Brow Beat

Are Edible Coffee Cups Really a Good Idea? I Made Some to Find Out.

KFC’s edible coffee cups.

KFC

Last week, KFC won the Internet (or at least tons of free press) by releasing several photographs of the edible “Scoff-ee Cups” it plans to release in U.K. stores later this year. (In the U.K., scoff is slang for to scarf down.) According to the Telegraph, the cups are made of a crunchy wafer-like cookie, “wrapped in sugar paper and then lined with a layer of heat-resistant white chocolate to keep the coffee hot and the cup crispy.” They are also infused with scents intended to improve eaters’ mood, such as “coconut sun cream,” “freshly cut grass,” and “wild flowers.” (The designers of the cup were apparently unaware that the smells of cookies and coffee have also been known to lift one’s mood.)

Is an edible coffee cup a good idea? It’s certainly not a new idea. Italian coffee company Lavazza developed a “Cookie Cup” for espresso in 2003 but never marketed it widely. A Los Angeles coffee shop called Alfred Coffee & Kitchen began serving espresso from chocolate-dipped waffle cones last fall. Although there are many good theoretical reasons to embrace edible dishware—the New York Times and other outlets note that they address “consumer concerns about the environmental impact of packaging”—edible coffee cups haven’t yet become widely available. Why? Safety? (Is this a prudent way to carry around steaming hot liquid?) Hygiene? (Do you really want to put this thing in your cup holder?) Taste? I can’t yet test-drive KFC’s model—no one can, except the model who was cast in the photo shoot—so I decided to try making some to find out.

I started with a recipe I found on an Australian food blog, which called for baking a sweet piecrust-like dough in small cup-shaped molds and then brushing the inside of each cup with a glaze intended to insulate and protect it. This recipe required some conversions and substitutions: I found I needed to add milk to the dough to get it to hold together, I baked my cups in a muffin tin instead of a fancy mold, and I used brown rice syrup instead of “glucose syrup,” which is difficult to find in this hemisphere. I ended up with nine little bowls encrusted with icing, each large enough to hold perhaps one shot of espresso. (I would have had more cups if I hadn’t snacked on the cookie dough along the way.)

How did they perform? I enlisted some brave colleagues to help me find out.

My takeaway is that, even if you’re not a master baker or a multinational food corporation, it’s fairly easy to make an edible cup that will hold a small amount of hot liquid without disintegrating. But there is an inherent tension between sturdiness and deliciousness. My cups were unpleasantly hard when empty, although the coffee softened them up enough that they didn’t hurt anyone’s teeth. Still, given a choice between a cookie cup and, say, a soft, chewy peanut butter cookie, I would choose the peanut butter cookie 99 times out of 100.

Which points to, I think, another problem with edible cups: You’re not always in the mood for a cookie every time you drink a cup of coffee. I usually drink about three cups of coffee per day (hey, the government says it’s OK), and I would be in terrible shape, physically and emotionally, if I ate even a small cookie cup with each one. Meanwhile, the KFC version, judging from the photo shoot, is the size of a normal 8- to 12-ounce paper coffee cup—an enormous quantity of cookie material. I don’t generally go to models for advice on healthy eating, but I think we can all sympathize with what the KFC model wrote about the prototype cookie cup on Instagram: “didn’t eat it too many calories haha.”