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What is a Drink Coaster aka Beer Mat?

To many of us, drink coasters may not seem like a big deal. However, they serve a valuable function, and without them, you risk damaging your wooden furniture, marble countertop, tableware, and other surfaces.

A pair of wooden beer coasters
Where did the beers go?

What’s more, you can also use drink coasters to prevent your drink from becoming contaminated by insects and debris by placing them on top of your beer glass. Plus, this is also a handy way to signal to restaurant waitstaff that you’re not finished with your drink.

With that in mind, let’s delve deeper into the world of drink coasters. We’ll explore the different types, materials, and reasons you should keep a few handy in your own home for the next time you pour a pint.

Drink Coaster History

Drink coasters began to appear in many homes around the year 1760. However, early designs looked more like shallow dishes made from paper, wood, or silver. They were designed to go under wine bottles and decanters so that they could be “coasted” across the dinner table when the servants were unavailable.

Learn how to open wine without a corkscrew.

Before cardboard became readily available, it was common in Western cultures to place saucers under cups to protect furniture from condensation rings and burn marks. This practice was, and still is, most commonly seen when drinking tea. Teacup and saucer sets have been common in aristocratic households for centuries. Ever wonder how many cups are in a gallon?

Anyway, it wasn’t until 1880 that the first cardboard drink coasters began to appear. The German printing company Friedrich Horn produced what it called “beer mats” with brand names on them for promotional use. From there, Robert Sputh began making these types of coasters from wood pulp in 1892.

Drink coasters and beer mats made from wood pulp and cardboard were introduced to the United Kingdom in 1920 as breweries sought to promote their beer and ale to a broader audience. Since then, placemats made from various materials have been a standard item in homes and restaurants worldwide since the mid-twentieth century.

Today, drink coasters play a significant role worldwide. There are an estimated 5.5 billion drink coasters in the world, and two different companies produce around 75% of them. One of those companies is The Katz Group from Weisenbach, Germany, and the other is the Coaster Factory and Canada Coaster, based out of North America. These companies make around two-thirds of coasters in the European market and 97% in the United States.

How Drink Coasters and Beer Mats Are Made and Other Fun Facts

Drink coasters are made from a variety of different materials, though round coasters and square coasters are the most common shape. Traditional beer mats, which are commonly seen in bars and restaurants, are made from high grammage paperboard or several layers of tissue paper.

However, drink coasters are also made from glass, metal, wood, soapstone, and silicone, proving that modern design techniques have come a long way. It is a good idea to match construction materials with your cookware and flatware. For instance, stainless steel coasters are a nice touch to match your stainless steel flatware.

Another common feature of drink coasters made from more abrasive and heavy materials such as stone is to use a cork backing. Cork is a type of wood frequently made into stoppers for wine bottles, but it’s naturally light and spongy texture make it an ideal choice for drink coasters too.

While stone coasters and coasters made from ceramic or glass are often used on the tabletop or coffee table, traditional beer-mat-style coasters are better for restaurants and bars. Cork coasters or coasters made from cardboard are more absorbent, easier to dispose of, and don’t require washing. Absorbent coasters can go a long way toward protecting your dining room table, something to keep in mind.

Today, wood coasters are often seen as home decor items. They are paired with drinkware to provide an elegant look to a table spread or even placed on a shelf as a simple decor piece. For this reason, drink coasters are common gift ideas and an excellent alternative to the humble mug or beer stein for housewarming parties and as a wedding gift.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to have a few beer mats readily available throughout your home. Anyone who has antique furniture will thank you for using a coaster. Not only do they protect furniture and tablecloths, but they also provide a specific spot where you can place a drink without worry about spilling it or forgetting where you put it. Furthermore, white marble coasters or ceramic coasters can serve as a trivet in a pinch.

These days, coasters are sometimes considered collector items. Beer mats, in particular, are commonly collected, and rare designs can be worth money to the right buyers. There’s even a term for those who collect drink coasters; they’re called tegestologists.

Drink Coasters Help Build a Great Gift Set

Beer mats and coasters come in all materials, shapes, and sizes. This makes them a great choice for gift giving around the holidays, for birthdays, or for the craft beer lover in your family. A monogram personalized coasters set would (hopefully) impress your Uncle, the self-proclaimed Single-Malt Scotch Aficionado. If there are leather bound homebrewing books and rich mahogany in your Uncle's study, then we suggest leather coasters.

Custom beer mats are ideal for your man cave bar. Remember, it's a good idea to match the style of the man cave. If you're going for the DIY aesthetic, perhaps some hand cut wooden coasters fit the bill. Don't forget to build a wooden coaster caddy to store them in.

Beer mats are not only good for hosting a wine & cheese party, but also as hostess gifts for your guests. To note, you will want thick and sturdy placemats for when people get a bit tipsy.

Another great gift idea is a car coaster. Car coasters rest on the bottom of a car's cupholders and protect it from any spillage or excessive heat.

Laser cut coasters and coaster holders offer a more personalized beer mat design.

If you want to get fancy, opt for some fancy woods like cherry or cedar, or maybe a mineral like agate. Thirstystone Coasters have an air of chic to them, so if you're upping your placemat game, you may want to check them out.

A Toast to the Humble Drink Coaster

Next time you bring a cold drink with you to the couch in the living room, don’t forget to use a coaster to prevent damaging your furniture. And if you’re a guest in someone else’s house, be courteous and take the time to grab a coaster before you set your drink down, it’s the right thing to do. Let's toast to good etiquette!