I recently got into an awkward situation when I wasn't able to ask for a 'warmth protector thingy' in Starbucks, and wasn't accurately able to describe it, so could someone tell me what you would call the brown paper thing covering the plastic cup of coffee? I struggle to find it anywhere because it's hard to describe, hence why the title is badly phrased. edit: would zarf be socially acceptable to use in a casual environment?

What is the brown cover called?

  • 4
    So, next time you enter a Starbucks' are you going to ask for a coffee condom? Good luck with that and seeing the facial expression of the woman server when she asks "Say, what?" "I beg your pardon?" and "I'm sorry would you repeat that, please?" especially in this day and age of political correctness. Seriously, try out both answers next time you order a coffee on the go, "coffee condom" and "java jacket" and tell us if everything went smoothly.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Jan 7, 2018 at 23:31

6 Answers 6


I've certainly heard these corrugated cup-coverings casually called coffee condoms by college kids around campus (with the occasional “ribbed for her pleasure” snickers).

As might be expected of a coinage like this, Urban Dictionary offers the most baldfaced definition of this bit of street slang:

Coffee Condom

The name for the sleeve that goes around your handle-less paper coffee cup to insulate the drinker's hands from hot coffee.

Similar to how a latex condom is designed to protect you from sexually transmitted diseases the "coffee condom" is designed to protect your hand from the hot cup of coffee.

Java Jacket

Smithsonian Magazine from 2013-08-13 had an article on “How the Coffee Cup Sleeve Was Invented” containing a more detailed history of this device, including this small bit:

Jay Sorensen invented the Java Jacket in 1991 as a solution to a common problem—hot coffee burns fingers. The idea emerged in 1989 when he was pulling out of a coffee shop drive-through on the way to his daughter’s school and a coffee spill burned his fingers, forcing him to release a scalding cup of coffee onto his lap. At the time, he was struggling as a realtor in the years since closing his family-owned service station in Portland, Oregon. While the coffee accident was unfortunate, it gave him the germ of an innovative idea: there had to be a better way to drink coffee on the go.

Sorensen ended up patenting his Java Jacket idea, and he sells a billion (B-I-L-L-I-O-N) of these a year. But the one you get at Starbucks is ever so lightly different enough that they got their own patent after Sorenson got his. An earlier patent for such a device was granted back in 1964:

Picture of earlier patent from the USPTO

And there have been many others besides that one. The Smithsonian article also mentions one called a portable coaster back in 1947.

  • 1
    Tsk, tsk… the UD definition was posted in 2013 and has received an impressive 7 thumbs up since then.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 14, 2017 at 9:35

It is called a "sleeve." Although the primary meaning refers to that part of clothing which covers the wearer's arms in part or in whole, by analogy it has come to mean a tightly fitting, tubular protective covering. See Merriam-Webster for a more detailed definition.

  • 9
    American here: I would call it a sleeve as well. I can't think of a more proper name at the moment. Dec 11, 2017 at 15:45
  • 14
    Tyler, they are called coffee cup sleeves. Not coffee sleeves.
    – Lambie
    Dec 11, 2017 at 16:13
  • 4
    Sleeve is usual in both UK and USA. See this Wikipedia article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coffee_cup_sleeve. Apparently a "clutch" is an alternative term, but I've never heard that used.
    – djna
    Dec 11, 2017 at 16:20
  • 6
    Sleeve is also the term of choice in Canada.
    – Just Dave
    Dec 11, 2017 at 17:12
  • 3
    When I was in college, I worked during the summer in a parts warehouse for a manufacturer of heavy machinery. There were many types of devices that were protective in some way or other, bearings, shims, sleeves, etc. Sleeve" as a tubular protective envelope is not restricted to paper coffee cups. Dec 14, 2017 at 0:14

A historic term for a coffee cup sleeve would be zarf -- it traditionally refers to nondisposable Turkish metal sleeves but has also been used to refer to the disposable paper ones.

(Disclaimer: I've only once heard a sleeve actually being referred to as a zarf at a coffeeshop, and it was a "hey did you know" kind of thing from the barista)

  • 7
    So a zarf is a metal sleeve intended to protect your hand from the hot beverage inside the cup? ...wouldn't that sleeve also heat up with the cup?
    – BruceWayne
    Dec 11, 2017 at 18:20
  • 2
    "Zarf" is a new word for me - thanks for sharing! A search for "zarf coffee" images was very enlightening!
    – ColleenV
    Dec 11, 2017 at 18:43
  • 11
    While this is interesting as a novelty term, the coffee cup sleeve is not a paper version of a traditional zarf; it has an independent history.
    – choster
    Dec 11, 2017 at 18:51
  • 12
    @ColleenV I would say it's pretty uncommon, at least in the US, except among people who enjoy being too clever by half. The larger point is that if someone is a language learner, suggesting they use a word to which the average person will return only a blank stare will hardly result in a salutary experience for them. On EL&U I would have upvoted this answer.
    – choster
    Dec 11, 2017 at 20:54
  • 2
    @choster Well the answer does mention how uncommon it is, and I think it's better to know too many words for something than not enough ;) The more common answer of "sleeve" is obviously the community's choice, so I don't see much harm in offering an alternative.
    – ColleenV
    Dec 11, 2017 at 20:57

It is called "Coffee cup sleeve", and it is known also in the following names:

coffee sleeves

Grip cup sleeves

Coffee clutches

Coffee cozies (refers mainly to those that they're for multiple use)

Hot cup jackets

Paper zarfs

Coffee collars

Hot cup holders


Searching these names on internet stores prove that the most of them are in use in the market. By clicking on the links you will see the results in Google images, and there you will find a lot stores which use these names.

  • I've heard them called coffee collars before.
    – B.W.
    Dec 13, 2017 at 18:24

On the the more technically accurate side, the complete term would be coffee cup sleeve. It's surprising that no one here actually mentioned that it even has got its own Wikipedia page. Follow this link for the details.

  • Yes, the Wikipedia link was mentioned and posted two days ago in the comments below Jeff Morrow's answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Dec 13, 2017 at 23:25

A “warmth protector thingy” can also be called an insulator, but sleeve, coffee sleeve, or even cardboard sleeve are all acceptable. Coffee condom should be used very selectively.

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