Starbucks launched its reusable Cold Cups in 2018, and in no time, people started snapping them up. The appeal is simple: “They’re cute and functional,” explains Charisma Starke, who started collecting that year, sharing any new Starbucks cup finds on her Instagram account. It was a chance to be a little more eco-friendly, as more people started to avoid single-use plastics, and an opportunity to infuse your caffeine habit with a little personality.
Plus, they were a great last-minute present to have on hand: “Most people like them,” Starke adds, “so you can gift them to family and friends for birthdays and holidays.”
But the drinkware really didn’t take off as collectors’ items until Fall 2019, when the LBD of tumblers emerged—the studded, matte black Cold Cup. Every collector we spoke to could name it immediately, and its launch coincides with the first major spike in Google searches for “Starbucks reusable cups.”
“When black matte came out, even I coveted it,” says Étienne Garafano of California. At the time, she was helping a friend manage the Starbucks Cups Hunt Facebook group. Her then-boyfriend was a barista, and she liked the cups, but she didn’t consider herself a collector.
That cup changed things for her, and she started getting into the thrill of the search. “There’s something nice about hunting one down; it’s this feeling of power,” Garafano explains. “I’m guilty of going store-to-store to find [a specific cup]. I think five stores in a day was my max.”
Plus, as the group grew—swelling from 50 members to 20,200 and climbing—friendships formed online as people bonded while sharing tips for uncovering rare designs and trading tumblers they’d found.
HOW IT’S GOING
At the same time, the matte black cup that started it all began to decline in popularity (Starbucks released more, reducing overall demand) and the most sought-after designs became international finds.
“The international ones have more variety—there are iridescent cups and rainbow and oil slick designs,” Starke says. They also tend to deviate more from Starbucks’s traditional aesthetic, with more whimsical styles, like a ceramic cup in the shape of a bear wearing swim goggles, popping out of a melting ice cream cone. While most tumblers cost about $20 to $30 in stores, that design was listed for $100, plus international shipping costs, and it sold within two hours of being posted.
Still, that’s hardly the highest a cup will go for. When a studded, iridescent tumbler, known as the Unicorn Cup, hit the market, “you couldn’t get your hands on one,” Garafano says. “If you found it, it was $300 easily.”