During a recent caffeine pit stop, we came across a curious thing: two piles of the same-sized coffee lids stacked next to one another at the milk station. One type was your standard-issue plastic white lid, while the ones in the other pile more closely resembled a dense cardboard or fibrous composite. Besides bearing the appearance of something fashioned from all-natural materials, closer inspection revealed the lids were 100-percent compostable and biodegradable. With the feel-good intentions of being easy on Mother Earth, we opted for the brown tops, and we paid dearly.

Unless you enjoy coffee that tastes like you sucked it through a cardboard filter, avoid these deceptive, lesser-quality lids. Their rustic, all-natural appearance may have you convinced that they’re a better environmental choice, but what’s the point of getting coffee at all if the vessel destroys the flavor?

Counterintuitive as it seems, you’re actually better off seeking out compostable lids that look a little less natural with some sheen to them. Generally that means they’re thermoformed, meaning they’re less susceptible to heat and not as prone to affect the flavors of their contents, all without compromising the renewability of the lids themselves, explains a spokesperson for NatureWorks, which creates biodegradable products for companies like ecotainer, StalkMarket and Green Good. Look for those brands or if all else fails, go with the standard coffee lid — it is recyclable, after all. 

Don’t be fooled by the allure of raw, “green design.” In the case of compostable coffee lids, it can lead to a lesser product. Look for lids by ecotainer and StalkMarket, both of which promise not to turn your French roast into cardboard-flavored swill.