A Mazagran cup, intended for drinking coffee
A modern tea cup

A cup is a small open container used for drinking and carrying drinks.[1][2] It may be made of wood, plastic, glass, clay, metal, stone, china or other materials,[3] and may have a stem, handles or other adornments. Cups are used for drinking across a wide range of cultures and social classes,[4] and different styles of cups may be used for different liquids or in different situations.[5]

Cups have been used for thousands of years for the purpose of carrying food and drink, as well as for decoration.[6] They may also be used in certain cultural rituals and to hold objects not intended for drinking, such as coins or soup.

Types of cups

Names for different types of cups vary regionally and may overlap. Any transparent cup, regardless of actual composition, is likely to be called a "glass"; therefore, while a cup made of paper is a "paper cup", a transparent one for drinking shots is called a "shot glass", instead.

Cups for hot beverages

While in theory, most cups are well suited to hold drinkable liquids, hot drinks like tea are generally served in either insulated cups or porcelain teacups.

Disposable cups

Disposable cups are intended to be used only once. They are often used by fast-food restaurants to serve beverages. Institutions that provide drinking water, such as offices and hospitals, may also use disposable cups for sanitary reasons.

Cups for alcoholic beverages

Some styles of cups are used primarily for alcoholic beverages such as beer, wine, cocktail, and liquor. There are over a dozen distinct styles of cups for drinking beer, depending on the precise variety of beer. The idea that a certain beer should be served in a cup of a certain shape may have been promulgated more for marketing purposes, but there very well may be some basis in fact behind it.[7] Wine glasses also come in different shapes, depending on the color and style of wine that is intended to be served in them.

Religious use

In the Christian ritual of Communion, adherents drink from a cup of wine (or a wine substitute) to commemorate the Last Supper of Jesus.[9] A chalice is often used for this purpose.

Ancient Greek religious practices included libations. The rhyton was one cup used for libations.

Cultural significance of cups

Since cups have been an integral part of dining since time immemorial, they have become a valued part of human culture. The shape or image of a cup appears in various places in human cultures.

Solo cups (especially red ones) carry strong cultural connotations, generally referring to the consumption of alcoholic beverages.[10] The cup game involves rhythmically striking plastic cups.[11]

Sports trophies

Many trophies take the form of a cup, often a loving cup. In sports, competitions themselves often take on the name of the cup-shaped trophy awarded.

Many trophies take the form of a large, decorated cup. In the case of the FIFA World Cup or the Sprint Cup Series, the competition itself may grow to take on the name of the trophy that is awarded to the winner. Owing to the common usage of cup-shaped trophies as prizes for the winners, a large number of national and international competitions are called "cups".[12]


In Tarot divination, the suit of cups is associated with the element of water and is regarded as symbolizing emotion, intuition, and the soul.[13][14] Cards that feature cups are often associated with love, relationships, fears, and desires.[13][15]


Chalices are sometimes used in heraldry, especially ecclesiastical heraldry.

Antiquity of cups

Cups improve on one's hands for holding liquids

Cups are an obvious improvement on using cupped hands to hold liquids. They have almost certainly been used since before recorded history, and have been found at archaeological sites throughout the world. Prehistoric cups were sometimes fashioned from shells and hollowed out stones.[16]

An ancient stoneware (terracotta) cup from the Sa Huynh culture (modern Viet Nam)

In Mesopotamia, cups were made for a variety of purposes, possibly including the transportation and drinking of alcoholic beverages.[17] There is evidence the Roman Empire may have spread the use of cups throughout Europe, with notable examples including silver cups in Wales and a color-changing glass cup in ancient Thrace.[18][19] In England, cups have been discovered which date back to several thousand years, including the Rillaton Gold Cup, about 3,700 years old. Cups were used in the Americas several centuries prior to the European arrivals.[20] Around the Gulf of Mexico, native American societies used the Horse conch for drinking cups, among other purposes.[21]

The King's cup

Historically, monarchs have been concerned about assassination via poisoning. To avoid this fate, they often used dedicated cups, with cup-bearers to guard them. A "divining cup" was supposed to be able to detect poison. In the Bible, Joseph interprets a dream for Pharaoh's cup-bearer,[22] and a silver divining cup plays a key role in his reconciliation with his brothers.

Puzzle cups

Various cups have been designed so that drinking out of them without spilling is a challenge.

Child development

Drinking from a cup is a significant step on a baby's path to becoming a toddler; it is recommended that children switch from bottles to cups between six months and one year of age.[23][24]

Sippy cups are sometimes used for this transition.

Culinary uses

The measuring cup, an adaptation of a simple cup, is a standard tool in cooking that has been in use at least as far back as Roman times. Apart from serving as drinking vessels, cups can be used as an alternative to bowls as a receptacle, especially, for soup.[25] Recipes have been published for cooking various dishes in cups in the microwave.[26]

Promotional cups

Cups are often distributed for promotional purposes. For example, a corporation might distribute cups with their logo at a trade show, or a city might hand out cups with slogans promoting recycling.

There are companies that provide the service of printing slogans on cups.[27]


  1. ^ Producer Chris. "Radio 1 Movies Blog: Who Drank From This?". BBC. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  2. ^ "Cup - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". August 31, 2012. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  3. ^ "Cup | Define Cup at". Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  4. ^ Producer Chris. "Radio 1 Movies Blog: Who Drank From This? The Answer". BBC. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  5. ^ "What Are the Different Types of Coffee Cups? (with pictures)". January 18, 2014. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  6. ^ Rigby 2003: p. 573–574.
  7. ^ "Beer Glass Types". Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  8. ^ McClenehan, Robert L. Some Scottish Quaichs. Illinois, 1955, p. 3.
  9. ^ "Are You Drinking of the Master's Cup?". Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  10. ^ Chan, Casey (July 3, 2013). "The Red Solo Cup Gets Classy". Gizmodo. Retrieved January 28, 2014. 
  11. ^ "The Cup Game". Great Group Games. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  12. ^ "'win the cup' Google news search". Google. Retrieved February 3, 2014. 
  13. ^ a b Burger, Evelin; Johannes Fiebig (2004). Tarot Basics. New York: Sterling. p. 76. ISBN 1402730403. 
  14. ^ Tarantino, P.C. (2007). Tarot for the New Aeon. Pebble Beach, CA: Alternative Insights. pp. 245–246. ISBN 0976618400. 
  15. ^ Ziegler, Gerd (1988). Tarot: Mirror of the Soul: Handbook for the Aleister Crowley Tarot. York Beach, Maine: S. Weiser. p. 191. ISBN 0877286833. 
  16. ^ Examples include a hollowed stone used to hold pigment for cave painting (see History of technology), and mussel shells used to hold cosmetics, examples of which have been found in Egyptian burial sites
  17. ^ "The Archaeology News Network: Gold cup headlines Mesopotamia exhibition". April 24, 2012. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  18. ^ "Roman Cup - Archaeology Magazine Archive". Archaeology. March–April 2004. Retrieved January 28, 2014. 
  19. ^ Merali, Zeeya (September 2013). "This 1,600-Year-Old Goblet Shows that the Romans Were Nanotechnology Pioneers". Smithsonian. Retrieved January 28, 2014. 
  20. ^ Norton, Elizabeth (August 6, 2012). "Starbucks of Ancient America?". ScienceNOW. Retrieved January 28, 2014. 
  21. ^ Atlantic City Aquarium, Horse conch. Accessed April 26, 2014
  22. ^ "Genesis 40 ESV - Joseph Interprets Two Prisoners' Dreams". Bible Gateway. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  23. ^ "Introducing a cup: 8 months and over". Heinz For Baby. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  24. ^ Last reviewed: July 2012 (January 1, 2000). "How can I encourage my toddler to drink from a cup?". BabyCentre. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  25. ^ "Lipton® Cup-a-Soup®". Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  26. ^ "Coffee Cup Quiche". St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 1 May 2012. Retrieved 9 February 2014. 
  27. ^ "Custom Promotional Cups, Branded Plastic and Paper Cups". Custom On It. Retrieved January 26, 2014. 
  • Rigby, Stephen Henry (2003). A Companion to Britain in the Later Middle Ages (Illustrated ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-0-631-21785-5.