Despite its place as a kind of operational afterthought, the to-go cup lid segment has a surprisingly deep history of innovation.
Yes, it is a piece of plastic with a hole in it, but there may also be lip-engaging buttresses, lateral bracing, content dimples, counter-shaped recessions or peel-back snap closures. Following the first patented coffee cup lid in 1967 — Alan Frank’s “cup and lid” — the decades since have seen scores of new lid patents, from functional icons by the likes of Solo and Dart to the oddly specific, like Glen Hardaway’s “Donut-warming lid for coffee cup.”
Now a company called Vaporpath is marketing its Viora Lid specifically to “third wave” coffee shops, hoping that bigger mainstream sellers in the industry will take notice and follow suit.
“Consumers have a vast array of premium coffees and teas to choose from,” says Vaporpath president Barry Goffe. “Yet, they’ve had to use to-go lids that have failed to evolve with the market.”
On display at this year’s SCAA show in Seattle, the lid’s main selling point is that it maximizes the olfactory experience through a large smile-shaped mouth opening and a smaller circular opening that sits just under the drinker’s nose. While the opening promotes direct orthonasal smelling — Vaporpath says the experience is like that of drinking from an open-topped mug — it also encourages retronasal smelling.
“Retronasal smelling happens when aroma travels through the pharynx in the back of your mouth to your olfactory membrane,” the company says. “When you purse your lips to drink through the straw-like opening of a conventional lid, it closes your soft pallet and blocks the pharynx. With the Viora Lid, your lips stay relaxed, enabling you to have a full retronasal experience as you drink.”
Vaporpath says lids with small openings can make the actual delivery of liquid into the mouth unpredictable in both timing and volume, and the company says the design responds to that problem through deeply recessed drink well above the mouth opening, which they say results in smooth and consistent delivery.
The lid is made from high-impact, polystyrene (HIPS), a recyclable but non-biodegradable plastic found throughout the food packaging industry. The company says the material maintained truer aroma than compostable options in testing, but they are keeping an eye on developments in the biodegradable materials industry.
“While we are going to market with a lid made from HIPS, we are really material-agnostic and could make lids out of PLA if the case for doing so makes sense,” Vaporpath says. “From everything we have read, it is our sense that the real green solution will be more effective recycling once better recyclable plastics that work well for hot cup lid applications — and better recycling infrastructure — become available.”
The lid was actually designed by Seattle resident Doug Fleming, a lawyer and inventor by trade who describes the design as “surpisingly difficult.” He and Goffee suggest that lid quality has not kept pace with coffee and drink quality improvements, from coffee processing to roasting to brewing. Thus, the company is targeting its lid toward high-end, quality-focused shops.
“Long before the term ‘third wave coffee’ existed, I was on a quest for great beans and quality brewing,” Fleming says. “However, when I took my coffee to go, I was disappointed by the experience of drinking through a lid. Lids have a huge influence on the taste experience.”