When it comes to coffee cups, there are a lot of options out there.
What materials should you look for? What’s the best cup size for a latte, a cappuccino, or just a regular cup of joe? How many cups are in a standard pack? And how many ounces are there in a Styrofoam coffee cup? In this guide, we’ll attempt to answer these questions—and many more.
What is in Styrofoam?
If you’ve ever visited a coffee shop or quick-stop gas station, you’re probably familiar with the receptacles known as “Styrofoam cups.” The white, opaque, slightly puffy material first made the scene in the 1940s and quickly became a popular choice for coffee and other hot beverages.
The truth is, this material isn’t Styrofoam. Though it bears some superficial resemblances to the actual article, the term is technically inaccurate for coffee cups. Here’s why.
True Styrofoam is a trademarked product, meaning only the owner is legally entitled to use the name. In this case, the owner and manufacturer are the Dow Chemical Company.
You may be familiar with the light blue Styrofoam that Dow distributes. Also known as extruded polystyrene foam, or XPS, it’s used as a form of insulation in walls, foundations, and roofing.
Styrofoam is made from a substance known as styrene, which is petroleum-based. Manufacturers use polymerization to refine the material into polystyrene, then add a hydrofluorocarbon agent. The mixture is then extruded and put under pressure until it expands into stiff boards.
So, what’s the difference between true Styrofoam and the stuff they use to make coffee cups?
To help differentiate between the two, remember that coffee cups and other food storage containers are made of expanded polystyrene foam rather than extruded. The same substance is used to make the packing material that’s commonly referred to as Styrofoam peanuts.
Also, note that foam cups are much less dense than Styrofoam insulation. It’s possible to crush a foam coffee cup in your hand, but you would never be able to do that with natural extruded polystyrene foam.
Imitation Styrofoam, sometimes called EPS for short, does an admirable job of keeping liquids at the proper serving temperature. That’s what makes them so popular within the coffee industry.
What Size Are Styrofoam Cups?
The standard size for a Styrofoam coffee cup is 8 ounces. When you see this designation, it means the cup can hold a maximum of 8 ounces (or 237 ml) of liquid. However, there are smaller and larger versions available as well.
Dart Styrofoam cups are sold in cases of 1000. You can also buy the cups in smaller quantities—sleeves of 25 or 100 are typical. In addition to the standard 8-ounce serving, the cups are available in various smaller and larger sizes. Such as 4 ounces and as large as 16 ounces.
What size cup you use should depend on which hot drinks you’re serving. For example, if you’re making a regular latte, you would probably want to use a 12-oz cup. The steamed milk and flourish of foam will take up a bit of extra space, and the beverage will look more impressive when it’s served in the proper receptacle.
Conversely, the smaller cups are a good choice for single or double espresso shots. Because the heat retention properties of polystyrene foam offer excellent insulation, these cups are a perfect fit for hot beverages.
That said, they can be a great choice when it comes to cold drinks as well. Parents hosting backyard events for toddlers and preschoolers should consider using Styrofoam cups, as they’re easy to grip and won’t cause injuries when dropped.
How Tall is an 8 oz Styrofoam Cup?
The 8-oz Dart Styrofoam cups measure 3-1/2 inches high. The top diameter measures just a bit smaller, at 3-1/5 inches. Meanwhile, the bottom portion of the cup measures 2 inches in diameter.
How Much Does a Styrofoam Coffee Cup Weigh?
Expanded polystyrene foam consists of 98 percent air. As a result, these beverage cups are exceptionally lightweight.
Styrofoam weighs 0.05 grams per cubic centimeter—virtually nothing, in other words. This means that you’ll barely notice the weight of an empty 8-ounce coffee cup as it rests in your hand. This is another quality that makes the material an excellent choice for both hot and cold liquids.
Advantages of Styrofoam Cups
In terms of manufacturing, here are a few of the advantages that expanded polystyrene foam has over paper:
- Requires 42 percent less water
- Uses 17 percent less total energy
- It doesn’t harm trees
- Doesn’t use any chemicals that can be harmful when disposed of in water
- Sourcing materials and shipping uses nearly 1/4 less petroleum
On a practical level, Styrofoam cups offer the following benefits over paper cups:
- They’re inexpensive
- They feature superior insulation
- They’re suitable for both hot and cold liquids
- The material is lighter and easier to transport
- It doesn’t require double-cupping
We should point out that Styrofoam has been banned in certain regions, despite its convenient properties. Some US states and municipalities have outlawed its use in the interest of cutting back on waste that would end up in landfills.
For example, the distribution of Styrofoam is not permitted in the entire state of New York. However, in some areas of Massachusetts, the substance is still allowed, but it’s banned in 52 cities across 12 counties.
Why the backlash? Primarily, it’s not easy to recycle Styrofoam. Most recycling centers refuse to accept it at all. It also takes centuries to biodegrade and can pose a threat to any animals that scavenge from landfills.
For these reasons, many chains refuse to use the material any longer. Dunkin Donuts, for example, made the switch to paper cups in 2020. Starbucks, meanwhile, has been using paper cups for years.
Although Styrofoam (EPS) has its detractors, many distributors still offer foam cups in various sizes. The most popular ones can hold 8 ounces of liquid, but you can choose a smaller or larger version, depending on what you’re serving.