What Colour is a Coffee Mug?

I made a little experiment the other day. I’ll tell you in a moment, but first some background:

In the scene I’m currently writing one of the characters (Paivi) shows up carrying a tray with two mugs and a pot of coffee. When I first mentioned the mugs in the text it didn’t flow well the include their colour, so I skipped it.

Then, a few paragraphs later, there’s an opportunity to mention the colour and give the mugs a bit more of a presence in the story (I’m big on coffee), and I decided they were white, because that’s how I thought of them. It didn’t sit right with me though. What if someone assumed the mugs were a different colour?

The mugs, and the colour of the mugs, aren’t important to the story, but they’re important to the reader’s immersion. If someone imagined orange mugs (like at the coffee shop I go to after work when I’m not broke) it’d annoy them if I later pointed out the mugs were white.

That was my dilemma, and that’s why I decided to make an experiment. It’s anecdotal and unscientific, but I still consider it a success. As I often do, I took to Facebook for help, and I posted the following question:

What’s the default colour of a coffee mug? Not the liquid in it, the mug itself.

The question received the following answers:

  • Whiteish
  • Off-white
  • Porcelain
  • Mug or cup?
    If cup; white with small flowers on it – if mug; brown-beige ombre.
  • Diska den med salt, så ser du själv! [Swedish for: wash it with salt, and you’ll see yourself!]
  • White? Is that a trick question?
  • White
  • Depends on the type of person it is, rustic types would have unglazed clay which can be white/grey/red/brown, if they’re rich, the hardest/expensive colours would be white or blue/purple, thin and fragile would show extreme craftsmanship and expense.
    Modern society they’d be hardened glass things that look like jam jars, or whatever came free with the day after easter egg bargains.
  • There is no mug.
  • Orange
  • As black as my soul
  • default color = Who gives a damn – as long as the coffee is black, steamy and STRONG!!!
  • Sounds like I am the only one that likes milk in their coffee

And that’s it.


  • Four answers say a mug is some kind of white.
  • Five answers specify some other colour (although one of them may have referred to the coffee inside the cup).
  • Four comments did not answer the exact question, but still contributed some insights.


This is my mug collection on my desk at work.

The main thing to take away is that even within this small sample size not everyone automatically assumes that coffee mugs are white.

That should be kind of obvious really. After all, not all cups are white.

In the end I just wrote that the cups were large and skipped mentioning the colour completely. After all, the colour isn’t actually important.

What Colour is a Coffee Mug?

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