How hot should you serve coffee in takeaway cups?

Jane Merchant
August 12, 2022
Choosing an ideal serving temperature for takeaway coffee

Climate change is having detrimental effects around the world, causing unprecedented rises in global temperatures. 

Notably, Europe and the UK are experiencing record heat waves, fires, and droughts. Experts are advising citizens to stay inside, avoid physical exertion, and consume plenty of water to stay hydrated. Despite the heat, many consumers are still opting for their daily hot coffee.

Historically, many tropical regions have dealt with extreme heat by consuming hot drinks. Similarly, research shows drinking hot beverages can help lower body temperature by triggering a physical cooling response, dilating blood vessels, and encouraging sweating.

For roasters and coffee shops offering takeaway coffee, this is a good sign. That said, they will have to ensure the coffee is brewed to an optimal temperature to ensure that it is at its peak when consumed, but not too hot that it may cause the consumer discomfort. 

To find out more about coffee temperatures, and how hot it should be served in takeaway cups, I spoke with Dr Dirk Lachenmeier of Germany’s Chemical and Veterinary Investigation Agency Karlsruhe.

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An image of a barista pouring milk into a takeaway coffee in an article about coffe temperature and how hot cofffee should be served in takeaway cups

Is there an ideal coffee temperature?

Temperature can affect a coffee’s quality by altering its total dissolved solids (TDS) and extraction percentage.

This can easily be demonstrated by comparing the taste of hot and cold brewed coffee, with increased heat gradually adding more bitterness and acidity to the drink. 

Generally, coffee is best brewed between 91°C and 96°C (195°F and 205°F), and it should be served between 49°C and 60°C (120°F and 140°F). Should a barista wish for the coffee to stay hotter for longer, it can be served at over 82°C (180°F).

Dr Lachenmeier says coffee shops must balance their customer expectations with health and safety recommendations. This is due to the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer claiming that drinks above the temperature of 65°C (149°F) may be carcinogenic.

That said, recent studies show the temperatures consumers may perceive as “too hot” can vary. For instance, some feel 58°C (136°F) is too hot, while others consider it to be around 71°C (160°F).

For coffee shops and baristas, this means a coffee’s “ideal” serving temperature can be an individual choice that differs between customers. 

“The difference between a coffee shop’s serving and drinking temperatures may differ depending on the materials used to make the takeaway cup,” says Dr Lachenmeier, who is also a certified food chemist. “Additionally, it depends on whether they serve the coffee in-store or for takeaway.”

An image of a woman holding a takeaway coffee in an article on how hot should coffee be served in takeaway coffee cups

What happens when you serve too hot or cold coffee? 

Dr Lachenmeier believes many coffee shops brew and store their coffee at temperatures that are too hot to avoid the development of harmful pathogens.

However, doing this may lead to the over extraction of less desirable flavours and impact the coffee’s quality. 

“Avoiding overly hot temperatures often goes hand in hand with improved product quality,” he explains. “The quality of a cup of coffee isn’t dependent on its hotness at the time of serving. If a cooled coffee tastes bad, it may be a sign of a low coffee quality with a high amount of defects, which may be masked by serving at burning temperatures.”

Notably, different drinks can benefit from varied serving temperatures. For instance, coffee with more rounded and sweet notes can be served between 68°C and 79°C (155°F and 175°F).

Alternatively, coffees that are brighter, sharper, and more acidic can be served between 49°C and 60°C (120°F and 140°F). 

When adding milk, the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) recommends heating it to between 55°C and 65°C (158°F and 149°F). However, the temperature should not exceed 70°C (158°F) or drop below 50°C (122°F).

When a coffee cools, its flavour profile will change and reheating it will only break down the few aromatic and flavour notes it has left, rendering it more acidic and bitter.

An image of a barista pouring black coffee into takeaway cups in an article on how hot should coffee be served in takeaway cups

Choosing an ideal serving temperature for takeaway coffee

Determining an ideal serving temperature for takeaway coffee can be tricky, as the consequences of serving it too hot are much higher than serving it too cool. 

Both tend to render coffee unpalatable. However, serving the beverage too hot can pose a serious health risk to consumers.

A coffee’s ideal temperature will differ depending on what is being served. Therefore, it may be helpful to serve coffee at the higher end of its “ideal temperature range”.

More so, coffee shops and baristas must take additional steps to ensure the heat is preserved by using the correct takeaway cup. 

For instance, double walled cups can help slow the temperature loss of coffee. On the other hand, ripple wall cups can help keep coffee hotter for longer.

Adding lids to takeaway coffee cups may encourage consumers to take smaller sips and consume the drink slowly, reducing the risk of scalding. Furthermore, coffee cup lids help prevent heat loss by covering up the exposed surface area of the beverage.

Offering customers removable cardboard cup sleeves can help them handle the hot drink without burning their hands. Cup sleeves also add an extra layer of insulation, helping keep the drink warmer for longer.

If a customer orders multiple drinks at once, baristas can offer them a cardboard cup holder to prevent the drinks from tipping or spilling. 

Coffee shops and baristas can also help prevent scald and burns by advising customers that their drink is hot as it is handed over. Having these warnings printed directly onto takeaway coffee cups and customised coffee sleeves is a highly effective way of warning customers. 

Additionally, baristas can advise consumers to remove the cup lid to let the coffee cool to their preferred sipping temperature. 

Coffee shops can also benefit from offering more cup sizes, as customers often make special requests that may increase or decrease a coffee’s volume. 

For instance, a customer may order a cappuccino and request extra milk while another may ask for a half portion of the standard serving size. Keeping multiple cup sizes on hand can ensure any drink can be adequately contained.

An image of a sustainable takeaway coffee cup with lid in an article on how hot should coffee be served in takeaway cups

It is important to note that coffee temperature may not be an exact science. While there are useful general guidelines, a coffee’s serving temperature is likely to differ between coffee shops.

Investing in quality takeaway coffee cups that are optimised for customer comfort and heat temperature is the most effective way to be prepared. 

At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of 100% compostable takeaways coffee 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 and lids for all sizes.

Our cups are made of sustainable materials, such as kraft paper or PET with PLA lining. Strong, waterproof, lightweight, and compostable, they can be customised to your preferences using digital printing or sustainable water-based inks that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOC).

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

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