Behind the Beans

Mastering the might of the mug

By Sam Webster

Throughout history, the drinking vessel has been as significant as the liquid contained within. Royalty and clergy demonstrated their wealth and stature through drinking their expensive wines, in gold cups encrusted with jewels and other valuables. There are also many ‘rules’ about what glasses or mugs can be used for certain drinks.

Serve wine in anything other than a wine glass and you’ll be chased out of town by a mob of wine connoisseurs. But what few people appreciate, is that coffee and the mug that it is served in are just as intrinsically linked as night and day, you cannot have one without the other. I will attempt to portray to you, the reader, some of the established rules of coffee mug etiquette.

  1. There are right ways to serve drinks and there are very wrong ways


(Photo by Gus Silber – Flickr)

Say you went to any independent café and ordered a regular latte. You’re sat patiently waiting for your drink to arrive, perhaps perusing Instagram, or silently judging those around you for how they dress or act. Then, a few minutes later your drink arrives… In a mug? For some, there seems to be nothing wrong with this scenario.

But if your customer had any coffee experience, they would know that a latte should be served in a tall glass. The reasons for this are simple, the glass’ clear properties allows for the customer to appreciate the natural separation of the coffee and the milk. Something an opaque mug could never provide.

This rule may seem insignificant, but it’s a legitimate faux pas for a lot of people. Another big no-no is when a cappuccino is served in anything other than a deep, wide mug.  Understandably, a lot of people would associate these rules to nothing more than snobbery.

However, like a lot things, fashion rules or the correct way to do a handshake, These things shape who we are as civilised society. The Ancient Romans did not struggle for hundreds of years against the barbarian hoards of Europe, to preserve their way of life for us to use the wrong glass or mug like savages.

2. Certain mugs make drinks taste better than others


(Photo by kitshcafe – Flickr)

We all have our favourite mug, whether it be the John Lewis signature coffee set that you saved a week’s wages for. Or the decade old, chipped mug your mum bought you. But whenever you drink from it, it reminds you of all those family events and great memories which always seems to make the coffee taste better.

But why? This phenomenon has even been the subject scientific studies, which found that there is a reason why certain mugs seem to make our drinks taste better than others. According to Dr Tom Stafford, psychologist from Sheffield University,  “a person’s brain is trained to believe the daily ritual of making coffee or tea should be done in a certain way in order to derive maximum enjoyment.”

Basically, when we perform a repetitive action. We associate the positive outcome of that action to the process it takes to perform it. From the amount of water in the kettle, or the length of time before you add the milk, our brain takes it all into account and any deviation can have negative consequences.

Perhaps we are in fact not mad when we are almost certain that a change in mug results in a change in the satisfaction we receive from our coffee? It’s not a bad thing to have favourites, especially when things are as optionally limitless as coffee.

3. A cafe’s choice of mug is as important as the coffee it serves


(Photo by Shereen M – Flickr)

As a former Costa Coffee barista, I can vouch for just how important the quality and the appearance of all mugs is to Costa. This approach isn’t reserved just to Costa, but to every cafe. Both independent and chain cafés put some degree of thought and planning into their coffee mugs and their design.

A mug can speak volumes about a café and can be a vital first impression of the café itself, long before the customer ever tastes the coffee itself. If you were handed a coffee in a chipped or stained mug, your appreciation for the coffee it contains will suffer as a result. It would be easy to imagine that an entire department of a chain coffee brand such as Costa or Starbucks are dedicated to the design and adjustment of the brand’s choice of mugs.

It’s no surprise that when you go to an independent its such a strange sensation to be handed your coffees and have each in a different style, shape and colour mug. But the style of ‘shabby chic’ is a very popular trend as of late and this perfectly compliments the bohemian style of many independent coffee shops.

But whilst it’s always nice to have a change, people are always drawn back to a mug that they can have some amount of consistency. Imagine going to a brand café and being handed a mug like one you’d find in an independent café, there’d certainly be a level of shock and this is proof that the mug is as important as the drink itself.


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