Types of Drinking Cups

Updated April 17, 2017

The history of drinking cups began with bizarre finds at Ice Age dwellings in the U.K. According to London's Natural History Museum paleontologist, Silvia Bello, the cave's residents drank from cups made from skulls over 14,000 years ago. Modern types of drinking cups are vessels most commonly made from pottery, metal or glass.

Traditional Tea Cups

A standard sized tea cup holds between 170 and 227gr. of beverage; it's a smaller cup than a mug, with a thinner handle and a sits on matching saucer. These more elegant versions of drinking cups are usually made from materials like fine bone china, a stronger version of porcelain and another popular material for tea cups. The Chinese invented porcelain drinking vessels and produced thin-walled cups for drinking tea around 600 CE, but Europeans did not discover this secret until 1709, and relied on expensive imports until this time. These cups are available from department stores in sets featuring a wide variety of colours and patterns, usually including half a dozen cups and saucers, sugar bowl, a jug for cream and a teapot.

Large Cups or Mugs

A mug, is a large, heavy, drinking cup with no saucer, and a handle. Shapes and sizes vary; a round shape with a strong, thick handle is the most common type. Materials include types of pottery, including porcelain and stoneware, as well as metals like stainless steel, tin or silver. Drinking mugs contain 227gr. or more of beverages such as coffee, hot chocolate or tea. The word "mug" is derived from the 18th-century drinking vessels crafted in the unflattering likenesses of local drunkards, unscrupulous politicians and infamous pirates. These mugs, which were sometimes also referred to as jugs, take their name from the English slang word for face: mug. Early versions of mugs date from the time a potter's wheel was invented, between 3,000 and 6,500 B.C. This invention facilitated the addition of handles to guard hands from the heat of hot beverages. These pottery mugs were crude and typically featured very thick walls, making drinking a chore. Metal mugs crafted from bronze, silver, gold or lead with thinner walls followed, but made drinking hot beverages unpleasant, because the handles transferred heat to the hands.

Speciality Coffee Cups

Cups used for certain beverages, such as gourmet coffees, are specially designed to enhance the enjoyment of drinking these beverages and appropriately sized for the optimal individual serving. An espresso cup, also known as a demitasse, is small and usually made from porcelain, and contains 2 to 3 oz. of strong black espresso coffee. Cappuccino cups contain 6 to 8 oz. of coffee and feature wide, bowl-like openings at the top, to accommodate the creamy froth traditionally served with this coffee, which, together with the porcelain material of the cup, serves to keep the beverage warm. Speciality cups like these, and matching saucers, are available from gourmet coffee and department stores.

Disposable Drinking Cups

Disposable paper or polystyrene drinking cups come in a range of sizes from 6 to 32 oz. These throwaway cups are among the most popular types of cups used toady, because of the pace of modern life and proliferation of takeaway restaurants selling soft drinks and coffee. Ecologists say both these types of disposable cups are a menace, as polystyrene cups are non-biodegradable and paper cups are made from trees. Solutions to keep the 400 million disposable cups out of landfills and save 50 million trees a year, used to make paper cups, include carrying lightweight stainless steel cups and using ceramic versions at the office.

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About the Author

Asba Lee is a former IT consultant who specialized in network administration and application development. Now a writer and academic instructor, Lee instructs GMAT, GRE and SAT courses. Lee loves to research and writes to learn new things, testing his thoughts and opinions.