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Does Drinking Out of a Specific Type of Mug Impact Your Coffee’s Flavor? In Short, Yes

perfect coffee mug in hands

Photo: Stocksy/ J. Anthony

For many of us, the act of making coffee in the morning is something of a ritual. It can be as simple as popping a pod in a machine or as fine-tuned as grinding beans to the just-right consistency (pun intended) and so on—however you choose to brew, there’s something sacredly soothing about the process.

Speaking of comfort factor. For me, coffee simply tastes better when it’s in my favorite mug: An old, chipped ceramic mug that has a thick, sturdy handle and a navy blue drawing of a dog from a local coffee shop with the same name as my own furry friend, Bixby. Although the weathered mug has seen its fair share of flat whites and could easily be replaced by the [dozens of] other mugs sitting in my cupboard in mint condition, this one feels nicer on my palate.

So: Is it my imagination that the vessel in which coffee is served can have such a serious impact on its taste?

Experts In This Article

According to journalists, baristas, and coffee pros Jordan Michelman and Zachary Carlsen in their new book, But First, Coffee, perhaps not. On the contrary, the coffee expert duo say there are plenty of reasons to curate a coffee mug collection, just as a sommelier might stock up on varietal-specific glassware. Michelman and Carlsen even go as far to say that choosing the perfect coffee mug is “no less important than any other step in the coffee-brewing process.” (We did it, Emotional Support Bixby Mug!) Still: How much is a matter of personal preference? Piping hot tea below.

Why the coffee mug you choose is as important as the beans you brew

Michelman and Carlsen firmly believe that enjoying a cuppa coffee goes far beyond the actual coffee in the cup. Aside from the sensory experience (taste, smell, and so on) of drinking coffee, the duo explain the ritual of how you sip your beverage plays an equally important role. “Our brains are the most marvelous things, fleshy supercomputers of remarkable complexity and precision, able to connect involuted concepts like ‘flavor’ and ‘deliciousness’ into something cohesive and memorable. But the flavor receptors in our tongue are also fallible and easily influenced by forces beyond proof of taste,” Michelman and Carlsen say.

“Mellifluous music, a sweet evening breeze, charming company—all these forces can and do make things like food and wine taste better. So it goes with coffee—our brains are influenced by everything around us at the moment of consumption.” —Jordan Michelman and Zachary Carlsen, authors of But First, Coffee

Hence why the coffee experts spend a lot of time meticulously thinking about which mugs they’ll use before even brewing a cup. It’s about the whole experience, Michelman and Carlsen argue. “Mellifluous music, a sweet evening breeze, charming company—all these forces can and do make things like food and wine taste better. So it goes with coffee—our brains are influenced by everything around us at the moment of consumption. This means that when it comes time to pick a mug, the vessel you drink from matters a great deal.”

perfect coffee mug
Photo: Zachary Carlsen

How to pick the perfect coffee mug

Unlike the generally-agreed rules of wine drinking (Chardonnays are best when served in a traditional white wine glass with a narrower rim to help concentrate the aromatics of the delicate grapes and preserve the chilled temperatures—but I digress!), the perfect mug is much more personal.

That said, why choose one perfect mug, when you can have many? “No coffee love can be truly satisfied by one mug alone,” Michelman and Carlsen explain. But here are a few ways you can hone in on the perfect mug(s) for your collection:

1. Pick up mugs wherever life takes you that help foster feelings of nostalgia

One surefire way to “deepen your appreciation of coffee in your home,” is by building a collection that’s special to you. “We’ve thought about this a great deal because we’re mug lovers in a deep and abiding way, collectors of many a mug from our years of travel and study across the world of coffee,” Michelman and Carlsen say.

“A vintage mug emblazoned with your favorite cartoon character from childhood or a particularly memorable campaign from a beloved sports team can make for very happy drinking.” Everytime you take a sip from that cup, you’ll be more inclined to associate it with a specific memory. “It can help the coffee taste better, creating a ‘flavoristic’ experience with multiple dimensions and resonances,” they argue.

2. Choose mugs that promote self-care and self-love

Nothing says “radical self-care” in Michelman and Carlsen’s purview than a mug that constantly reminds you of how great you are. Case in point, this “empowering” mug available on Amazon for $20, that’s coated in positive affirmations like “I trust myself” and “I am worthy,” can arguably make your morning coffee ritual an even more enlightening and mood-boosting experience. “Research has shown that just looking at positive affirmations can improve mental alertness, clarity, and mood—and that’s before your first sip,” they say.

3. Support local businesses

“Coffee and the ceramic arts have long been fruitful bosom buddies. Chances are there’s an artisan ceramist in your area making beautiful mugs for purchase. This is indeed a worthy investment,” Michelman and Carlsen say. This also applies to your local coffee shop. “Many cafes sell the mugs they use for service, often displayed in a small selection of merchandise alongside things like whole bean coffee and tote bags.” Not for sale? The coffee experts share a pro tip: check the bottom of the mug. “Take note of the make and model for further inquiry.” Genius.

But First, Coffee is by Jordan Michelman and Zachary Carlsen © 2023. Published by Union Square & Co. Photography © Zachary Carlsen

An RD shares the benefits of drinking coffee:

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  1. Cascio, Christopher N et al. “Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation.” Social cognitive and affective neuroscience vol. 11,4 (2016): 621-9. doi:10.1093/scan/nsv136
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