March 11, 2013

Taster's choice: Portland coffee lovers debate merits of Styrofoam cups

The answer depends on the Joe.

By Ray Routhier
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Kevin Sturtevant, an English instructor at SMCC, sips from a coffee mug at Arabica Coffee on Friday. Sturtevant says he is opposed to Styrofoam cups because of the waste they cause.

Photos by Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Ernie Mills of Old Orchard Beach sips coffee from his paper Dunkin’ Donuts cup Friday. Mills said he prefers paper over Styrofoam because of the feel of the cup.

Gabe Souza

The idea that people's past experiences and expectations affect taste seemed to fit the scenario described by Kevin Sturtevant of Portland, as he sat correcting papers near the front of Arabica on Friday.

"I really dislike the idea of Styrofoam intently, so I very rarely drink coffee from it. But when I have, it was because it was the only thing available and it was pretty crappy coffee," said Sturtevant, 30, an English instructor at Southern Maine Community College.

While the science tells us taste is about a lot of different sensory experiences, Beauchamp says he knows of no studies that have been done about the way coffee tastes in a Styrofoam cup versus a paper one.

"I imagine if someone came to us and said this was a very important issue we'd probably study it, but so far I don't think anyone has," Beauchamp said.

Surprising, shocking really, when you think of how important a cup of joe is to your average Joe.

In fact, coffee is so important that some folks would likely drink it out of a boot as long as they can get it into their mouths. For them, a Styrofoam versus paper taste debate is irrelevant.

"I just love coffee so it doesn't matter to me at all what cup it comes in, I'll drink it," said Maryellen O'Toole, a school nurse from Scarborough, as she carried a Styrofoam cup of coffee out of Dunkin' Donuts at One City Center. "For water, I'm fussy, it has to be in a bottle."

With coffee, the sense of smell probably has the second greatest impact on taste.

"When you swallow aromatic foods, the aroma goes up your throat to the back of your nose while you're tasting it. All your tongue can measure is how sweet, sour, bitter or salty it is, so a lot of the taste comes from the smell," said Camire, the UMaine professor.

That's why people who have bad head colds say they can't taste food anymore.

Of course, the container can add things to coffee you hadn't planned on, even if you don't necessarily taste them.

Styrofoam has chemical components called styrenes, which Camire says can leak when subjected to heat.

"I personally go for paper cups because plastics and Styrofoam both have material that can leak out into the beverage. And that doesn't sound that good to me," she said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:


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