Last week, Starbucks opened its first Teavana store in New York. No coffee, just tea, upscale snacks, and a brand new cup.

The Starbucks portable cup is a ubiquitous symbol of the company. But because tea brews at a hotter temperature, and is a more traditional, relaxing experience, the old cups wouldn't do.

The revamped cups boast double wall technology, nixing the need for a sleeve, and have curvier lids designed to mimic the feeling of porcelain china.

“It’s a Zen moment, and the cup should reflect that,” says Daniele Monti, Creative Director for Emerging Brands at Starbucks.

Can Starbucks loyalists expect Teavana cups for their coffee soon? “There’s a lot of love for the cup internally,” Monti says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the question was raised.”

Starbucks Reinvents The Coffee Cup

The coffee brand abandons its ubiquitous paper cup for a new, highly styled version aimed at tea drinkers.

Last week on the Upper East Side of New York, Starbucks unveiled its newest outpost, Teavana. Unlike the company’s other 13,000+ stores, Teavana will only carry tea and it will be served in a calm environment specifically designed to lure the 158 million Americans who prefer Chamomile over cappuccinos. In addition to an interior design that caters to tea drinkers--here food displays come after you order drinks so that you may peruse while your tea steeps--the company also revamped the most identifiable aspect of its original store: the cup.

“Even though today’s life forces most of us to be on the go, drinking tea is a traditional ritual,” says Daniele Monti, Creative Director for Emerging Brands at Starbucks. With that in mind, the Teavana cup was designed to evoke the feeling of drinking from porcelain china. That meant nixing the cardboard sleeves, which Monti calls a design “afterthought." Instead, the cup has double-walled insulation that mimics the effect of a sleeve (and uses an estimated 50 percent more material than a cup-and-sleeve combo). Gone is the familiar, flat cardboard texture of the standard Starbucks cup, replaced by an embossed paper that has a feathery, foamy feel. “It’s a Zen moment, and the cup should reflect that,” Monti tells Co.Design.

Considerable R&D was also packed into perfecting the ergonomics of the lid. The Teavana team wanted a curvier, organic look, and they widened the opening of the spout a bit so that drinkers could sip more of the beverage at once (since tea has a subtler flavor than coffee.)

Co.Design checked in with an avid tea drinker and designer: Ellen Lupton, graphic designer and curator of contemporary design at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, about the new design. "Dunkin Donuts also features a molded spout on their lids, but the new Teavana lid is more sleek and elegant overall," she says.

In addition to how it looks, the sensory experience of the Teavana cup versus the original Starbucks coffee cup isn’t just different--it’s vastly better. No scalding fingertips, fewer splashes escaping the redesigned lid. So could this cup become the new design for Starbucks coffee drinkers as well? “There’s a lot of love for the cup internally,” Monti says. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the question was raised.”

[Photos by Lyan Bernales]

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31 Comments

  • John V. Keogh

    What teapots are they using? How can a moulded spout be sleek? It looks like a mouth upthrust where no mouth should be.

  • J_Lillz5

    Better headline: "Starbucks tries to sell more tea by pretending to re-invent paper cups"

  • Tracy & Tom Hazzard

    The environmental impact should have been a more significant factor. It is well known that Starbucks is concerned with its environmental impact, which is why the design choices made are shocking. Aside from the additional material used, it is clear that a stack of these Teavana cups will contain half as many due to the double wall construction so twice the number of standard cup boxes will be shipping to these tea houses. Even when you account for shipping standard cups and sleeves, the carbon footprint of these new tea cups is likely much higher. It is possible to create a new cup and/or sleeve design that is an improvement over the existing in design, function, and environmental impact. This one misses the mark.

  • plish

    Let's see: Hotter temperatures so let's design a cup that's easier to hold but gives a bigger "sippy cup" spout to scald one's tongue. As a tea drinker, I dread taking the first sips of tea from any cup that has an opening in it and usually take the lid off to blow and sip. Couple that with the fact that a spout which is not tangential to the cup brim means that the cup must actually be tilted further than usual to get a sip which results in even more hot liquid being delivered. Cool cup but very uncool...

  • Chris_W_Hubbard

    Would be nice if they could try and make a lid out of something other then plastic. Paper?

  • Iain K. MacLeod

    Whenever I order a short from Starbucks it comes it two Short cups (for temperature reasons, I presume). So, I understand people worrying about the environmental impact of the new cup but the previous short cup is actually 100% more wasteful than you probably think it is.

  • Sean Johnson

    Looks like a regular coffee cup to me! Maybe they need an Englishman to design it for them!

  • Jacqueline Joseph

    I was actually most surprised to find out Starbucks owns Teavana. Who knew!

  • Chewieez

    I find the title a bit misleading. Shouldn't it read something more along the lines of "Starbucks designs a cup specifically for it's newly emphasized teas"? They are clear to say that this cup has no plans on replacing the cups they currently use for COFFEE and is only intended for their teas. So they aren't redesigning a coffee cup, yet.

  • DrivenByPassionReply

    What I find interesting is that few comments (as of my post) address the design aspects of the cup but rather focus on the ecological aspects or assert that this was an article written by (or suggested by the first comment in collusion with) Starbucks Corp. You would think that since Starbucks knows their market pretty well that they would de-emphasize increased paper usage and emphasize aspects of Teavana that are important to tea drinkers and not directly or indirectly endorse this article.

    As many of you have pointed out, the cup appears to have negative environmental impact. Since the No. American psychographic profile of tea drinkers tends be the greenest environmental cluster higher (1/3 most environmentally conservative, 50% refuse to buy a car not fuel-efficient, and 60% willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products), 62% in No. America have higher educated (college/post grad). But this group also tends to have be aware of both their education and their opinions and skew towards egotistical or an elevated perception of validity in their positions. So stop with the landfill rhetoric for a moment, step off the high horse and find out a little more why this may be a positive step for them.

    Many many years ago I worked at Starbucks as a barista (three different stores over a two year period) and still today while I travel across the country for very different work and get a tea from Starbucks the delivery of the product hasn't changed much. btw - I am only a tea drinker so I have watched these things with eagerness. The hot water spout installed at all Starbucks locations delivers water at 190 degrees F. In most cases during the years that I worked there, the single cup with a sleeve was insufficient to keep people from burning their hands. The tea had to be double cupped and put a sleeve on it. In the last 5 years at many locations, the stores have decreased the temperature of the water (170-180 F), increasing the steeping time but also increasing the likelihood of adding bitterness to the tea flavor profile.

    In grad school 15 years ago, we looked at Starbucks environment communication efforts. They calculate the impact based on the number of hot drinks sold (fixed number of paper cups 1:1). Publicly, their calculations did not account for double cupping, even though it's delivery difference was known internally at the company. It would have increased their environmental footprint negatively.

    I believe that this cup design and development is a first step, a test ground of sorts, for decreasing the paper cup usage at their 13000 stores while increasing the flavor profile of the tea (reduction in steep time). And at the same time giving the tea drinker both a tactile and heat retention designed vehicle of delivery.

    What do you think?

    (btw - I now work for an organic fertilizer company, not affiliated with Starbucks)

  • Andrea Z

    You cannot fault the commenters from responding to one another (and the author, and Starbucks too) about the environmental impact. The author brings up the point and it needed a discussion. Now you have started a new line of thought which is great.

    I vaguely remember ordering tea from Starbucks. Double cups? Yup. Bitter tea? Yup. With your explanation (which the author failed share), the new cup actually SAVES landfill space because the customer is served one cup instead of two. However, that doesn't mean the new cup is a design win.

    My critique of this article is that the author failed lend credibility to the new design, AND that she actually had the ears of Ellen Lupton who then contributed absolutely nothing to the quality of this read. (Couldn't the author provoke a more interesting, thoughtful response?) Daniele Monti could have been referenced as well to provide more resourceful explanation of this new cup ad why Starbucks thinks it's a win.

    But I feel you did, as did many other commenters. Why I'm still reading this is mostly because of the comments and points brought up, flippant as some may have been.

  • Mehnaz Aydemir

    I am a product designer..if a new concept uses %50 more material than the pre designed one, which produces more landfill, it needs to be scratched at ideation&brain storming level..it is very sad to come this far, and we can totally live without producing more landfill..if they could have come up with an idea to improve the actual cup in a smart way by using same amount or less material with a quality and added innovation..I already have ideas for this..

  • Chewieez

    Maybe if their customers came up with the idea of using reusable cups, they wouldn't have such a great need for disposable cups. All the blame and responsibility to be green doesn't fall on Starbucks. If people feel so strongly about the cup their tea is in, maybe they should bring in their own, or buy a reusable cup from Starbucks.

  • Sri

    this is totally an advertorial. Fast company could do better than publish this kind of content. And more importantly Teavana could do better than spending millions on OVER ENGINEERING an already disposable paper cup headed to the landfill. Spend that money on making better tasting tea, making the tea cultivation sustainable and sharing profits with the workers who pick tea leaves.

  • john garant

    Why am I looking at this paper cup? Don't I have anything better to do?