Choosing a Coffee Cup

Hot liquids aren’t like hot buns or hot sandwiches: Instead of just grabbing them bare handed and juggling them a bit until they cool, you have to have something to put them in. And with coffee, figuring out what to put it in is half the fun. There are, after all, about as many kinds of mugs, cups and bowls – yes, bowls – as there are kinds of coffee. But how to chose which is the one for you?

The best way to decide is to look at how you like to drink it. Do you make a point of taking things slowly, enjoying your daily java as a kind of ritual? Or do you tend to take it on the go? It’s important, also, to consider how much of it you want to drink – if you’re trying to drink less coffee, you should consider selecting a different kind of coffee cup. But there are more options that you may have realized.

The most typical coffee-holder, at least in the U.S., Canada and the U.K., is probably the classic mug. Usually three or four inches high – though recently, some as much as six inches from rim to foot have been marketed, often as gifts and novelties – the average mug holds between ten and fourteen ounces of coffee. Many, however, are even larger than that, most obviously those big novelty ones. Being the most common, there is also a lot more range for expression: Mugs are often sold as souvenirs, given away as promotions, or just marketed as part of the overall plan for a lifestyle – do you chose an earthy brown glaze, or that zany purple-and-orange design bearing the legend, “You don’t have to be crazy to work here, but it helps!”? This is also probably the most widely available possibility, so it will be easier for you to stock your cupboards with these.

For something a little more European, however, there are two more possibilities, which sit at opposite ends of the size range: The “demi-tasse,” and the “bol.”

Of these two, the “demi-tasse” is, as the name would suggest, the smaller. To non-Europeans – they use little but demi-tasses in Italy – the demi-tasse can look unbearably prissy. “Demi-tasse” literally means “half-cup” in French, but it actually holds rather less: Closer to a third of an American cup measurement, or about three ounces, sometimes less. In general, demi-tasses are used to serve espresso, sometimes with cream. For small, strong “hits,” they really can’t be beat – and you can gulp a whole one back in a single draught.

A “bol,” on the other hand, is very large and shaped, well, like a bowl, which is what this French word means. Often – but not always – handle-less, the bol is the preferred receptacle for a large coffee at breakfast. The wide rim is perfect for dunking, and the capacity – comparable to a very large mug – makes it great for starting off the day. The wide opening also means that the coffee inside cools fairly quickly, which makes it good for those who want to sit down and have breakfast, but don’t necessarily have a lot of time to wait for coffee to cool.

If you lack even that much time, however, a thermos is probably your best bet. Available in a variety of sizes, colors and designs, a thermos has a closed top with a small opening, meaning that your coffee stays warm – and off your lap. Just make sure that you find one that’s the right size for your car’s drink-holders: An ill-fitting thermos can mean a lot of annoyance of a morning, as you try to force a too-large base into a small, plastic hole.

If all of this seems like too much choice, just remember this: Anything is better than a white Styrofoam cup.