Coffee Cup Vs Mug – Ultimate Showdown For Sipping Satisfaction

So, here's a secret: I never actually learned the difference between a coffee cup vs mug. I always thought they were just interchangeable names for the same thing (don't call the coffee police!).

Cut to a conversation I had this week with my fellow Barista HQ writers, and I got an embarrassing surprise - definitely not the same thing.

Come with me as I break down the differences between a cup vs mug so you can avoid making the same mistake I did.

Base, Sides, Brim

The first way to distinguish between a coffee cup vs mug comes down to the base, sides, and brim.

A cup is on the shorter side with an elegant brim that is wider than the coffee cups’ narrow base.[1] The base is also often slightly raised above the table.

The diameter of the brim is typically no bigger than the length of the sides.

This design is so that espresso with crema and other similar concentrated coffees get the crema to your lips first, mellowing out the rest of your sip.

A mug is a tall and broad beast that is stable and secure.[2] Often more even or cylindrical, there is usually no tapering at the base and brim.

There is no need to worry about things like crema, so it can afford to be wider or more uniform.

The Shape

Coffee cups are dainty and elegant things with curvy edges - think of those teacups and saucers you see at the Mad Hatter’s tea party or high tea events.

It tapers and lifts like an upside-down bell and typically fits perfectly with a matching saucer.

A standard mug, on the other hand, is very sturdy and portable. It is often bulkier and wider than a cup with a uniform cylindrical shape.

A coffee mug is also on the taller side compared to a coffee cup or teacup.

Coffee Cup And Coffee Mug Side-By-Side

The Handles

The handles are a big giveaway when it comes to telling the two apart, which is how it all started making sense to me.

Coffee cups tend to have thinner handles with delicate curves.

These smaller handles also tend to only fit two or three fingers, or you pinch the cup handle gently with a pinky out.

Some modern designs get creative with them, but they often retain their tiny and dainty nature.

A mug tends to have a much larger handle, often enough for you to wrap your hand around the mug. It is also thicker and often a more even, simpler shape.

Mugs are built for practicality and durability; these large thick handles make sense to support the larger size.

Interestingly, it is possible to get some mugs without handles - these are called beakers or bowls.

You can also get insulated travel mugs without a handle, as it is much safer to hold those with your entire hand.

Serving Amount (Size)

When it comes to drinking coffee, the type of coffee vessel you pick will determine how much coffee you get.

Coffee shops tend to have both stocked, as well as other coffee cups and mugs, so they can create a certain aesthetic for your order.

Coffee cups are typically smaller cups of between 3 and 6 fluid ounces per serving. Because of this, they tend to be best for espresso shots and other small espresso-based drinks.

Coffee mugs are generally bigger and give larger servings because they can hold more coffee. They range on average from 8-12 fluid ounces, with some Starbucks monster designs able to hold up to 20 fluid ounces.

Which Drink Type Is Best For Each?

I briefly touched on this above, but the drinking vessel you use will change depending on what beverages you are drinking (as well as personal preference).

A coffee cup is typically used to serve small espresso-based drinks like an espresso shot, cortado, or herbal tea.

You often find people taking the time to get their fancy beans or techniques out for these cups.

A coffee mug is perfect for larger servings or that hasty morning coffee. This is where you'll find me. 

As you can fit more liquid and there is more space, you can go ham with milk in a latte and make latte art or get all the fixings on your hot chocolate.

There is also more room for a spoon and sweeteners in a mug than there is in a cup.

White Mug Beside Coffee

Coffee Cups (Best For At-Home Cozy Coffee Sipping)

When Should You Use A Coffee Cup?

A coffee cup is a refined and delicate thing, often in a set with matching saucers and even spoons or milk jugs. They often feature gorgeous designs splashed across glass, porcelain, or china.

Coffee cups are perfect for tea parties and impressing people at family celebrations or other special occasions.

Alternatively, you can use them to feel fancy while taking a slow morning with your most expensive beans.

When Should You Not Use A Coffee Cup?

Coffee cups are not the container you want when you are rushing around doing chores, drinking a lot of coffee, or while out and about.

A coffee cup is not built to handle rough and ready days of rushing around after the kids and getting out in the garden for a weeding session.

Woman Holding Two Coffee Cups

Coffee Mug (Best For On-The-Go Coffee Drinkers)

When Should You Use A Coffee Mug?

A coffee mug is a trusty and sturdy companion that can handle the roughest days. It can be easily chucked in the microwave or dishwasher and is made for that rushed morning coffee.

I also love using a mug when I come into the warm on a freezing day to warm my hands.

When Should You Not Use A Coffee Mug?

There’s no real time when you shouldn’t use a coffee mug, unless you’re hosting a fancy gathering and want to impress your guests with coffee cups.

While coffee mugs can have fun designs, they are more practical than pretty.

Most people prefer leaving mugs to everyday coffee drinks like iced coffee or cappuccino rather than the fancy stuff.

If you are having a special event or themed party, I would recommend leaving the mugs in the cupboard. Also, espresso will be a drop in a bucket in a mug - just go for other hot drinks.

Multiple Red Coffee Mugs For Drinking Outdoors

Does Coffee Really Taste Better in a Mug: Fact Or Fiction?

In the coffee mug vs coffee cup debate, there is one big question that stands out: does coffee taste better in one or the other?

A cup and a mug both have their differences and advantages. However, this is something that I believe comes down to personal preference.

Ignoring design and materials like ceramic or porcelain cups, the biggest difference between them is that we use them differently to craft a certain experience.[3]

With a coffee cup, you are often looking for something more special than a regular cappuccino. Their appearance is floral and dainty - you can't help but want to put your pinky out when you use them. 

You see them at the fanciest events and coffee shops, and they bring a certain elegance and refinement to your coffee-drinking session.

Coffee mugs, on the other hand, make me think of practicality and comfort.

These sturdy mugs often have fun designs but are built to last. No matter what is happening in your life or what your day brings, a coffee mug is ready for anything.

Wrapping my often cold hands around a coffee mug is so comforting - even when I am just sipping on instant coffee.

The experience you create by using these vessels and how they are served affects how the coffee tastes.

Some folks will prefer a more refined taste -and others a more rough-and-ready morning coffee. It is all about perspective and personal preference.

Coffee Cups And Coffee Mugs On Wooden Table

Common Coffee Cup Versus Mug Questions

What is a mug without a handle called?

A mug without a handle is called a bowl or beaker. Some thermal insulated travel coffee mug designs do not have a handle, so some may be called travel mugs.

Is 1 cup the same as 1 mug?

One cup is sometimes the same as a mug if that mug holds 8 fluid ounces. A coffee cup is typically much smaller than most mugs and has different measurements.

What is a small coffee cup called?

There are a few types of small coffee cups that are called different things. Espresso cups or demitasse holds around 2-3 ounces of coffee[4], whereas a Gibraltar glass holds around 4.5 ounces. Have fun shopping for new cups to drink your coffee-based drinks from.

So, Which One Do You Prefer?

Now you know the answer to 'Is a mug a cup?' -- no! A coffee cup is smaller and for more refined espresso drinks - while coffee mugs are there for coffee art and bigger cold drinks or beverages.

Each has key differences and different advantages. However, it is how you want to take your daily caffeine that decides which comes out on top.

Now you can use this knowledge to impress your friends at tea parties and as an excuse to treat yourself to a new set of coffee cups and coffee mugs.



Chloe Page


Chloe Page
A lifelong mocha fan, Chloe is an award-winning writer with over eight years’ experience weaving words. Her journey in the coffee industry is highlighted by extensive research and interviews with coffee experts. In her moments of relaxation, you'll often find her sipping on Bird and Blend tea, thoughtfully scribbling in her notebook.

My favorite drink? I'd go with... Bird and Blend Co Tea

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