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Disposable Cups:
The Way “To Go”

By Max Zimmermann

Just think about how often we enjoy our cup of coffee “to go” or as “take away,” not taking the time anymore to sit down in a coffee shop. We are constantly on the move but still get our coffee, whether in the car, on the plane or just during our walk through a shopping mall.

To do so, we get our fresh brew in a disposable cup, of which there are many kinds. Some work better for the intended purpose than others, so the question is about what kind of requirements we have for these cups.

First of all, the consumer should be able to hold the cup, despite the hot liquid inside, which may be very close to boiling temperature. This is not an easy task for the disposable cup, yet the Styrofoam cup fulfills this requirement quite well. On the other hand, the cup needs to sustain the content’s temperature for a long time, especially when we get our coffee in the morning at the drive-thru and enjoy it once we arrive at our workplace.

As coffee shops are growing world wide, competition is often tough, and the disposable cup is often used as an advertisement tool, as well. In order to be effective, it is important to have a high quality print, which happens to be easier done on paper. This is due to the different printing processes: on paper it is done prior to the cup forming process whereas in the case of Styrofoam and plastic cups, printing is down after the forming process.

An additional requirement is that the cup be environmental friendly. This means the cup should be made out of natural materials and be recyclable. Paper products are known to be environmentally friendly as long as they are disposed in the proper way (well, I’m sure we all agree that no disposable product looks good along the highway or the railroad track).

So requirements for the disposable cups can be summarized by the following:

  • Good insulation effect (to keep content hot and outer surface cool)
  • Good graphics
  • Recyclable
The different kinds of cups we find in the market are made out of Styrofoam, plastic (still often used in vending machines in Europe) and paper.

Now let us take a closer look at the paper cups. There are many different options when choosing paper cups. Following are descriptions of several paper cups, although the market is by no means limited to this:

Handle cups:
These are single layer paper cups with an integrated paper handle. These handle cups are still very common in the Scandinavian countries as well as Arabian countries. Due to the structure these cups are limited to an approximately 9 oz fill capacity.

Single Wall cups:
To get a certain insulation effect, many converters increased the calliper of the raw material. But the thicker paper also gives the cup a better stability, especially when we get to the larger cup sizes such as 16 oz. and 22 oz. (in the U.S,. 22 oz. cup sizes are very popular where in Europe the 16 oz. cup is most likely the maximum hot cup size; in Asia the most popular hot cup sizes are in the 10/12 oz range). Due to the single layer paper the cup itself has a limited insulation effect.

Sleeves/Jackets (for single wall paper cups)
Often a corrugated sleeve/jacket is being used for insulation purposes, but the downside is that the print on the cup gets covered. So why do we print on the cup when we cover it later on?

“Multi layer cups”
Some paper cups offer additional layer(s) of paper, which is wrapped directly around the cup. Most likely the outer layer material is embossed, which might disturb the look of the print.

But, as stated, there are more choices than the above. For instance, the German machine manufacturing company, Michael Hörauf, has offered, for many decades, machines for the production of paper cups and containers. The company offers a system to produce a true insulation cup, made out of paper. The systems consists of two machines: a paper cup forming machine and an outer sleeve machine, both connected to each other and operating as a fully integrated manufacturing line.

The unique feature of this air-insulated paper cup is a special design of the cup, which offers a groove on top. The outer-sleeve is attached to this groove and also offers an in-curl on the lower edge. This in-curl along with the cup’s groove creates an air gap between the two layers of materials.

A test of filling coffee in different types of disposable cups (air-insulated paper cup, multi-layer paper cup, single wall paper cup, Styrofoam cup and plastic cup) shows that the air-insulated paper cup keeps the coffee hot the longest, where at the same time the outer surface stays the coolest (see chart). As the outer sleeve is a straight surface (no embossing), it offers extremely high quality graphic capabilities.

Michael Hörauf has recognized the market’s needs for a more advanced coffee cup - the air-insulated paper cup.

Information for this article has been supplied by Max Zimmermann, sales manager of packaging equipment at Maschinenfabrik Michael Hörauf, Mozartstrasse 39-41, D-73072 Donzdorf, Germany. Tel: (49)(7162) 942-576, Fax: (49) 7162-942-510, E-mail: sales@hoerauf.com, Web site: www.hoerauf.com.


Tea & Coffee - December/January, 2005
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