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Our coffee maker instructions often refer to a "cup" of coffee. These cups are whats marked on the side of the coffee maker showing how much water is in the reservoir. The instructions never define what a "cup" actually equates to. It appears to about 6 oz. An old coffee maker seems to also have had this definition of "cup". The coffee beans we got from the local coffee shop also have instructions indicating one scoop of beans per 6 oz cup.

To be clear -- Is a "cup" to a coffee maker always 6oz? and therefore it has nothing to do with the Imperial unit "cup" which is 8oz? Its more a notion of a typical serving size of coffee?

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Given the cultural variation in coffee preparation, it would be useful to make your context explicit. (I presume it's the USA, since you're talking about ounces, but one can never be sure). –  Peter Taylor Jul 14 '12 at 19:31
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My Keurig coffee make has markings for small, medium, and large cup. They are equivalent to 6oz, 8oz, and 10oz respectively. –  smcg Jul 15 '12 at 3:35
    
And remember US and UK fluid ounces are slightly different. –  staticsan Jul 30 '12 at 7:13
    
If you buy a boxed set of place settings, they come with these teeny little coffee/tea cups that collect dust at the back of your cupboard. For some reason, these useless things have become the standard size for coffee, even though no one uses them. –  Chris Cudmore May 13 '13 at 20:52

2 Answers 2

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Assuming you're talking about USA usage, you're correct, a "cup" is usually 6oz. In the USA, the standard size for a "cup" of coffee is 6oz, even though nobody drinks cups of coffee that small (12oz to 20oz is more common). For that matter, the size of a "cup" of tea can be 5oz or 6oz when the number of "cups" a teapot holds is listed; a "6 cup" teapot is only 32oz.

However, be careful how the word is used in American recipes. If a recipe calls for a "cup" of coffee, they are more likely to be calling for an 8oz cup, rather than a 6oz cup.

I can't find a clear reference as to where the unrealistic 6oz measurement for a cup of coffee started. Likely it was some episode of cost-cutting validated by Federal regulation -- or possibly the result of Mr. Coffee -- but we're stuck with it as customary now.

However, even though a 6oz cup of coffee may be customary, specific coffee maker manufacturers may use different measurements on different models, including cups as small as 4.2oz. So don't assume unless you've checked.

Oh, and also note that the 8oz cup is American, rather than Imperial measurement. An Imperial cup is around 10oz, although you're unlikely to encounter this measurement in any recipe published after World War I.

Confused yet?

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Maybe the 6oz measurement started at the time when Americans still drunk coffee in that measurement, AFAIK the trend to ridiculously large drink sizes is a few decades old –  rumtscho Jul 15 '12 at 11:08
    
The meaning of "cup of coffee" varies by country. I have a Technivorm coffee maker that is manufactured in the Netherlands. The markings to fill the water correspond to 4 oz per "cup of coffee". –  Rick G Jul 15 '12 at 15:09
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rumtscho, yes -- actually I'm guessing it dates to a time when there was a difference between "cups" and "mugs" and coffee "cups" were the round-bottomed ones which look like oversized teacups. –  FuzzyChef Jul 15 '12 at 18:10
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Also note that "oz" varies. An imperial fluid oz is 28.413 ml, whereas a US fluid oz is 29.573 ml. What's for sure is that if I want to make one cup of coffee, I put more water in the machine than the "1 cup" level. –  slim Feb 6 '13 at 13:15
    
And this is why you generally want to find where it lists the volume in liters, as both cups and ounces may not be what you think they are. (although I seem to remember there being one review of an electric kettle where someone complained that the number of liters didn't correspond to the 'max fill line' of the kettle, so even that can be not what you expect) –  Joe Feb 6 '13 at 18:51

From The Professional Chef (by The Culinary Institute of America), p. 1165:

1 measuring cup holds 8 fluid ounce (a coffee cup generally holds 6 fluid ounces)

So indeed, the unit 'cup' is different from the standard coffee 'cup'. I wouldn't assume a coffee cup always to be exactly 6 oz, there might be variation from brand to brand. There shouldn't be any variation in the cup unit though.

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