As the Queen of Cork I rarely bad talk anything made using the very material that I so fondly adore, but I also know when to call a spade a spade and now is that time.
Each new person that visits a QUEORK store and lays eyes on our beautiful cork handbags and amazing cork shoes will fall out of their hypnosis eventually to ask, "What happens when cork gets wet?".
It is a question that always struck me as odd. After all, cork is used to seal 13 billion bottles of wine and champagne every year that can cost into the thousands of dollars per bottle and no one worries that the liquid in the wine bottle might harm the cork or somehow absorb through eventually. I even read an article recently that noted a shipwreck discovery in 2010 found 79 bottles of perfectly preserved champagne over 200 years old underwater.
11 of them were auctioned off in Finland for an amazing $156,000!
But last weekend I stumbled upon what I think is the single reason why a huge percentage of the population relates to cork as an absorbent material. As a matter of fact, this discovery led me to dig into a phenomenon I find twice as odd...
Why the hell are cork coasters so popular?
Don't get me wrong, QUEORK sells cork coasters, however ours are different in a way that is subtle but extremely important which I will explain in a minute. For now, lets talk about my discovery.
Note: I encourage you to read through the explanations to the end where I have a video DIY of myself making what I think is the perfect cork coaster. This has been a much needed therapeutic rant but more importantly, it has a happy ending.
We, like most retailers, are realizing that Amazon has a huge marketplace that cannot be ignored by brands. But Amazon also has a reputation for crushing brands that do well by knocking off their products and cutting the once successful brand off the platform. So I was doing some research on smaller, less significant items to present on their marketplace that could help with traction but in no way compete with our "in store" offerings. I have a tool on my browser so that if I type in a search item on Amazon and click the button on my browser, it pops up to tell me stats about every item on that page. So in a search for cork coasters I saw this:
Below is the page of cork coasters I have up in view on Amazon.com. Note the amount of descriptions that claim these coasters are absorbent!
And below is the app showing me the rank of each listing on the page and monthly sales just for these brands on this page on Amazon. As you can see, false advertising works!
So this quickly explains the misconception however I want to dig a little deeper because after reading some of the reviews, it seems that people still believed that their coasters were absorbent even after buying them, using them, and then reviewing them! WTH???
In case you might be thinking cork could possibly be absorbent I want to first note that it is a scientific trait of cork to be impermeable. See definition:
And if you think that it might be possible that composite cork (ground up cork), wine corks, or coasters might be treated with a permeable layer I did an experiment by throwing all 3 plus actual raw cork untreated into a bowl of water and weighed each at 10 minutes, 6 hours, and 26 hours and NONE OF THE WEIGHT CHANGED. (Note - I weighed them in grams on a food scale which is extremely sensitive) So be certain, cork coasters are not ever absorbent. They are the opposite, impermeable.
Why does this matter? Because of an even fancier phrase...
This is what happens when condensation runs off the drinking glass and onto the surface of the cork, creating a vacuum between the cork and the glass which causes the cork to stick to the bottom, at least for some time before it falls back to the table, or the floor, or your lap.
This vacuum is inevitable if the water has no where to go, especially with lightweight cork. But I would argue that cork still is better than the alternatives for many reasons.
Glass is like cork, impermeable. But it's heavy and breakable which would cause a huge mess if the coaster followed your glass up after a hermetic seal.
Stone is somewhat absorbent but sharp and heavy, threatening to scratch the surface which is why you have coasters in the first place!
Other alternatives are just...ugly. Coasters are on your nicest pieces of furniture, in your home. If ugly is an option, grab some old mail or a paper towel and save your money.
Cork would be a great option if it weren't for the lack of absorbency. It is a wood that is classic and goes with everything. It is soft and will protect the furniture. It is timeless and classic, and will not shatter on the floor if dropped.
The Perfect Cork Coaster
Let's go back to the coasters we sell at QUEORK. I want to be clear that this is just a reference and I am not satisfied with this as an overall answer. I have always wanted to try something better and that is what we are doing here but below is a photo of the coasters we have always sold.
If you take a closer look at the edge detail you can see that the polyester stitching on the edges acts as an absorbent layer.
But we can do better...
Over the weekend I tried several prototypes including:
A coaster that had holes poked in it and an absorbent layer below.
A coaster with metal rivets on the top so the glass never touched the coaster.
An absorbent layer around the edges of the coaster so it fell over the sides.
These all failed but the answer came from those failures.
What we needed to have was a layer on the top of the coaster that acted as a "wicking layer" to absorb the condensation. This layer could not touch the bottom of the coaster or the moisture would bleed onto the surface below. Any absorbent layer on the surface could not ruin the aesthetics of the natural cork and whatever was on bottom must be soft and waterproof to protect the surface below. The absorbent layer must be large enough to hold a considerable amount of condensation. Here is the result!
The Making Of The Perfect Coaster
It's short, I promise!
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