Single wall vs double wall: Which is best for takeaway coffee cups?

Janice Kanniah
November 17, 2021
double wall takeaway cups

Have you ever wondered why some takeaway cups are sturdier than others? Offer better insulation? Don’t require additional sleeves to avoid scolding your hand?

The difference is likely to be due to the number of layers, specifically whether the cup has two walls or one. Double wall cups tend to be more robust than single wall cups, with a thin, thermo-insulating layer that helps to slow the cooling of the coffee.

Single wall cups, on the other hand, are a bit flimsier and, in most cases, need an additional sleeve to hold. However, they tend to be more cost-effective than double wall cups, as well as easier to recycle, making them a good option for “short” drinks, such as espresso and macchiato.

But which is the best choice for your business and its customers?

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double wall takeaway cups
During Covid-19, takeaway cups allowed coffee businesses to continue serving customers

What are the benefits of takeaway cups?

For many roasters and coffee shops, takeaway cups open the door to new opportunities and revenue streams.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, they allowed businesses to continue selling coffee despite widespread lockdowns. This provided a much-needed income and kept coffee brands front of mind for when restrictions were lifted.

In normal times, they provide the chance to increase sales by serving more customers than seating allows, while catering to the on-the-go lifestyles of younger generations.

Furthermore, they give customers an alternative to sitting in a crowded social space, something that many are still uncomfortable about as social distancing rules ease. Indeed, a recent study by McKinsey & Company shows that under half of US consumers have resumed normal social activities.

As a result, takeaway cups have become an increasingly important addition for many businesses, helping coffee shops and roasters remain versatile and cater to the needs of each customer.

single wall takeaway coffee cups
Single wall cups are lightweight and cost-effective, but offer little in the way of heat insulation

Single or double wall: What’s the difference?

Although they may seem like relatively simple products, takeaway cups come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours, and materials, all of which can have a considerable impact on their performance.

Therefore, for roasters and coffee shops, it’s crucial to understand the difference between each one so that they can make the right decision on their business’ needs.

One of the biggest decisions is whether to go for single or double wall cups. But what are the differences between the two?

Single wall cups

Put simply, single wall cups are disposable cups consisting of a single layer of material. Typically made from uncoated paperboard, they offer a convenient, lightweight, and cost-effective option for roasters and coffee shops.

Thanks to their simple design, they tend to be the most sustainable choice, not just in terms of production, but also when disposed of. Paperboard is both recyclable and compostable, breaking down within 90 days when placed in a commercial composting facility.

However, single wall cups naturally have some downsides, namely involving the heat of the brewed coffee.

Unlike double walls, single wall cups offer little protection when filled with hot liquids, making them difficult to carry without scolding your hand. Studies indicate that the maximum liquid temperature at which a single wall cup can be comfortably held without a sleeve is between 65C (150°F) and 70°C (160°F).

As a solution, some coffee shops “double up” by putting one cup inside another, or by using heat sleeves. But the costs of this approach can start to add up, thus reducing the low-cost benefits.

double wall takeaway coffee cups
Double wall cups tend to be sturdier than single wall cups

Because they don’t insulate the coffee, it also means that the temperature may drop quickly. While this isn’t necessarily an issue, it can alter its characteristics, meaning the coffee isn’t always experienced the way the barista intended.

Double wall cups 

Double wall cups consist of two layers of material with a thin insulating layer of air between them.

Not only does this maintain the heat of the coffee by acting like “double glazing”, it also allows consumers to carry it around without the need for an additional sleeve.

Another benefit is their sturdiness. Single wall cups tend to be considerably flimsier, giving way if gripped tightly. Double wall cups, on the other hand, are more robust, protecting the integrity of the product and showcasing the branding as it is supposed to be seen.

For example, the inner barrier layer can contain one coating and the outer layer can be coated with a tear resistant application to further prevent it from degrading.

However, double wall cups may not be a viable option for all roasters and coffee shops. Their extra weight means they are usually more expensive to ship, while the additional layer makes them a more costlier option than single wall cups.

In many cases, they’re often not as easy to recycle. However, this depends on the materials used and the local recycling facilities available.

Roasters and coffee shops should base their decision on a number of factors

Which cup option should your business choose?

While there are distinct pros and cons for both options, a combination of single and double wall cups might be the best option for many coffee businesses.

The size of the drinks you offer matters, as smaller sizes are more likely to be quickly consumed instead of lingered over.

Reserving single wall cups for espressos or “short” drinks, while using double walled ones for larger sized drinks is a cost-effective approach.

As double walled cups are costlier and generally seen as “higher quality”, you could reserve this option for costlier drinks. It could also be a good choice if you’re trying to break into a corporate or high-income market where a more luxurious cup could make a better impression.

This could be a waste if, for example, you have a long standing relationship to provide coffee offers to a nearby office.

In this instance, you already have a customer base that is loyal to your offering and familiar with your business. They likely wouldn’t change their drinks orders if you introduced a double walled cup.

Whichever option you select, you should find out your cup’s recyclability status and communicate this to customers.

This means using the customisable outside of the cup to tell them where their cup can be recycled and how. This option will only apply if you select a cup that is lined with compostable or degradable materials that won’t harm the environment.

For businesses, it’s also important to weigh up the costs of adding a sleeve to a single wall cup in comparison to a double wall cup. In most cases, the combination of single wall cups and sleeves is cheaper than double wall cups.

Whether you’re looking for single or double wall cups — or even sleeves to accompany them – MTPak Coffee can help you design an attractive takeaway cup that is also environmentally friendly and cost effective. To find out how we can help you, get in touch with us today.

For information on our sustainable takeaway cups, contact our team.

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Janice Kanniah
Janice Kanniah

Janice is freelance writer based in South Africa and has written for MTPak Coffee since 2020. Her interests are in writing about sustainability, the circular economy, and the future of the environment.

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