In Search of the Perfect Coffee Mug

Fran Berger's coffee mugs

What are the qualities that sets one coffee mug apart from all the others?

Ever notice how we collect coffee mugs? And we all have different reasons not just for accumulating them but also for keeping them.

I have a friend who has an embarrassingly large collection of Disney mugs. A few of them are rare and pricey (for coffee mugs) on the collector market. Her favorite is a mug she got when she was a kid in the 1960s. It has a 3D raised image of the castle and the handle looks like a tree limb. She said she stopped using it when she found out that it is considered “extremely rare” and sells for $200 in auctions.

One friend collects mugs as she and her husband travel around the country and Europe. Another friend collects mugs with clever slogans and movie quotes. Her favorite is a black mug she’s been using for years that she says is an ‘original’ “Make my day” mug. You must believe her – I mean who keeps track of something like that? One coffee mug collector I know is a mathematics professor, and she has mugs that have math jokes on them. Seriously, do math jokes exist?

I admit that I have my own embarrassing collection of mugs. Well, I don’t REALLY collect them. They just seem to collect themselves as gifts and party favors, events I’ve attended, and so on. We all have them.  And, every so often, I realize I’m running out of room and I have to go through and get rid of the ones I don’t care for. So, when I noticed that I was keeping only ones that I thought were functional it got me started thinking about what makes a perfect coffee mug.

Everyone has different tastes in coffee mugs. But when you’re entertaining guests, you want to think about form and function rather than the clever design or the artwork imprinted on them. It’s important to think of the guests you’ll be entertaining – you want the mugs to be comfortable for use.

Hand size is so important. Different cups and mugs fit differently for everyone. We’ve all been to events where they serve coffee in a little cup. Some have handles that are so small that it’s hard to hold. If you can manage to slip a finger into the dainty little ‘ring’, there’s no good place to balance the weight of the cup with your thumb once it’s filled with hot coffee.  They have terrible balance!

I think that a perfect coffee mug is one that holds 8 to 16 ounces of liquid and is comfortable for the drinker. You shouldn’t have to hold the rim of the cup with your other hand just so the hot liquid won’t spill. You shouldn’t have to place your hand under it to stabilize it as you sip. It ought to comfortable holding in one hand.

If you’re looking for a set, pick one up and think about how it feels in ‘resting balance’: is it too heavy without anything in it? Is it so out of balance, even when empty, that there’s no place to put your thumb for counter-balance.  Does it feel natural enough so that when it’s full of hot liquid you won’t struggle keeping the cup upright and straight? If you want a taller mug, look for ones that fit more than one finger in the handle. Generally, a mug should also have enough balance so that it when full it won’t accidentally tip over.

Take a look at my video and you’ll see a wide variety of mugs and cups. Some with big handles, some with small ones. I have a few that don’t have any handles at all. Unless you’re a collector of novelties, you’ll want to think about function and how that mug will look and feel in your and your guests’ hands.

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