Disposable coffee cups: Why does size matter?

Jane Merchant
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November 24, 2021
disposable coffee cups sizes

The days of “black” and “white” coffee are long gone. Today, consumers expect a range of options when they step into a coffee shop, from lattes and americanos to macchiatos and cold brews.

When buying coffee to-go, each drink requires a cup that complements the order. For example, an espresso will need a smaller cup than a flat white, which, in turn, will need a smaller cup than a cappuccino.

This is crucial not only to ensure the customer has the best experience possible, but also to reduce waste and keep down costs.

But which sizes should coffee shops have in stock? And do they need the same quantity in each size or are some more popular than others?

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different sized disposable coffee cups
Most coffee shops offer a range of different sized cups to accommodate everything from macchiatos to americanos

What are the standard disposable coffee cup sizes?

Each coffee shop has its own way of advertising the size of its coffees.

Starbucks, for example, offers its drinks in short, tall, grande, and venti, while Costa Coffee offers small, medium, large, and extra large.

The distinction typically comes down to the amount of liquid in ounces (for the US market) or millilitres (for the European market). The basic idea is to reflect the size of a coffee cup in takeaway format.

Many cup sizes are marketed according to how much they should ideally be filled instead of their actual capacity.

For example, an 8oz cup might actually be capable of holding 10oz, but 8oz is the optimal filling volume. This is to maximise the customer’s experience and reduce the risk of spillages.

While many size variations exist, disposable coffee cups generally come in the following sizes:

Extra small

120ml or 4oz cups used for serving single or double espresso, babyccinos, cortados, and samples.

Small

227ml or 8oz cups used for serving macchiatos, cappuccinos, and flat whites.

Medium

340ml or 12oz cups used for “standard” or regular-sized drinks. Ideal for americanos, lattes, mochas, and drip filter coffees.

Large

454ml of 16oz cups used for iced or frozen coffee drinks.

latte art in a takeaway cup
Disposable cups should be able to fit under group heads as well as support additions such as latte art

Choosing the right cup sizes for different drinks

A number of factors can influence the size of the cup you use for different coffee orders.

If your coffee shop allows customers to customise their drinks, you could end up using smaller or larger than normal cups for a certain drink.

Latte art (or the lack thereof) can also impact the volume of the cup you use. Your customers’ individual preferences also matter as if they rarely order a certain drink, you might not use that cup size at all.

It’s important to note that when preparing drinks for takeaway versus dine in, proportions can change. This is not only to ensure the cup fits under group heads on espresso machines, but also to maintain milk-to-coffee ratios.

According to Australian Specialty Coffee Association Barista Guild representative Michaela Gerard, if a standard dine-in serving size is smaller than the standard takeaway cup order size the drink could be too milky or weak.

It’s therefore important to ensure your takeaway cup sizes for each drink align with their dine-in sizes or, if not, that the recipe is adjusted accordingly.

One way you can standardise your drink sizes to improve consistency is by ensuring they adhere to SCA guidelines.

For example, the SCA recommends that cappuccinos are between 148ml to 177ml (5oz to 6oz) in volume, with a minimum of 1cm of vertical foam depth. They also recommend that a single espresso shot is 25ml to 35ml (0.8oz to 1.18oz).

However, the choice ultimately comes down to customer preferences and your interpretation of them.

Plantation Coffee in Melbourne, Australia offers customers 177 ml, 227ml and 340ml (6 oz, 8 oz, and 12 oz) cups. They use a single espresso in their smallest cup size, but double espresso in the rest. This makes their takeaway options slightly stronger than their dine-in ones.

disposable coffee cup with kraft paper sleeve
In addition to sizes, coffee shops need to consider the materials of their cups

What disposable cup sizes should your coffee shop offer?

Waste can be an issue when it comes to takeaway cups. To ensure you buy only what you need, take a note of what you have on your menu and what your sales figures reflect.

You’ll also need to consider what customers request more of and how often they ask for bigger or smaller drinks.

If your menu is simple and you don’t offer many variations you might only need a single cup size. If you offer everything from babyccinos to frappuccinos you might want a wider range.

Once you’ve determined the range of sizes you need (and how many you might need over a certain period), there are other factors you’ll need to consider.

Plastic coffee cups are no longer the default choice when it comes to takeaway cup materials. Governments are aware that single-use plastics are bad for the planet so many of them are banning them entirely.

A better option might be paper cups lined with bioplastics such as PLA (polylactic acid) cups. Not only do they perform just as well as plastic in retaining the drink’s heat, they are also easier to recycle than petroleum-based plastics.

You’ll also need to decide between single or double wall cups, and whether to include a cup sleeve.

Finally, you’ll want to brand your cups. As they’ll be travelling around the city representing your business, you need to ensure your brand is being properly represented.

single wall takeaway coffee cup
MTPak Coffee offers 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz cups in both single and double wall options

Choosing the right-sized disposable cups for your business – and ensuring they are made from sustainable materials, are affordably priced, and are attractively branded – can feel like a major task.

However, working with a full-service coffee packaging expert can make the process easier. At MTPak Coffee, we have years of expertise in creating bespoke takeaway coffee cups for specialty coffee shops and roasters around the world.

We offer cups in three different sizes: 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz. Each one is available to order as either single or double wall, while we also sell sleeves for all three sizes.

For information on our disposable coffee bags, contact our team.

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Disposable coffee cups: Why does size matter?

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