How to prevent flavour distortion in takeaway coffee cups

Alexander Hoyes
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November 4, 2022
How to prevent flavour distortion in takeaway coffee cups

As coffee is a sensory experience full of flavour and aromatics, many can agree it is best to taste it at its optimum. 

Both coffee professionals and consumers agree the right vessel can make or break the taste experience of coffee. 

That said, numerous studies have found certain factors, such as the shape, colour, and material of a takeaway coffee cup can alter a consumer’s perception of flavour. 

As takeaway coffee cups are often made using diverse materials, they can often be the culprits of flavour distortion. 

It is essential for roasters and coffee shops to understand the idea of flavour distortion and how different takeaway cup materials may alter taste perception. 

Read on to discover the implications of these altered perceptions and the best ways to optimise flavour in takeaway cups.

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An image of a white PLA-lined takeaway coffee cup being filled with milk for espresso in an article on how to prevent flavour distortion in takeaway coffee cups.

What is flavour distortion?

Flavour distortion can be defined as the altered taste perception of a certain substance, which often occurs due to external influences.

In essence, a product can taste different as a result of the vessel it is stored in. 

For example, coffee that is contained in ceramic will have differing flavours from coffee that has been stored in paper. Though the coffee is the same, the paper surrounding has created a distorted perception of the coffee’s flavour.

As sense can be integrated, cross-modal perception can occur when applied to food or drinks. This type of perception integrates two or more senses, in which one can affect the other. Since coffee is a sensory experience, cross-modal perception is a common occurrence. 

For instance, some coffees can elicit “bright” or “dark” flavours, which are characteristics commonly associated with sight. 

Similarly, another coffee can taste “papery” or “velvety” – descriptors which are commonly linked to touch. These cross-modal perceptions can contribute to the overall taste of the coffee. 

While these descriptors play neither a negative nor a positive role, this cross-modal perception indicates the senses are closely tied to each other.

Therefore, the act of drinking coffee in a vessel is a full sensory experience where flavour, taste, touch, sight, and smell are all involved. As a result, various factors play a role in altered flavour perception, including cup colour, texture, and size.

A 2014 study found coffee in white ceramic mugs was perceived as more intense than coffee presented in clear glass cups. Likewise, clear glasses tended to produce sweeter flavour perceptions than other coloured mugs.

Similarly, the shape of the components on the takeaway coffee cup can affect where the liquid comes into contact with the mouth and tongue. 

For instance, some find drinking coffee through the small hole in the takeaway lid negatively affects the flavour experience, as less liquid comes into contact with the palette.

The implications of these results show that taste is multifaceted as it does not entail the product itself: taste is perceived in a holistic sense.

An image of a coffee machine and barista with kraft paper takeaway coffee cups  in an article on how to prevent flavour distortion in takeaway coffee cups.

Why the material of takeaway coffee cups matters

Many of these studies show the type of material used to make takeaway coffee cups significantly contributes to its perceived taste. 

Some takeaway cup materials are better suited to imparting positive taste perceptions than others. Therefore, it is important for roasters and coffee shops to understand the differences among the various takeaway cup materials available.

Paper, for instance, is the most common material used for takeaway coffee cups, as it has a cheap price point. 

However, paper cups are often lined with a thin layer of plastic, which can make them difficult to recycle. Additionally, plastic may absorb odours, which can play a negative role in the perception of coffee flavour. 

Furthermore, the paper material can bring a “papery” taste to the coffee. 

Styrofoam is another type of plastic that many within the specialty industry try to avoid. Hot coffee can extract plastic particles from the styrofoam cup walls, leading to negative flavours and the release of potentially harmful toxins.

Takeaway coffee cups made from bamboo have become popular among consumers. Made from natural bamboo fibres, these takeaway coffee cups tend to be durable, biodegradable, and free from Bisphenol A (BPA).

That said, a 2019 study revealed some reusable bamboo coffee cups may contain melamine resin, which can be harmful to human health.

Consumers drinking coffee within the establishment often use glass and ceramic cups. This is because they both have low thermal conductivity, meaning they retain heat well and allow the coffee to remain hot for longer.

Additionally, these materials impart the least disturbances in coffee and are often considered the most ideal cup materials for the best-tasting experience. 

While these materials are effective within a coffee shop, it would be uneconomical to offer ceramic or glass takeaway coffee cups to consumers on the go.

An image of a barista tamping expresso to serve takeaway coffee in takeaway coffee cups in an article on how to prevent flavour distortion in takeaway coffee cups.

How to prevent flavour distortion in takeaway coffee cups

In order to prevent flavour distortion in takeaway coffee cups, many roasters are gravitating towards cups with a polylactic acid (PLA) or plant-based lining.

PLA-lined takeaway coffee cups are not only environmentally friendly but also able to withstand high temperatures without releasing toxic chemicals. 

These materials tend to impart fewer negative attributes to coffee and are highly effective at minimising flavour distortion for the consumer. 

It may be helpful to roast coffee so baristas can brew and extract it with many developing layers. This allows the consumers to enjoy the coffee at various stages as it cools in the takeaway cup.

When roasting for filter coffee, it is important to refrain from going too dark. Darker roasts tend to lack nuance and may impart a papery or woody taste in a paper takeaway cup. 

For baristas, it can be helpful to serve coffee at the optimum temperature so the consumer can get the most out of the sensory experience. 

Coffee served at too hot of a temperature is not only dangerous but also ineffective for the customer to taste any nuances. 

A slightly cooler cup may allow for more flavour characteristics to develop quicker, allowing the customer to enjoy their takeaway coffee almost immediately.

An image of a coffee consumer holding up a custom-printed pink takeaway coffee cup made from kraft paper in an article on how to prevent flavour distortion in takeaway coffee cups.

Maintaining the temperature and inherent characteristics of roast coffee does not have to be complicated or involve using materials that are bad for the planet.

At MTPak Coffee, our range of sustainable takeaway coffee cups is made from recyclable materials such as PET or kraft paper with an environmentally friendly PLA lining.

These cups will impart a more pleasant taste for the consumer and significantly reduces the carbon footprint of your business. 

With cup-size options ranging from 8oz, 12oz, and 16oz, there are numerous options to help your roasting business demonstrate your commitment to sustainability and eco-friendly prowess.

In addition to being strong, waterproof, lightweight, and 100% compostable, our cups can be custom-designed using innovative digital printing technology to feature your brand logo or a QR code that leads consumers to your website.

We also offer a range of low minimum order quantity (MOQ) options. This means you can order as few as 500 fully customised units in just five working days.

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

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