Serving : Mugs, Cups, Saucers

Coffee is probably best served in ceramic mugs or cups that have been warmed first with a little hot water. There are many stylistic directions to take: fancy china, deco and moderne revivals, new-wave whimsy, hand-thrown earthenware, inexpensive machine-made mugs that look hand-thrown, classic mugs and cups from restaurant suppliers, and contemporary imported restaurant ware from Europe. I prefer the restaurant-supply cup; it looks solid, feels authentic, reflects the hearty democratic tradition of coffee, and bounces when you drop it.

Straight espresso and after-dinner coffees brewed double strength are traditionally served in a half-size cup, or demitasse. It seems appropriate to drink such intense, aromatic coffee from small cups rather than from ingratiatingly generous mugs. You should have the small demitasse spoons that go with the cups; an ordinary spoon looks like a shovel next to a demitasse. You can save considerable money on such gear at restaurant-supply stores.

The half-size cups used in the Middle Eastern and Horn-of-Africa cuisine traditionally do without the little ceramic handle, and sometimes are mounted on elegant metal stands. Most large North American cities today harbor neighborhoods of Middle Eastern or Ethiopian and Eritrean immigrants where specialty stores carry a broad range of goods from back home, including an assortment of traditional cups and coffee gear.

Nearly every traditional espresso specialty has its specialized style of cup, mug, or glass: unadorned espresso or espresso macchiato, a heavy demitasse cup and saucer; cappuccino, a heavy 6-ounce cup and saucer; mocha, a substantial mug; caffè latte, a 12- or 16-ounce glass or bowl; latte macchiato, an 8- or 10-ounce glass.