Cup lids were traditionally designed to prevent spills as consumers drank coffee on the go. They were made of plastic or paper and were simple discs that snapped onto the rim of the cup. Each lid has a small opening, allowing consumers to sip the beverage inside.
Over time, takeaway cup lids have evolved to provide comfort, ease of use, and other functionalities, such as retaining heat and aroma. More so, the materials used to make these lids have changed as the demand for sustainable alternatives increases.
Several coffee brands have invested in eco-friendly packaging and accessories, including takeaway cups and lids. However, numerous studies have found certain factors, such as the shape and colour of a takeaway cup, and the texture of the lid, can alter a consumer’s perception of flavour.
It is essential for roasters and coffee shops to understand the idea of flavour distortion and how different takeaway cup lid materials may alter taste perception. Read on to discover the implications of these altered perceptions and how the texture of your takeaway cup lid may be a culprit of flavour distortion.
What factors can influence consumer perception of coffee?
Much like the texture of the takeaway cup itself, the texture of the cup lid can have a profound effect on the consumer experience.
A recent study found consumers rarely taste anything without having made a prediction about what that drink will taste like first. Furthermore, according to researchers, what consumers think or feel about one sensory stimulus may be transferred, at least in part, to what they think about another.
For instance, if a consumer likes the cup they are drinking from, or feels it is high quality, these attributes may influence what they think of the coffee. The same study also found colour to be an effective stimulus.
Another 2019 study found the texture of the cup can influence a consumer’s perception of flavour. For example, participants drinking from a cup with a rough texture stated the coffee inside tasted more acidic. Those drinking the same coffee from a smooth cup found it tasted sweeter.
“Texture has a stronger influence on mouthfeel and body perception, as well as how clean and smooth the coffee will be in our mouth,” Verônica Belchior, a sensory scientist and researcher at the Coffee Sensorium, was quoted. “When the external texture of the cup is rough, the mouthfeel of coffee tends to be harsh, with increased bitterness and astringency perception. Coffee also appears to be less clean.”
These studies demonstrate how the texture, shape, and colour of coffee cups can influence the final judgement of taste for consumers. So, how do cup lids fit into all of this?
Why the texture of your coffee cup lid matters
It is logical that the science applied to coffee cups can also be applied to the accompanying lids. For instance, if a cup lid has a rough texture, consumers may perceive higher levels of acidity in the coffee. Depending on the consumer’s preferences, this may lead them to think negatively of the brand or roastery they bought the coffee from.
On the other hand, some customers may prefer higher acidity in coffee. If a roaster or coffee shop believes a rough-textured cup lid could bring balance to the flavour of their coffees, or accentuate the acidity, they may be worth considering.
Beyond this, the texture of the cup can affect the consumer’s overall drinking experience. For instance, the sipping hole of lids made from uncoated paper will become soggy over time. This may cause paper fibres to come away from the lid as consumers sip, contaminating the coffee and affecting the mouthfeel.
Notably, in 2021 a study was done on a consumer’s perspective on sustainable paper-based packaging. The study found those involved did not like the paper-based packaging they were presented with. However, they understood the importance of sustainable materials and were interested in reusing, recycling, and reducing waste.
Takeaway coffee cup lids: What materials are commonly used?
The majority of takeaway cup lids are made from polypropylene (PP) or polystyrene #6, a petroleum-based plastic that is difficult to recycle. Coffee lids contribute heavily to single-use plastic pollution, garnering criticism from an increasing number of environmentally conscious consumers. More so, research shows when heated, polystyrene is found to leach a neurotoxin and human carcinogen known as styrene.
Thankfully, in recent years, several sustainable alternatives have been developed:
Polylactic acid (PLA) is one of the most highly produced bioplastics in the world. It is made from the fermentation of carbohydrates from renewable resources such as maize, cornstarch, and sugarcane. The fermentation produces resin filaments that have similar characteristics to petroleum-based plastic. The filaments can be shaped, moulded, and coloured to suit a range of needs, including cup lids.
A PLA cup lid will have a slightly rough texture, but not as much as one made from kraft paper, for instance. Furthermore, it is unlikely to disintegrate while the consumer is drinking, as it will only lose shape when exposed to temperatures in excess of 50°C (122 °F).
Takeaway cup lids made from kraft paperboard, bagasse paper, bamboo fibre, or sugarcane are affordable biodegradable and compostable options. The pulp used to make these lids is made by breaking down the cellular fibres in plants. These fibres are then dried in sheets and prepared for moulding. However, these materials are likely to have a rougher texture than bioplastics. Therefore, the lids can also be coated in a PLA lining to create a smoother surface and protect the material from weakening as consumers sip from them.
“Of course, the materials will impact flavour perception, but it is more important nowadays to think about how the environment is affected by these materials,” Veronica has said. 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 and lids to meet all your business needs.
Specifically, we have collaborated with barista champions and cupping experts to create the SensoryLid. This coffee cup lid was designed to allow consumers to enjoy the aroma of their coffee with the lid on, thanks to an innovative sensory hole. Our SensoryLids are made from eco-friendly recyclable plastic or compostable PLA materials. Furthermore, they are available in a range of sizes, and colours, and we offer custom embossing.