Coffee is the most consumed beverage in the world, with millions of people drinking it every day. There are numerous types of coffee and numerous ways to serve it, but the most common way to serve coffee is either in a mug or in a cup. A lot of people don’t even know there is a difference between the two. So, what is the difference between a coffee cup and a mug?
A coffee cup is smaller and usually served on a small plate (a saucer). It’s thinner and holds less liquid, making it perfect for espresso and other shorter coffee types. A mug is a big, thick, round piece of drinkware that holds a lot more liquid. Also, cups are more frequently used for tea.
Although there are many differences between coffee cups and coffee mugs, there are some apparent similarities. For instance, both are made either from ceramic, porcelain, steel, or hard glass, depending on what you prefer. Also, both are heat-resistant and have a handle, so you don’t burn your hands while drinking hot coffee from them.
Let’s dive deeper into the differences between coffee cups and coffee mugs when to use them, the pros and cons for each, and ultimately, determine which one you should choose.
What Is a Coffee Cup?
A coffee cup is a piece of drinkware similar to a teacup. It is served with a saucer – a small plate that comes in a set with the cup. A cup usually holds around 6 oz of liquid (which is about 180 ml of liquid), and it’s not rare to have even smaller cups.
So, what are the key characteristics of a coffee cup? Apart from the saucer, a cup also needs to have a handle. The handle is usually tiny, and you hold it with two or three fingers. The brim is also wider than the rest of the cup, especially the base, which is the most narrow part of the piece.
One easy way to determine if you’re holding a coffee cup or a coffee mug is to check the height-to-width ratio. Cups are usually wider than they are tall (at least around the brim). To check, take two cups of the same type. Place one on the table normally and one lying on the side. If the one lying on the side is taller, you have an authentic coffee cup.
There’s also some other stuff that determines what a coffee cup is. Still, nowadays, there are variations and even combinations of various drinkware types. For instance, anything over 6 oz of liquid was considered a mug, but nowadays, you can easily find bigger coffee cups.
Also, there are smaller cups available, called demitasse. They are frequently used for espresso and other short coffee types that don’t require a large amount of liquid in them. Demitasse stems from the words “demi,” meaning “half,” and “tasse,” meaning cup. That’s why demitasse cups usually hold around 3 oz of liquid (half of what regular cups hold).
In modern times, though, the term coffee cup is used a lot more frequently. Even for containers and drinkware that don’t even resemble a cup, nor have any of the characteristics I just mentioned (a saucer, a small handle, wider brim, etc.).
Virtually any reusable coffee container is called a cup. Therefore, you can feel confident asking for a cup of coffee at Starbucks and getting their recognizable paper cup as a result.
Types of Coffee Cups
Traditional coffee cups were made of ceramic, served with a saucer, and holding around 6 oz of liquid. Today, though, numerous coffee cups come in different shapes, sizes, materials, etc.
The most common material is still ceramic and porcelain, but cups made out of heat-resistant glass became a hit a while ago, and they are still very sought-for. Other materials include steel, wood, clay, etc.
Therefore, I’m not going to classify the types of coffee cups based on the material or shape, as there are countless options available. We’ll determine the types by size and form instead.
The smallest type of coffee cup is the demitasse (meaning half a cup, as I mentioned earlier). The name stems from the quantity of liquid you can fit inside these cups. A standard norm for a cup is around 6 oz or 180 ml, and a demitasse holds between 3 and 4 oz. That’s why it’s commonly used for strong, short coffees such as espresso, macchiato, etc.
A regular coffee cup is the second type, and obviously, the most common. It is narrower at the bottom and wider at the top and has a small handle that can fit three fingers. It’s easy to confuse it with a teacup, but I’ll get into the difference between them a bit later.
Finally, there’s the mug. Yes, a mug is a type of coffee cup. Still, it’s so different from the regular coffee cup that it virtually became a separate piece of drinkware. It’s larger than 6 oz, but the size may vary depending on every mug individually.
What Is a Coffee Mug?
Although mugs are considered separate drinkware pieces, every coffee mug is a type of a coffee cup, just like a demitasse. It’s bigger and doesn’t fit in with the typical characteristics of a coffee cup.
Most commonly, a mug holds 10 oz of liquid or more, and there’s not a big difference in diameter when you compare the brim and the bottom of the mug. They became so popular after long coffee types gained popularity (for instance, Starbucks regularly serves coffee beverages over 300 ml large).
As the mug became more popular and a go-to choice of coffee drinkware, companies started creating unique mugs worldwide, varying in material, size, shape, etc. That’s why it’s hard to determine what’s the key characteristic that makes a mug a mug.
To keep it simple, here’s how you know you’re drinking from a mug and not a cup: it’s bigger, it has a large handle that fits all five fingers, and the brim isn’t designed to be wider than the rest of the mug. Also, you would rarely serve a mug on a saucer.
Also, due to its size, it’s not uncommon to see brands doing advertisements on mugs – putting logos, images, and even hand-made illustrations on them.
Types of Coffee Mugs
A regular coffee mug holds around double the liquid when compared to a coffee cup. The handle is big enough for all fingers, and you usually don’t drink short coffees like espresso from a mug. However, tons of alterations make your mug unique, although these characteristics are almost always present.
Mugs are made of either porcelain/ceramic, steel, glass, or even paper (however, those made out of paper are called cups, even though they commonly hold as much liquid as any other mug). Coffee mugs come in all shapes and forms, including mugs with no handle, a wider bottom than the brim, etc.
One more prevalent type of coffee mug is a travel mug – it has a cap with a small opening from which you drink. Also, it usually has no handle and can hold the temperature of the coffee higher for longer.
Coffee Cup vs. Coffee Mug: What Is the Difference?
As you probably figured out by now, the terms coffee cup and coffee mug are often used interchangeably. However, there are significant differences between them.
To start, it’s important to note that a coffee mug is a type of coffee cup. Therefore, every mug is a cup, but not every cup is a mug. Let’s break down the rest of the differences in categories to understand them more easily.
The main difference between a coffee cup and a coffee mug is their sizes. Although both can vary in size, there are some unwritten rules about how much liquid they hold.
A coffee cup holds 6 oz of liquid on average, which is less than two dl. That’s why they are the perfect choice for an excellent, strong coffee such as espresso, macchiato, or even cafe latte.
On the other hand, a mug can hold twice that amount. Around 12 oz (or 350 ml) of fluid will easily fit inside your mug, making it perfect for instant coffee beverages, cappuccinos, iced lattes, etc. Once again, I want to highlight that this is only the average – larger cups and smaller mugs exist, but this is somewhat of a norm.
A coffee cup always has a narrower bottom and a wider top. Also, the brim is commonly even wider, and there’s a reason why.
As I said, you would usually serve espresso in a coffee cup. Espresso has a foamy crema on the top, and coffee enthusiasts sometimes like to slurp it first instead of stirring it into their espresso.
It has the most robust coffee taste and a completely different texture from the rest of the espresso. So if you want the rest of your drink to be milder and softer, you’ll slurp the crema first. That’s why the brim of a regular coffee cup is usually wider – to make it easier to consume the crema and enjoy the taste to the fullest.
As long coffee types don’t produce the same crema layer as espresso, there’s no need for a wider brim, so mugs don’t usually have that type of brim. Instead, they are commonly flat from top to bottom. Even if the top is wider than the bottom, the brim is straight, unlike the cups.
I’ll keep this short because I mentioned it numerous times – coffee cups have smaller handles, mainly because they are smaller in general. You can fit only two or three fingers through the handle, just enough so that you don’t get burnt holding the cup in your hand. A coffee cup always has a handle.
That can’t be said for coffee mugs. It’s more and more common to have mugs without handles. If they do have a handle, it’s bigger than the ones you find on regular cups.
A coffee cup always comes with a saucer, unlike mugs that don’t have a saucer under them but rather sit independently. If you order a demitasse espresso, you’ll get a little spoon to stir your drink.
However, it’s very inconvenient to drink with the spoon still in the cup and unhygienic to put it on the table. Therefore, you have a saucer where you can leave the spoon after you’re finished stirring or adding sweeteners.
On the other hand, coffee mugs are more oversized, so you don’t need a saucer to put away your spoon. You can drink your beverage comfortably with the spoon still inside due to the sheer size of the mug. Most commonly, you’ll get your drink already stirred so that you won’t need a spoon at all.
You’ll rarely see a coffee shop serve coffee in mugs. That’s because it’s not as formal as serving in cups. It’s a tradition that’s kept ever since the first coffee shops opened their doors.
To conclude, a coffee cup is smaller, has a small handle, a wide brim, and it’s used on formal occasions, such as public gatherings, bars, restaurants, etc.
On the other hand, a mug is a lot bigger and usually contains long types of coffee. It’s served without a saucer (sometimes even without a spoon), and it’s more frequently used at home and on other informal occasions, such as a dinner party with close friends, etc.
Coffee Cup vs. Teacup: What Is the Difference?
If you didn’t know what I’m about to tell you before, you would have a tough time guessing what if I put a teacup and a coffee cup on the same table. It’s pretty simple. It’s not that much about the volume they can hold or anything like that – both can hold the same amount of liquid on average and look quite similar.
However, teacups tend to be a lot wider and even more so near the top. The reason behind it is that tea is usually made with boiling water. So, having a wider cup means more surface touching the air from the atmosphere, making the tea cool down faster.
On the other hand, that’s not the goal of a coffee cup. You don’t serve coffee only with boiling water. Most coffee types are brewed with near-boiling water, but going overboard destroys all the benefits you get from a good cup of coffee.
That’s why they are designed to maintain temperature as long as possible instead of reducing it. The coffee cups are narrower than teacups, and they are usually a lot thicker.
Therefore, even if they look incredibly similar to one another, coffee cups are thicker and narrower to hold the temperature high for longer. In contrast, teacups are the opposite; wider and thinner to let the temperature decrease faster.
Coffee Cup vs. Mug: Pros and Cons
Now that we know what both are, it’s not hard to determine the pros and cons of coffee cups and coffee mugs. First of all, a big pro for coffee cups is the practical serving. The little spoon, the saucer, and the always-present handle make it a lot easier to deal with.
However, it holds only a fraction of the liquid a mug can hold, which is a con if you ask me. I love a good espresso, but I prefer longer coffee types to get through my working day.
One big pro for coffee cups is the sophisticated, formal design, while mugs can sometimes feel like tiny advertising billboards. Also, they are better than mugs for pouring due to the broader brim. Sometimes, milk and other liquids can run over the sides of a mug, and you can easily avoid that mess by choosing a coffee cup instead.
The biggest con, though, is that coffee cups tend to break more easily than mugs. They are smaller, thinner, and more fragile. And, even though manufacturers try to make the cups in a way that holds heat, it’s just too little liquid to stay warm for long.
Pros for a mug are apparent: they are fun, big, and can hold virtually any coffee type you want, including those exceeding 250 ml. Also, your drink will stay warm for longer because a mug can hold more liquid. The more oversized handles also ensure a tighter grip, and their thickness usually prevents breaking.
There are some significant cons, though. Mugs aren’t as formal and sophisticated as cups, so if your boss is coming to your house for dinner and you want to impress, choose a cup over a mug. Also, you can’t drink that much coffee during a regular break while on the job, so you’ll have to drink it separately.
Also, it would be best if you were careful about your caffeine intake – the more coffee you drink, the more dangerous it becomes for your health. Drinking out of a mug can have you confused about how much caffeine you drink, especially considering that one mug usually holds twice as much liquid as a cup.