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Mugs, Cups, and Steins

Updated on September 17, 2014

What are Mugs, cups, and Steins?

What's the difference between a mug and a cup? A stein and mug?

Different kinds of mugs, cups and steins are used for different things. Some people even collect one or another of them. And they've all been around for quite some time, so there's some history to each.

Mugs are popular gifts for office gift exchanges, and other ocasions. And steins are a must when Oktoberfest rolls around each year. There are some nice ones available on line, if you're interested.

Let's see what we can learn about them!

Image: my own modification of a pd graphic


Is it a Mug, a Cup, or a Stein?

What Are the Differences?

If you are drinking a beverage right now, and it's not in a glass, a bottle, or a can, then chances are it's in a mug, a cup, or a stein. But which is it?

Here are some quick definitions for you, from my huge (and well used) dictionary -a 1990 edition of The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary of the English Language.


1. n. a drinking vessel, generally cylindrical in shape, with a handle. (page 655)


1. n. a small bowl-shaped vessel, usually with a handle, for drinking tea, coffee etc. from, and usually matched with a saucer (page 235)


1. n. an earthenware beer mug, usually with an attached lid (page 971)

So, now we know that mugs are cylindrical, and always have a handle; Cups are bowl-shaped and may have a handle as well as a matching saucer; and steins are for beer. have handles (as they are classified as mugs, which DO have handles) and could have a lid. Steins are generally also taller than a standard mug.

This gives us a start, but it's not enough! There's more . . .

Photo: My big dictionary, and a cat mug

that I received in an office gift exchange

Title: Sea Coffee Mug
Title: Sea Coffee Mug | Source

What's Your Beverage Container of Choice? - Or do you even care?

Some people prefer one type of container over another for most everything they drink.

Others MUST have the beverage in the appropriate container ... tea in a teacup, coffee in a coffee cup, juice in a juice glass, wine in a wine goblet, beer in a stein, and so on.

Some do NOT like disposable containers because they don't want to contribute to the growth of landfills.

Others are lazy, so they like something that they can throw away rather than having to wash it before re-use..

And, to others, it's just not important.

What's your preference?

You can comment, too, if you like!

From which kind of container do you prefer to drink your beverages?

See results

Shaving Mugs - Make Nice Gifts for Dads and Granddads

REMINDER: Christmas will be here before you know it.

Some mugs are purpose-made for something other than drinking, such as shaving mugs. Shaving mugs often look like a standard mug, however, some also have a built in brush rest. Some also have a soap holder incorporated into the design to hold the shaving soap.


Get Your Steins Ready!

Oktoberfest 2013 is

September 21 - October 6

More About Mugs - They're Getting Bigger!

MUGS usually hold more than cups. By definition, a mug holds 12 ounces, as opposed to a standard tea cup, which holds six. However, mugs are now being made in even larger sizes to accommodate our growing indulgence for large amount of fluids. And modern ones are often insulated to keep hot beverages from cooling and cold ones from getting warm.

Many mugs today are used for other purposes, too. They are commonly used on desks to hold pens and pencils, and because of this, are a popular office gift.

Marvy Shaving Gift Set Contains Mug, Brush, And Soap


The above art print, titled "Mug Madness 4," by Resch, is available as a poster or a print on canvas, and can be purchased unframed, or in your choice of optional framing.


Mugs in History

They May be Older than You Think!

The earliest mugs found so far were in unearthed in Japan and China, and dated from about 10,000BC. They differ from earlier drinking vessels, in that they have handles, and so are true mugs.

The earliest prehistoric mugs found in the United States were from the Four Corners area of our desert southwest. Those in the photo are from about 1000 to 1280 AD, and are typical of the period and area, in that they are black on white. Although its meaning is unknown, the cutout on the handle (noticeable in the leftmost mug) is a common element, and is even found in ancient (pre) Pueblan doorways.

Historic Mug Making Material:

WOOD - It is believed that the earliest mugs were made of wood, however, no preserved examples have been found.

CLAY - Examples of hand shaped pottery mugs (see above) date from 10000BC, found in China. WHEEL THROWN pottery mugs from around 5000 BC have been found in Geece.

BRONZE, SLVER, GOLD, and LEAD Mugs were produced starting around 2000 BC.

PORCELAIN was invented around 600 AD in China, and is still used in producing mugs, cups, steins, as well as other items today.

Image: Anasazi Mugs, PD

Of Interest to Mug Lovers - from Amazon

The Shaving Mug & Barber Bottle Book: With Value Guide
The Shaving Mug & Barber Bottle Book: With Value Guide

Wondering about the valuation of your grandfather's old shaving mug? Start here!

Morning Mug (1)
Morning Mug (1)

What a fun mug! It magically turns from black to white as it 'wakes up' in reponse to hot coffee or tea. Makes a really cute gift.


A Special Gift Request - My Daughter Wanted Flowering Tea

This was exactly what my adult daughter wanted for her birthday gift. And, I knew I had seen one on Amazon. Unfortunately, when I went there, they were temporarily out of stock. (They are back in stock now.) She was disappointed to learn that her birthday present would be late, but was very happy to finally get it!

TeasEtc 8 Piece Flowering Tea Set with Traditional Teapot
TeasEtc 8 Piece Flowering Tea Set with Traditional Teapot

Set includes a hand blown glass tea pot, and eight tea buds. There's also an infuser for brewing regular loose tea.


The two most common types of cups are Teacups and Coffee Cups. In the US, both typically have handles, but some do not, such as "tea bowls" and small cups used for saki in Japan.


Teacups are usually smaller than mugs, and have handles designed to be grasped by the thumb and only one or two fingers, as opposed to mug handles, which are usually held by wrapping the fingers around the long staff side of the handle. Teacups are more formal in nature, and are rarely used interchangably with mugs. Rather, you'll see them at formal aftrenoon receptions, tea parties, and high tea.

Teacups traditionally have come in Tea Sets, slong with matching saucers, teapots, creamers and sugar bowls. Many are made of fine porelain, but tea sets in sterling silver and silverplate are also consired fine items to give as wedding or anniversary gifts. Such sets are usually considered family heirlooms, whether or not they have a great intrinsic value. I have one that was passed down from my grandmother to my mother, and then from her to me. It hardly ever gets used, but still, my daughter will have it some day.

Then there are the collectors. Those who collect teacups usually do not own entire tea sets, but rather, just single teacups and saucers. Some are included in collections for their beauty or value, others to commemorate an historic event, and still others as souvenirs of a visit to a special place.

Some collectible teacups have even been the subjects of artwork, like the one in the art poster at the beginning of this section.


Afternoon Tea, once a tradition in certain circles, has largely fallen by the wayside in the rush of modern life. However, you may still find an opportunity to experience Afternoon Tee, or even the more elaborate High Tea in a few places. There are a few upsccale hotels still serving Afternoon Tea. You'll find High Tea on the high seas should you cruise on one of the famous queeens of the Cunard Line, while Celeebrity Cruises serves Elegant Tea, and several other lines serve afternoon tea.

Gifts for Teacup Lovers - On Amazon

Here are some of the lovely cups and saucers available on Amazon.

Still More About Cups

Coffee Cups

The definition of a coffee cup is somewhat harder to pin down that than of a teacup. That's because a numbr of different types of cups are commonly referred to as coffee cups. So, perhaps it is safe to say that it is a cup-style container used for drinking coffee.

Those containers which are often referred to as Coffee Cups include, but are probably not limited to:

Those in the style of a teacup, but sometimes a bit larger and a little less delicate. Often used to serve after dinner coffee.

Those used exclusively for drinking specialty coffees, including the Demitasse Cup (which means half cup) for Espresso and the Italian Cappuccino cup.

Mugs- usually the 11 or 12 ounce size - are popular in America for morning coffee... often multiple cups of it!

Styrofoam and paper containers used for take-out and and in fast-food restaurants.

Your Favorite Coffee Beverage - Plase Vote!

What's Your Favorite Kind of Coffee?

See results

More About Steins

Oh, who hasn't seen one of those ornate beer steins with an elaborate Bavarian scene on the outside and a metal flip up lid on top? And who doesn't associate been steins with Germany, Bavaria, and Oktoberfest? I'm sure the list of those folks who don't think of steins in that way is very short!

We saw some wonderful ones at a beergarten in Munich some years ago, and were told that the custom was for the 'members' to LEAVE their personal steins at the beergarten for their exclusive use when they were there. There were rows and rows of them on high, narrow shelves along the walls. I don't remember if she said if this custom is still followed there today, or if it was just a display demonstrating a historial custom. Maybe someone who knows can say, and will leave a comment about this! Neverhteless, it was quite an etensive and lovely display of steins.

Once, beer steins were made of stoneware, with pewter lids. And those are the ones a lot of of us envision when we think of German beer steins. But, did you know that Octoberfest introduced GLASS beer mugs in 1892, and has routinely been using them ever since? The lids were for sanitary reasons - particularly to keep flies out of the beer. But, modern glass ones in popular use don't have lids.

Oh, you can still buy the ornate ones with lids. But, they are mostly sold as souvenirs and gift items. And the lids - WHEN they have them - are ornamental rather than a necessary sanitary precaution.

Today's gift steins come in liter and half-liter sizes. (A liter is a LOT of beer!) They are made from a variety of materials, incluuding pewter, porcelaine, wood, silver, and glass, in addition to the more authentic stoneware. Amd, yes, you can still bring back a souvenir stein from Germany with the elaborate raised Oktoberfest, beergarten, or Bavarian scene on it..

However, it is becoming very common for beer steins to have all manner of custom designs on them, like the ones you'll find online at Zazzle. Here are several steins from there:

Collectible Steins on Ebay

If you collect steins, or know someone who does, there seems to be a never ending assortment of fancy collectible steins on eBay. Here are some currently being auctioned there. Siome of these auctions end soon, but there's still time to get in on the action!

Grog in a Stein?

This page, which has a recipe for grog, might interest you, too.

Nautical Barware for Your Grog, Cocktails or Shot Glass Shots
Aye there, Matey! Sip a pint of Grog in a nautical stein. Or whip up your favorite cocktail recipes using nautical barware and drink accessories. A nautical...

Of Interest to Stein Collectors - on Amazon

Prost! Here are a few special hand picked items from Amazon for the beer lover. . These are great gift ideas ... or maybe you'd like one of them yourself!

Please leave your thoughts about this lens ... tell about what you collect ... or even just leave a friendly "Hello!"

The Guestbook is OPEN - . . . and waiting for YOU to sign it!

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    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      My like must not have taken from my other visit, will have to resolve that. Sure am glad I stopped by again. :)

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Love how you explained everything and showed examples. Blessed.

    • Hedremp profile image

      Sandra Wilson 6 years ago from Wilson Education Resource Centre

      Very interesting lens - thanks for all the wonderful details - who knew!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Actually going up to my favorite diner where they have a cool collection of mugs including a Campbells Kids mug. Don't know if it made the coffee better but it was pretty cool to see one again.

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 6 years ago from Canada

      I'm sitting here with my favorite mug!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Guess I am a 'tea-tottler' when it comes to mugs and glasses. Every sip counts. "Whether the glass is half-full or half-empty, I'll take it as long as it is Whiskey". :)


    • LouisaDembul profile image

      LouisaDembul 7 years ago

      I do love to drink tea and coffee from nice cups, it tastes better to me!

    • John Dyhouse profile image

      John Dyhouse 7 years ago from UK

      A great source of information on the drinking vessels, a fun AND informative lens, thanks.

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Here's a friendly hello coming your way and here's to you for a great education on all that we drink from. Actually, I like a mug just fine, or a cup or a stein....

    • profile image

      GetSillyProduct 7 years ago

      I like my whiskey in a tumbler and my beer in a stein :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Nice lens

    • tiff0315 profile image

      tiff0315 7 years ago

      Great lens! Very interesting and full of content!

    • indigoj profile image

      Indigo Janson 7 years ago from UK

      I enjoyed this comprehensive look at mugs, teacups and steins! Many thanks for suggesting I add by Oktoberfest Steins lens, happy to do so.

    • SandyMertens profile image

      Sandy Mertens 7 years ago from Frozen Tundra

      Thanks for explaining the difference. Often we call a mug a cup. Great lens.

    • profile image

      Anura 7 years ago

      Sure learned much that I never even thought of about mugs and cups. Very inspiring! Thanks for sharing. Kati, Anura Design Studio

    • profile image

      _Angelique_ 7 years ago

      Awesome lens! Beautiful products! Top Mark!!!

    • profile image

      blueangel85 7 years ago

      Very nice and well done lens !

    • profile image

      hildurbjorg 7 years ago

      Very nice lens :)

    • profile image

      mikes_photo_designs 7 years ago

      Some interesting designs you have here. Makes me reconsider steins.

    • profile image

      runninragged 7 years ago

      Interesting lens! I like to pick up unusual and novelty mugs at different places we visit.

    • profile image

      bebops 7 years ago

      Very interesting, I really learned some new stuff.

    • profile image

      Kanikis 7 years ago

      Love the lens!!! Love mugs- cups and steins as well!!! Great work!!!

    • profile image

      animotaxis 7 years ago

      Great lens, lots of variety.

    • DebinSC profile image

      DebinSC 7 years ago

      Great idea - and so much interesting stuff about cups and mugs and such. Who'd've thought?

    • seashell2 profile image

      seashell2 7 years ago

      Fabulous mug lens... love my coffee! I like the way you did this! :-)

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 7 years ago from East Central Florida

      @lilymom24: I am pleased as punch - Thank you!

    • lasertek lm profile image

      lasertek lm 7 years ago

      This lens is unique! I like it very much.

    • lilymom24 profile image

      lilymom24 7 years ago

      What a great lens on mugs! I hope you don't mind but I added this lens to my "featured lenses" on my mug lens. =)

    • tshirt4you profile image

      tshirt4you 7 years ago

      Thank you for being so kind adding two of my products. Good informative lens. Like the poll modules. Thumbs up! Ah yeah and keep using the Zazzle to Squidoo Tool :)

    • CruiseReady profile image

      CruiseReady 7 years ago from East Central Florida

      Thank you Mary, Robert, and Lora, for your nice comments

    • profile image

      loraseverson 7 years ago

      Lots of info on mugs here! Stumbled, tweeted, fb'd etc for you

    • profile image

      robertjohnston 7 years ago

      Very well made lens with some interesting facts

    • profile image

      maryrussel 7 years ago

      fun and informative. I have collections of mugs and of steins