Take out cups – the tail wagging the dog

This is something I’ve never understood – the sizes of takeout cups.

We all go to great lengths to search out our crockery – it must have the right feel, thickness, porcelain quality and most of all drinks must taste good from it because espresso drinks are a game of ratios.  We are pretty much stuck with a measure of espresso hence the move towards 5 and 6oz cups for capps because with less milk the whole thing tastes better.  You buy those cups so you can deliver a specific taste to a customer.

Then we have take out cups.  Instead of demand dictating to supply it seems the other way around.  Take out cups are generally 8, 12, 16 and sadly 20oz.  Neat divisions of 4oz separating each one.  What this doesn’t do is respect espresso drinks as ratios.

The cappuccino got its name from its taste (in a backwards sort of way – it got its name from the precise colour of the mixture of coffee and milk) and yet my 8oz takeout capp is going to taste very different from my 12oz capp because I’ll be damned if I can find a way to add 33% more espresso, not a drop more or less.  A single shot 8oz latte is going to taste like a double shot 16oz latte.  But what if you serve in a 12 or a 20?  We tend to up the number of shots as we go up the drinks sizes, often ending up with 3 shots in a 20oz, compared with a double in a 16oz or a 12oz.  The ratios don’t match.  I don’t get it.

Maybe there are nice boutique manufacturers of paper cups out there I don’t know about, though I do know there is a lack of people making a good 6oz.

Would love to hear other people’s take on this…..

24 Comments Take out cups – the tail wagging the dog

  1. Doug Zell

    Solo does in fact make a nice 6 oz hot cup (we have them), but they don’t have a “travel/sip” lid for them. Other than that they are in every way the same as the larger sizes. Great for to go (or takeaway as you say)capps or cortados.


  2. Flip

    It’s true, there are six ounce cups at Octane provided by Counter Culture, but how can we sell a six ounce drink without a lid? These people spill their drinks while they’re still in the store…

  3. Gary Mc Gann

    My understanding is that the current range of cups we use in terms of size were around before the concept of coffee to go got popular. I guess that they were cold drinks cups – a 12oz cup is 340ml just over a Coke can – and were simply adapted.

    Nowadays cup sizes are growing in some markets due to operators trying to increase the selling price – call them small, medium and large and most people will choose the medium – small you are mean, large you are greedy, medium you are safe. Make your sizes 12,16 and 20 and you can sell more 16! This however will change – big is increasingly seen as not the best particularly in regards to coffee. Look at an 8oz cup now and it seems small.

    I believe that if enough of us put pressure on Solo and others we could get a 6oz lid manufactured. The cost may be pretty high though due to the tolling and set up costs until the volume grows.

  4. Alistair

    This is something I have looked into myself. As a company we have spoken to a number of manufacturers of cups and it is possible to produce cups of any size you want as long as you use standard lids. This would make the cups squat size but it can be done. The problem is quite simply the demand. Very few customers understand the concept of a 6oz cappuccino, and with companies who should know better supplying 20oz cups, instead of educating its customers, what hope do we have.

    Personally I am still not sure how to tackle a 16oz cup. For me it should have 3 shots, but very few places make a double and a single shot for one drink. This causes problems then for the blend of coffee you use. It might taste great as a single 8oz but a triple 16oz could be too strong.

    The best solution is a double shot drink in a 10oz cup, and educate customers that this is the how it should be, after all we know that double shots create the best espresso.

    And one last thing, take out espresso cups, WHY?

  5. hi

    So first of all, why a takeaway coffee instead of sitting down? I service mostly business and govt customers and i get the feeling that they take it away because

    1) they are in a rush on the way; to work, in between business meetings, in the period after lunch and home time
    2) they want a coffee where you can sit and savour it while going through the days agenda (consumption time 10min-1hr?!)
    3) something that brings on that feeling of fullness so that you don’t want another one too soon (bigger = value mentality)

    4) they have been conditioned to enjoy a milky drink and the ones that steam milk well can still get away with average and at times very below average espresso as long as it’s not bitter. People tend to add anywhere between 1-4 sugars into their coffees anyway.

    5) People get the fact that some shops are generally better than others, and that some baristas are either faster or more consistent than others but they can’t vocalise the reasons behind it. Not many customers have a good word->flavour->sensation association when it comes to coffee.

    It’s just acknowledged after a while that you are the one who has spoiled their palate because they find coffee at other places just not the same.

    This is my not so short guess as to why they drink t/a and how that affects them. So while I’m not too sure that I can speak for any place apart from my locality, I find that people value a smooth coffee milkshake that is sweetened with sugar and they want it fast (around 2-4min from service time and order pickup). If you are giving them the proper ratios of espresso to milk where I am, and lets say that it’s with a complex or challenging blend, they misinterpret a lot of it and it gets thrown in the too hard basket and you get told your coffee is bitter, or just plain too strong. That and the proliferation of the franchise coffee brainwash seems to be the reason why not all of us can get away from those 8,12,16,20oz drinks. Long story short, blame america and macdonalds :)

  6. rob berghmans

    Also in Belgium i can’t find the right Cappuccino paper cups. We use the 10oz for Latte’s and fill them up 6 to 7oz for a Cappuccino.

    For Espresso and Macchiato is have one simple advice : we need to teach the clients how to drink it. And an Espresso needs a certain temperature and therefore i strongly recommend to refuse take away Espresso and Macchiato. It’s a 1-minute drink, nothing for take away! Basta!

  7. Gary Mc Gann


    I am aware of the cups you are talking about but when I ahve asked the manufacturer as to the source of the corn lining (GMO free or not) they cannot confirm! We are 100% GMO free and I dont want to break that even if it is the lining of the paper cup – if anyone out there knows a cup company making a cup that has a certified GMO free corn lining i would like to talk to them.

  8. Ivan Wodarz

    First off, I like to old person idea. Old people seem to know exactly how much coffee to water they want. Furthermore, they also have a thermometer in their mouth and know just how how their beverage should be. Coffee freeks need not be offended by people who like weak drinks. A good barista will work with a customer on developing their tastes, if the customer keeps coming back. I like the idea of smiling, nodding yes, and then sneaking a bit more coffee in the cup.

    Secondly, I don’t think we should even have togo cups at all. If somebody is in a hurry and wants a drink, then they should bring their own cup. A few trips to the coffee shop and returning with no coffee, would learn those business types real quick. I don’t think a shop should have to spend more for a customers lack of awareness and dependance on unnecessarily cutting down trees for the morning latte. Ok, maybe this opinion is a bit nazi-like but we really don’t need to have paper cups that add crappy flavor to our drinks.

  9. luca

    Don’t get me started; there are heaps of issues with takeaway cups … size is just one of them.

    I know of a few cafes that do 6oz in house and 8oz takeaway. They have a lot of people ordering takeaway cups to have at tables.

    We have some 4oz takeaway cups, too … no idea why, but they’re as cute as a button. I’ll have to figure out some use for them at some stage …

    As for the whole bringing your own cup thing, I think that a reasonable middle ground would be to give the customers a discount reflecting the cost of the paper cup.

    Of course, BYO cups creates the whole new problem that you then have cold cups … mugs usually … of unknown capacity that you then have to work with. How many shots go into them? Do you fill them all the way? Do you heat them with the hot water spout? How much do you charge for the drink? Talk about a flow-breaker when you’re busy!

    I have a few regulars who do do BYO cups. Absolutely lovely people; very environmentally conscious and they agree that I should under-fill their cups to get the right flavour balance.

    A third rather creative idea that I have seen is to create branded dual-wall aluminium takeaway cups so that you do the whole customer loyalty thing. But, invariably, they’re always priced at whatever the price is, with a single free coffee included. I think it would be interesting to change the pricing structure to give people a small discount for bringing back the dual walled aluminium thingy. (Although I must say that I haven’t drunk from these … should try it out … it would be interesting to see if you could get away with not preheating them, or maybe with just blasting them with the steam wand).

    … certainly a bunch of interesting things to think about …


  10. Andrew

    When we faced the issue of delivering tasty espresso flavour through the milk we came up with a policy that both gives people what they want and also allows us the flexibility to give people what we think is a good drink.

    Some of things we do are- a double shot 8oz, we call it a flat white, do it only in one size and promote it as an Australian style latte that has a great ratio of coffee to milk. Our baristas always promote this drink so we actively sell one of the cheapest drinks on the menu.

    For our 8oz lattes and caps, we do 1.5 shots- this is obviously not something that can be done accurately. The fact is however that people can’t tell the difference between +/- .2 oz’s and most importantly it allows very valuable interaction between the barista and the customer to tweak the drink as required. It also means that in an 8oz cup you can always get a balance that is a little more coffee than milk, which means we establish ourselves as a cafe that is serious about coffee, and not just milk with coffee flavour.

    Our other drink sizes work on the same principles but we do sometimes hesitate at putting too much espresso in a cup because consuming 4 or more shots in one go, for an unaccustomed person, isn’t that good for you.

    I don’t think we should hesitate to give people real coffee flavour though. If you think about the UK, a land of filter coffee (and therefore coffee flavoured drink consumers), before the grande latte hit the shores, it is a place that is used to stronger flavours. What the UK is not used to however is how good the coffee can taste, so give them a tasty flat white any day, and educate them about how good espresso can taste…

  11. The Onocoffee

    I don’t find myself perplexed about this topic at all.

    In our shop, we offer 8z, 12z and 16z paper cups “to go” and a 6z Illy capp cup for in house cappuccinos (we also have a 5.5z tulip capp cup for those stupid USBC/WBC standard drinks, if someone absolutely, positively has to have one).

    The 8z paper is very versatile because we can pour a double shot 6z capp or a double shot 8z latte in the same cup. The 12z and 16z cups get two and three shots each, respectively.

    When a customer comes up and asks for a 12z or 16z “cappuccino”, we tell them sorry but we only have one size cappuccino – and that’s the only size cappuccino you’re going to get.

    We also have 4z paper cups for the one customer who absolutely must have his double shot espresso in a to-go cup. He’s bloody weird, but we’ve accepted him and his odd penchant. We also use this cup (sans lid) for people who also must have their macchiato “to go.”

  12. Alistair

    Something that seems to come up in cup size discussions, is that a lot of places serve single shot cappuccinos and latte in different sizes. i.e. 6oz cappuccino and 8oz latte. Why is this?

  13. jim

    Traditionally a cappuccino has a stronger coffee taste than a latte – hence more milk diluting the shot which can only really be done in different vessels.

  14. Alistair

    I understand this. But since latte art has become all the rage it seems that all milk drinks are made with the same micro foamed milk. In the past a latte was made in the same size cup, but the proportion of milk to foam higher, therefore creating a milder coffee. It now seems that a latte has become a cappuccino just served in a larger cup so that more micro foam can be added to dilute the drink.

  15. jim

    Certainly in the UK in the past the drinks were served in the same sizes, though sadly I don’t think we can use old practises as a barometer for quality.

    I think the difference in taste between a 6oz drink with 1cm and 2cm is minimal, and I believe that the important distinguishing feature of each drink should be its taste and not the foam.

    I can only say that I prefer a capp with 2cm of foam on top, and I don’t like as much foam in my latte but either way I more concerned about the taste blend of coffee and milk. Cappuccino got its name from the strength of the drink, as did the latte and the UKs old practise of distinguishing between them by the use of chocolate powder is lazy and just another in a catalogue of reasons why coffee, in general, tastes so bad here.

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  18. Chris Weaver

    Yeh I’m with Jim on this one, when we go to all the hassle perfecting drinks in store, its annoying to have to mess around tweakins drinks to go,some people were mentioning 2.5 shots, but I’m loathe to throw away 1.5 shots as we dont use single portafilters.

    Whilst I appreciate the links people put up for cups, it seems to me very few people have perfected cups like solo, namely their lids which are a perfect fit and almost a standard, so I think putting some pressure on Solo could be a good idea, and be prepared, as coffee shops,to pay the premium that comes with a new product!

  19. Troydense

    I have a solely takeaway mobile coffee business and have found that by tweaking the dose and only serving doubles(unless requested otherwise) my drinks define themselves tastewise. I am using Solo cups, 8oz for cappas and flat-whites and 12oz for lattes.
    I must admit I don’t fill the 8oz completely so as to replicate the proportions of a ceramic cup.
    The latte drinkers generally find the strength spot-on, and for short espresso drinks I have disposable 4oz cups which I found in Hungary whilst on holiday.(I have demi’s on hand, but obviously no dishwasher, so only my first couple of privileged espresso drinkers get to drink from porcelain.
    New Zealander’s still love their big milky coffees though.

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