually left with a more bland version of what we started with.

Acidity is also perceived best at lower temperatures. This allows you to taste more acidity and can even bring out flavors that you would normally not be able to taste in a hot cup of coffee. There are some Kenyan coffees that become more vibrant with these higher acidity levels.

Materials you should avoid when drinking coffee

As stated before, ceramic coffee cups are the best type of cups to drink coffee out of. Here are a few different types of cups and why you should probably avoid them.


Plastic would seem like a good choice because of its lack of distinct taste. However, due to coffee being a warm liquid, it can affect the plastic over time and leech chemicals into your coffee if you do not have a safe container.

Plastics can also absorb odors, flavors, and oils. This can probably affect the taste of coffee if you use the same container over a long period of time.


We’ve all had the office coffee out of a paper cup and know how bad these cups can be. Paper is probably the worst kind of cup to drink coffee out of because they are usually not made for hot drinks and because paper can impart a flavor into your coffee.

Sometimes, these paper cups can have a waxy residue and coating on the inside of the cup and form a thin film on top of your coffee. No thank you!

When paper cups are heated they can start to smell like cardboard as well, this will certainly disrupt your olfactory system and make your coffee seem a lot worse than it probably is.

Last but not least paper cups are very wasteful, if you reuse a ceramic cup you will leave a smaller carbon footprint, and is a more sustainable way to drink your coffee.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel-like plastic can impart flavors into your coffee. Sometimes you can get a metallic taste from the container.

Stainless steel also acts as a heatsink and draws all the heat out of your coffee and into your container. Your container will be scalding hot, but your coffee will get cold extremely quickly if you do not have a double-wall insulated stainless steel container!


Glass is probably the next best choice next to a ceramic coffee cup. It has almost all the same benefits as ceramic, but it does not look great or artistic. Glass also does not hold heat as well as ceramic does, but can still do the job. The neutral taste and small carbon footprint make glass a great alternative to ceramic coffee cups.


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