A quality cup of coffee depends on a number of factors, from its variety and processing to the way it’s ground and extracted.
However, according to a 2019 study by the University of Arkansas, one of the most important factors is the temperature at which it’s served.
The university’s Department of Food Science found that when coffee is brewed at different temperatures, it can have a dramatic influence on the perception of characteristics, including acidity, mouthfeel, and flavour notes.
But while this is simple to manage when serving customers coffee in-store, takeaway coffee orders complicate the process. Namely, the coffee must be brewed to an optimal temperature to ensure that it is at its peak when consumed.
The choice of takeaway coffee cups and what they are made of is critical to this. You must choose the right cup and accessories to keep your coffee at the ideal temperature for enjoyment until the last sip.
Read on to find out more about why cafés should maintain the temperature of their takeaway coffee, and how the right cups can help them do so.
How does temperature affect the characteristics of coffee?
Temperature can have a dramatic impact on our perceptions of aroma and flavour. For example, a single cup of coffee can taste completely different as it cools naturally after brewing.
This change in flavour is due to specific chemical reactions that are generated by variations in temperature. These reactions take place during the roasting and brewing processes, and continue once the coffee has been served.
As coffee cools, the instability of certain compounds, like caffeine, carbohydrates and fats, cause the flavours to change over time.
Three-time Barista Champion, coffee expert, and MTPak ambassador, Nicole Battefeld-Montgomery tested this by brewing an Ethiopian natural filter coffee.
While it was hot, she tasted chocolate notes. As the coffee cooled down, the flavour notes changed to stone fruit before developing into peach and cream.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association, coffee is best prepared at a temperature between 90° and 96°C (195° and 205°F).
However, coffee is best consumed when it is between 54° and 71°C (130° and 160°F). This temperature also reduces the risk of a scalding injury.
A heat loss of 2° to 5°C (4° to 9°F) occurs immediately as the coffee is poured into a takeaway cup. This is due to the receptacle’s lower wall temperature.
Depending on how much of the liquid’s surface area is exposed or whether a lid was applied, the coffee’s temperature will continue to drop by 10°-15°C (20°-25°F).
Temperature has a vital effect on how the coffee’s characteristics will be perceived. If you go above this ideal serving temperature, the coffee’s sweetness and acidity may become too prominent. Go below, and its sourness and bitterness may become more pronounced.
It is also important to consider the temperature of milk for drinks like cappuccinos, lattes, and flat whites.
Milk is composed of sugar (lactose), fats, and proteins. Lactose is classified as a sugar, so steaming milk makes it sweeter. This is because heating the milk breaks down the lactose, caramelising it and adding sweetness.
Therefore, a milk with a high lactose content will always taste sweeter, regardless of which temperature you are steaming it at.
When milk is steamed, the proteins help stiffen the bubbles to hold air in the milk. This helps to keep the foam stable and give it a light body. Then the fats melt down to create foam with a smooth, velvety appearance and mouthfeel.
Ideally, milk should be steamed to around 60º to 65ºC (140º to 149ºF). A temperature any higher, around 76ºC (170ºF) will cause the milk proteins to break down, resulting in a loss of texture and a sour taste .
In addition, the way a coffee’s flavour is affected by temperature can depend on its grind size, extraction method, and brewing method, which further complicates the matter.
How can takeaway cups maintain a coffee’s temperature?
A quality takeaway cup made with the right material can help you retain the temperature of your coffee after serving.
Styrofoam, while effective, is not eco-friendly and often ends up in landfills, as does plastic.
Ceramic, glass, or tin are superior retainers of heat, which is why cups or mugs made from these materials tend to stay hotter for longer. This is also why cafés choose to use these when serving to sit-down customers.
However, these do not make affordable or practical takeaway cup options.
This leaves kraft paper takeaway cups, which perform better than expected in this area. When lined with polylactic acid (PLA), they can contain fluids without breaking or leaking, while their wood fibres reduce convection.
However, thin takeaway paper cups may be uncomfortable to hold as the heat escapes.
A double-walled paper cup won’t have this problem, as it has an internal sleeve structure that has a major influence on its thermal insulation properties.
The addition of a cardboard or paper sleeve will further decrease the cup’s insulation properties and help keep customers’ coffees at the ideal temperature, as will a secure lid.
The best takeaway cups for coffee
Factors such as climate change and customer preferences can have a significant influence on the ideal serving temperatures of takeaway coffees.
For example, if you live in a colder climate or frequently experience long queues in your café, you may want to serve your coffee at a higher temperature.
You may find that using single-wall paper cups is sufficient in summer, but when winter rolls in, customers complain that their coffee cools too quickly.
The first step to consistently produce great takeaway coffee is to determine the optimal temperature that highlights your coffee’s best characteristics. Then you will understand how to maintain it up to the last sip.
It could help to dial in coffees at different temperatures to determine how each one will taste as it cools. This will help you tweak its brewing temperatures and better inform your customers of its characteristics.
As Nicole mentions in a blog post on her website, being able to tell customers what to expect from their coffee as it cools could show them you care about their taste experience.
It could encourage customers to be more mindful about their coffee practices, and teach them a thing or two about their favourite beverage.
A dedicated takeaway coffee station could help you serve takeaway coffee at optimal temperatures. Customers can queue for express orders separately from those who want to sit down.
Ideally, having customers submit their orders in advance may also ensure waiting times are kept to a minimum, and your coffee remains fresh and delicious for each customer.
Maintaining your takeaway coffees’ temperatures doesn’t have to be complicated or involve using materials that are bad for the planet.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer sustainable double-walled takeaway cups that will not only preserve the temperature of your coffee, but also reduce your environmental impact.