While it may seem like a mundane object that often comes with takeaway drinks, cup lids have shaped the way millions of people consume coffee.
As society becomes increasingly mobile, so do our drinking habits. Cup lids were designed to help consumers drink coffee on the go – specifically during their daily commute.
Traditional cup lids prevented spilling while consumers were on the move. It was a simple disk made from plastic or paper that snapped onto the rim of a coffee cup. Each lid had a small opening to allow consumers to sip the coffee.
Over time, coffee cup lids have evolved to provide comfort, ease of use, and other functionalities, such as retaining heat and aroma. Some have been specifically designed to enhance the consumer’s coffee experience.
Read on to find out more about the history of coffee lids and how its design will continue to evolve in the future.
The evolution of coffee cup lids
According to authors Louise Harpman and Scott Specht, the origin of the coffee lid is a distinctly American story.
The pair collaborated on the book Coffee Lids: Peel, Pinch, Pucker, Puncture, which explores the history behind the design of coffee cup lids. They are also the owners of the largest collection of independently patented drink-through plastic cup lids.
The very first patent for coffee lids can be traced back to 1934 when Roy Irvin Stubblefield designed a “cap for drinking glasses”.
Created with small children in mind, the cap was mainly intended for cold beverages. It could be attached to the top of a drinking glass and had a small slit on the top. This allowed liquid to escape when the upper lip applied pressure to the cap.
Then, in 1950, the first snap-on lid was introduced to the market. However, this lid only served to cover the glass, as there was no drinking port. Couple with the rise of drive-ins and fast-food restaurants during that time, this created a problem for consumers.
As a result, many consumers became accidental DIY designers: creating the first drink-through coffee lids by peeling away small sections of the flat polystyrene, thermoformed lids.
As a result, three years later, a peel-type lid was released, allowing portions of the cap to be torn off for drinking. However, this invention only became popular in the 1980s.
Other inventions include the peel-and-lock type lids, and the classic Solo Traveler lid that has superior ergonomics and a functional design.
Since then, inventors and designers have been on a quest to create the perfect coffee cup lid that meets the demands of an increasingly mobile society.
Notably, patent registrations for lids increased from nine during the 1970s to twenty-six during the 1980s. Today, there are hundreds of patent entries as designers become more innovative and conscious of how cup lids can affect consumers’ coffee experience.
Features of modern-day lids
Over time, the designs for takeaway coffee cup lids have been refined to optimise the drinking experience.
For instance, the protruding rim feature has become standard for many of today’s coffee cup lids. This rim allows the drinker to place their mouth over a hole in the lid to get to the coffee inside.
This protrusion is more comfortable for consumers. Plus, the space within the lid allows the coffee to cool slightly before reaching the lips. This particular structure also accommodates frothy beverages and prevents foam from being crushed into the coffee.
Other designs feature an indentation in the centre, preventing the nose from being squashed into the lid during consumption.
Patented in 2015, the Viora Lid was created to enhance the sensory experience. It is strategically fitted with a fragrance outlet to channel the coffee’s aroma directly to the nose, stimulating the olfactory senses.
Furthermore, small air holes are commonly found on modern coffee cup lids. These holes allow steam to escape while equalising the pressure in the cup. This helps ensure a smooth flow of liquid and reduces splashing.
Interestingly, slosh prevention is another prominent feature of coffee lids. This is because, while consumers are on the move, jolts and bumps can lead to coffee splashing out of the drinking port.
Designers have tried to resolve this by adding a sliding valve to cover the drinking port. Coffee giant Starbucks invented the “splash stick” – a green stick that was inserted into the lid opening and acted like a stopper.
Many coffee lids are also equipped with grooves that help drain the coffee back into the cup.
Additionally, some lids are designed for identification, featuring press-in dimples that allow consumers to recognise the coffee inside the cup.
Future developments of coffee cup lids
Designers and manufacturers are constantly striving to take coffee lid beyond the basic functions of preventing spills and enabling on-the-go consumption.
Traditionally, ergonomics and aesthetics were key elements in the design of cup lids. However, recently the market has seen a stronger emphasis on two aspects: hygiene and sustainability.
After the outbreak of Covid-19, more consumers are concerned by the idea of a barista handling a cup lid from which they will directly drink.
As food safety and sanitation remain a priority, the coffee sector could soon see cup lid designs that reduce the risk of contamination.
Such a concept was initiated in 2014, when designer Bill Levey created a prototype for the sabar – a sanitary barrier that covered the mouthpiece of the lid.
Bill is still in the process of finding a manufacturer for his “Clean Coffee Lid” design, so it may be some time before these reach the market.
Sustainability is a hot topic within the specialty coffee industry. From packaging to the waste created during processing and roasting, those in the sector are always looking for more sustainable practices.
Coffee lids contribute heavily to single-use plastic pollution, garnering criticism from an increasing number of environmentally conscious consumers.
As a result, manufacturers are looking at ways to reduce the environmental impact of coffee cup lids. For instance, Huhtamaki has created their Future Smart Duo fibre lid that is 100% plastic free.
Made from a mixture of natural bagasse and wood fibres, which are fully renewable resources, the fibre coffee cup lids are recyclable and compostable.
LipLid is another invention that is reshaping coffee on the go. In addition to using 25% fewer materials than traditional coffee lid production, the lids are 100% biodegradable in soil and marine environments.
Sustainability will continue to play a large role in guiding the development of the packaging industry.
Therefore, it is essential for manufacturers, roasters, and cafe owners to invest in coffee cup lids that appeal to environmentally conscious consumers.
At MTPak coffee, we understand the importance of providing sustainable solutions for specialty coffee roasters. We offer fully sustainable coffee cups – from our SensoryLid to the sleeve – to meet all your needs.
Additionally, we offer a range of sustainable coffee bags made from a range of recyclable, biodegradable, and compostable materials such as rice and kraft paper.