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Who Invented the Coffee Sleeve? History, Facts & FAQ

coffee cup with sleeve

Before 1991, coffee lovers around the world suffered from an unfortunate inconvenience each morning as they visited their favorite cafes for a hot cup of coffee: burnt fingers. Luckily, especially for those of us old enough to remember the feel of piping hot to-go cups, one man stepped up to change the way we take our coffees on the run. Jay Sorensen invented the coffee sleeve. The entrepreneur behind Java Jacket decided it was time to do something about scorched fingers and the other burns they led to. Let’s learn more about this handy invention that is used in most coffee shops around the world and how it came to be.

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How It All Started

The story of the coffee sleeve began in 1989. Jay Sorensen was living in Portland, Oregon while he attempted to support his family as a struggling realtor. One morning, on the way to take his daughter to school, Jay pulled through a drive-thru coffee shop to get a cup of coffee for the road. As he drove, the piping hot liquid spilled down onto his fingers, burning them. His burned fingers startled him and resulted in him spilling the scalding liquid in his lap. Thanks to the pain brought on by the hot spill, an idea was born. Sorensen knew there had to be a better and safer way to drink coffee.

hand holding paper cup of coffee with sleeve
Image Credit: cottonbro, Pexels

The First Idea

Sorensen didn’t immediately land on the coffee sleeve as the answer, and his original plan didn’t pan out so well. Instead of protection on the current cups, Sorensen’s first idea was to invent an insulated cup that would be better for coffee drinkers than the Styrofoam and paper cups they were used to.

Unfortunately, this idea wasn’t practical. The first issue Sorensen discovered was the packaging. Offering the cups in mass quantities to customers was an issue. Folding and nesting weren’t the answer. While he pondered this predicament, another realization came to him. Not all coffee drinks need insulation. Lattes and cold coffees were on the rise at the time leaving the cups as an idea that simply wasn’t practical or economical.

The Birth of Java Jacket

As Sorensen decided to shelve his idea of new coffee cups, the coffee sleeve was created. While he claims he can’t remember how he originally came up with the idea, he does associate it with his thoughts of moving on past insulated cups. To make his new invention affordable, he used embossed chipboard in the design. After coming up with his catchy name, Java Jacket, he went to the market.

The first sale of the Java Jacket was made out of the back of Sorensen’s car to a local coffee shop in Oregon. A few short weeks later, he made his way onto the floor of a coffee trade show in Seattle where he sold 100 cases of Java Jacket in less than half an hour. According to Sorensen, the attention he garnered at the trade show made him feel like a celebrity.

a red java jacket on wooden surface
Image Credit: Francois Olwage, Unsplash

A Growing Business

As we all know, coffee sleeves are now available in most coffee shops around the world. During his first year in business, Sorensen sold his Java Jacket to more than 500 clients. He was eager to offer their customers a safe alternative to the burnt fingers they were used to. Now, over 1 billion Java Jackets are sold per year.

Sorensen himself wasn’t surprised by the popularity of his product. In his opinion, the coffee sleeve is a practical solution to a problem all coffee drinkers were facing. Others, like coffee powerhouse Starbucks, agreed. Starbucks decided to design its coffee sleeve, made from far more expensive materials, to use in its shops. Luckily, for Sorensen, his idea and patent came first.

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In Conclusion

Each time you stop by a coffee shop while out and about, you should thank Jay Sorensen. His scorched fingers and burnt lap are the reasons for the coffee sleeve protecting your fingers today. You may not remember the dangers of coffee before Sorensen got involved, but trust us when we tell you, that his fingers and lap weren’t the only ones to suffer before his incredible invention came along. We all felt the pain and are thankful he stepped in with a creative idea to put the pain behind us.

Featured Image Credit: Kelly Sikkema, Unsplash


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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