Does a Paper Cup Really Affect Tea Taste?

Paper cup taste — ugh! (Photo source: stock image)
Paper cup taste — ugh! (Photo source: stock image)

Finding myself out and about one day, and being the total Tea Princess that I am, I needed to purchase a cup of tea from a café. The very thought of drinking tea from a paper cup was intimidating but made me wonder. Does a paper cup really affect tea taste?

Let’s take a moment to look at what a paper cup is made of. In this case, we’re talking about the disposable paper coffee cups found in a majority of commercial coffee shops. They are designed to take the heat and hold liquid without leaking. Start with 100% bleached virgin paperboard, that is, the fiber used to make the paper is not recycled and has been bleached with chemicals to remove the natural pigments from the pulp. [Note: It is becoming more common for these paper cups to contain 10% or more recycled material.] To achieve water-tightness, the cups are coated with polyethylene (a synthetic resin that results from the polymerization of ethylene either removed from natural gas or distilled from petroleum).

Hm… not sounding too appetizing, I must confess.

Well, I bravely proceeded to order my cup of tea and selected a flavored one (cinnamon and other spices plus bits of orange rind, a sure guarantee to cover up any paper taste from the cup). To that tea I added milk and sweetener (2 packets since it was a tall cup). A plastic lid was also provided with the cup. Before putting that lid on the cup, I wanted to see how the tea would taste when sipped straight from the paper rim.

I tried a sip. Ouch! Too hot. So I had a seat at one of the café’s tables, watched the other customers coming and going, and patiently waited for the tea to cool a bit.

I tried another sip. The temp was good now, so I took a bigger sip. Bleh!! Definitely getting that paper fiber taste. Shudder! Worse yet, the cinnamon, spices, and orange flavoring in the tea seemed to make the paper taste even more noticeable, not less. Oddly enough, when I put on the plastic lid and sipped, the paper taste was no longer perceptible. Thank goodness!

Unfortunately, even with the plastic lid, the tea was not palatable — way too much flavorings and virtually no tea flavor. So much for experimenting! I ended up chucking the whole thing and starting over with a nice English Breakfast. Very worthwhile. This Tea Princess was at last satisfied to have a decent cuppa, and I kept the plastic lid on to avoid that paper cup taste.

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5 thoughts on “Does a Paper Cup Really Affect Tea Taste?

  1. Pingback: In My Cups: Indian Clay « Tea Blog

  2. James Kennedy

    It perplexes me to see that despite serving sometimes superb-quality artisan coffee, cafés will be willing to serve bagged tea with boiling water in a paper cup for the same price.

    It perplexes me even more that people are willing to pay for it.

    I bring my own tea and ask for free hot water, and I will continue to do that until they sell properly-brewed tea!

    1. A.C. Cargill

      Hi, James, I was desperate for a cuppa. That’s this Tea Princess’ only excuse for accepting bagged tea in a paper cup! And I suspect that the paper cup is as much at fault for the bad taste and that it was a bagged tea. Sigh!

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