The Best Material For a Coffee Mug – The Scientific Lowdown

Best Material For A Coffee Mug

When it comes to coffee mugs, there are a lot of choices out there for all coffee lovers. The question on all our minds, (well sometimes..) is what is the best material for a coffee mug? This article will take the guesswork out of this perennial question by offering a more scientific approach to determining which material makes the best choice for our mug of coffee.

The perfect material is just one factor in our coffee mug quest, other things that have to be considered are the design, size, and ergonomics of the humble coffee mug and coffee cups in general. The main focus will be on what makes for the perfect coffee mug material and why?

Coffee Cup Material – The Science Behind It

There are several factors that have to be considered when determining the science behind coffee mug material. They are:

  • The thermal properties of the material.
  • The flavor profile of the coffee within the mug.
  • The ease of drinking from the mug.
  • ​The design and style of the coffee cup.
  • The ergonomics, or how easy it is to hold onto that coffee mug while you drink your favorite brew.

Each of these factors will be considered when deciding which material is best for a coffee mug. This brings us onto what are the most popular materials that are used for our coffee cups and mugs. Although not exclusive, these are the most popular. Ceramic, Stainless steel, glass, paper, china, plastic, and stoneware.

Ceramic Coffee Mugs

Ceramic is a great choice for a coffee cup material. The thermal properties of ceramic mugs, or how it retains heat and cold, are superior to most other materials. Ceramic can conduct heat at a rate of around 3.8 W/mK. 

This isn’t as good as glass but the ceramic material allows for the heat to be stored within itself rather than dissipate through to your skin. It really is a great choice for keeping your coffee hot.

The flavors, aromas, and oils from your favorite coffee will not seep into the ceramic, which is important for enjoying that great coffee flavor. 

The design possibilities for a ceramic mug are endless with all kinds of different patterns and color combinations. The ceramic coffee mug is also the easiest to drink from with its ergonomically designed handle that almost seems like it was made for your hand. 

The ceramic coffee cup is slightly heavier than other materials, but this does not detract from its ease of drinking design.

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Last update on 2022-09-07 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Stainless Steel Coffee Mugs

Stainless steel coffee mugs are not known for their ability to keep your coffee hot. The thermal properties and conductivity of stainless steel mean that heat will dissipate through the stainless steel as it is a very conductive material with heat. In fact, it is measured to be around 14.3 W/mK (watt per meter by kelvin) which is very high compared to other materials.

Stainless steel coffee cups do not affect the flavor or aromas that are present in your favorite coffee. This is obviously good when it comes to drinking coffee and retaining its flavor.

The stainless steel design is good for traveling but it does mean that your coffee will not stay hot for long. The stainless steel design is also good at keeping cold drinks cold, however, the thermal properties of the mug are so poor when it comes to heat retention as mentioned. 

The stainless steel mug will be hot to touch with its heat conductivity. It is fair to say it doesn’t work very well as a mug. As material in a travel flask, however, it is unparalleled.

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Glass Coffee Mugs

The thermal properties of glass coffee mugs are excellent. The glass will hold onto heat for long periods, which is perfect if you like your coffee hot. In fact, out of all the materials, glass has the least conductivity at around 1.1 W/mK.

There is no seepage into the glass material either, so you can enjoy all the flavors and aromas that your favorite coffee has to offer. 

The design possibilities also open up with glass mugs. The glass coffee mug is great for decorating and customizing to suit your style.

The ergonomics of a glass coffee cup are brilliant because it has a handle design that fits all hand sizes comfortably. The weight isn’t too much either, so the glass coffee mug is a winner in this category. 

The only slight drawback with a glass coffee mug is that they tend to be a little thicker so they are not as easy to take with you on the go. The other important point is that although glass does not conduct heat as much as ceramic, overall, the hot coffee in a glass cup will cool quicker than ceramic due to the way ceramic can store heat within itself.

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Paper Coffee Mugs

The paper coffee cup is not made out of paper at all. The body is actually made from plastic but it has a thin layer of paper on the outside to give the appearance of being made from actual paper. The main benefit to this is no flavor seepage that some people find so unappealing.

Of course, these types of cups are most popular in coffee shops and vending machines. It is also important to point out that it is not easy to recycle this type of material all of the time. As such, there is a definite movement against using this paper/plastic combination for our coffee drinks.

There is typically no handle with paper cups, but it can sport a plastic top which makes drinking easy and comfortable for one-handed use while on the go. The design possibilities are endless too because you can print anything on the surface of the paper, even photographs or personalized designs. The design also comes in different sizes which gives you more opportunities to enjoy your favorite coffee hot!

A big drawback is that they are usually very flimsy due to their thinness, so they can easily break. The body also has poor thermal properties meaning that the coffee inside will quickly get cold, not great for keeping your coffee warm, unless it is one of those air-insulated types of paper cups. 

If you like your coffee hot and want to keep it hot for a long time, this isn’t the material for you (or maybe if you like iced coffee drinks and don’t mind them getting cold fast).

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Porcelain and Bone China Coffee Cups

Porcelain and bone china coffee mugs are extremely high quality as far as their materials go. The main benefits include its ability to keep your beverages hot for long periods of time and the fact that it does not affect the flavor or aromas in your cup of favorite drink like plastic or paper cups do for example.

The thermal properties of porcelain and bone china cups are second only to glass, coming in at around 3.1 W/mK (for the bone china). The design possibilities with porcelain and bone china coffee mugs are endless. This makes these types of mugs great for decoration purposes. 

The handle ergonomics of a beautiful and stylish china cup also make them comfortable to hold which is ideal if you enjoy drinking from bone china or porcelain cups.

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Plastic Coffee Cups

No article about this topic would be complete without mentioning plastic cups. The reason is that there are some great qualities that come with using plastic. 

First of all, we need to be clear on what we are referring to. If we are talking about cheap throwaway plastic cups from a vending machine, for example, there is nothing good to say about them apart from the convenience factor. We are talking about reusable plastic or melamine coffee cups.

Although melamine coffee mugs have some great heat conductivity properties which helps keep the heat in the liquid, they do impart a flavor profile within the liquid that is not pleasurable. Think, caravan coffee…

Care also needs to be taken when using melamine. Although it is BPA free, you should not microwave melamine or reheat the coffee in the mug.

The key point of the plastic coffee mug is that it comes in all sorts of different shapes and sizes which gives you more options to choose from, depending on what you want from your next coffee mug purchase. 

The color and decorative possibilities also give you even more opportunities to personalize your next coffee cup purchase. The design can come printed onto the surface of this type of material too, so if decorating your new mug is important to you, then plastic could be a good choice.

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Stoneware Coffee Cups

The final contender in our list is stoneware coffee mugs. The design possibilities and color choices also make it a good choice for your next purchase. 

Although heat conductivity is not as ideal as ceramic or glass, stoneware still has some great properties to help keep your drinks warm. In fact, it is very close to ceramic to be fair.

The biggest advantage of using a stoneware mug over ceramic is that it does not break as easily as something made from porcelain or bone china as one might think due to the fact that these types of cups are so thin and delicate. Because it is so rugged in nature and nonporous, it also does not impart a flavor into the hot coffee.

Stoneware can be used in microwaves too, but care should be taken because this type of material has excellent thermal insulation properties which means that there could potentially be hot spots inside.

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Conclusion

In conclusion, when looking for the best material to use for your own coffee cups and mugs, there is no hard and fast rule that says that one type of material is better than another. 

The key thing to remember about choosing a coffee cup is that you should be faithful to your beverage in terms of what it tastes like after looking for a design that reflects your personality.

At the end of the day, all these types of materials have their pros and cons which you can take into account when choosing a new mug. 

Although hot liquids do not keep well in glass mugs due to heat conductivity, cold drinks are perfect for this type of material because it will keep them at the perfect temperature for much longer. 

The fact that glass is 100% nonporous means that there will be no residual taste or flavor in the liquid. The transparency of glass coffee mugs also gives you a clean surface to look at your drink which is nice. The only downside to this type of mug is that it can break easily due to the thinness of its walls.

Upon balance and after looking at the pros and cons and the science behind each material, the winner is ceramic for me. The fact that it is 100% nonporous means that it will not impart any flavor into the liquid. The ceramic itself has great heat conductivity properties and is also very durable. 

The great thing about ceramic too is that it can be microwaved, so you can actually use them again and again. It is also the safest material to make coffee cups and mugs out of as it is nonporous, hard-wearing, and keeps the heat within the liquid and away from your hands.

Overall though, ceramic cups and mugs just make your brew taste as good as it can possibly taste.