Tea set vs coffee set – what’s the difference

At Lavish Shoestring we typically stock 500+ tea and coffee sets at any time, and our central office holds a tea party almost every week.

People often ask us what the difference is between a coffee set and a tea set. Why do we say that one cup is for tea while another, similar one, is for coffee? We answer…

Quick tips

  • They differ in size and shape
  • A coffee pot tends to be taller, a teapot more globular
  • A teacup is bigger, with a flaring shape
  • A coffee cup – sometimes called a coffee can – is small and straight
  • Anomaly: early 19th century coffee cans were large, like modern mugs
  • The sizes of tea and coffee spoons follow the cup sizes

The cups…

Coffee cups
I love coffee and I drink a lot of it. I opt for a large cup and would typically take my coffee in a mug or a large teacup. But in times gone by coffee was served strong and in smaller portions. That influenced the coffee cup design, which evolved to be smaller and with straight sides.

Teacups are much larger and have flaring rims, so the shape allows us to serve more tea, and to add milk and stir in sugar.

Coffee pot vs teapot
A coffee pot differs from a teapot mainly in shape. A coffee pot is usually tall and slender, while traditional teapots are more globular in shape. Yet often the two will hold a similar amount of liquid. In full sets, especially silver or silver plated, there is a teapot, a coffee pot and a hot water pot. The hot water pot looks very similar to a coffee pot and sometimes it’s sold as such.

Coffee pots


Cream or milk jug (‘creamer’), sugar bowl and plates
There is no specific shape or size difference between tea and coffee plates. The same is typically true about a sugar bowl and cream or milk jug. Those from a tea set may be slightly larger, simply because more milk is used while drinking tea, but that is not a solid rule. All will follow the style and proportion of the pot and the cups. Note: a cream jug is often called a ‘creamer’.

milk and sugar sets
Milk and sugar coffee set (left) vs tea set
tea and coffee cups
The cups side by side – coffee cup is slightly smaller
coffee and teapot
Coffee pot is taller and slender, while a teapot has wide proportions
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