Tag Archives: coffee

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.

The simplest Vodka cocktail that isn’t really a cocktail.

NIKOLAI-vodka-taste_sm

Another way to enjoy your favorite vodka: a Nikoli for your party.

I love to host parties of all sizes.  Sometimes it’s a small group of 6, and sometimes it feels like I sent out a mailing addressed to “current occupant”!  Almost no weekend goes by that I’m not hosting some activity, somewhere.

A couple of weeks ago I hosted a “tasting” – a party where various dishes or types of food or beverage all focused around one theme are shared.  This one was focused on caviar (I served four types) and vodka (two types) – two incredible flavors that are a classic pairing.  I added a couple of types of smoked fish and, of course, champagne.  It had a very Russian feel to it.

A close friend of mine (part of the group around the table) used to manage a vodka bar and shared a very special cocktail that her Russian clients would regularly order.  She said that this drink has quite a few different names: Russian Cocaine, Russian Rocket, Nicolaski, but the one she remembered was most asked for, and the name I’ll use from now on is “Nikoli.” It’s really quite ingenious and very delicious.

This is a very simple drink and even if you don’t normally drink vodka – this may win you over!  Use only a very smooth vodka.  For me, it’s always a potato vodka and one of two labels (I drink both). When I’m out on the town with friends, my vodka of choice is always Chopin.  If the restaurant has Luksusowa, a classic Polish vodka, I’ll order that for a change.  I keep both in my freezer at home, so I’m ready at a moment’s notice.  Both are distilled from potatoes and are very smooth and rich especially when stored in the freezer, so they stay chilled properly.

Just an aside, that’s the big secret to making vodka taste great – keep it cold enough.  People have been dropping their bottles of vodka in the snow, letting the bottles stay out in subfreezing weather for a day or so for hundreds of years. We’ve got it a whole lot easier –  just put the bottle in the freezer!

Remember that vodka will not freeze (of course, because it’s alcohol), but it will thicken up a little, and the taste will change quite a bit. At “near freezing” temperatures, the proper drinking temperature for good vodka, it releases fewer volatiles, the compound in the alcohol that quickly vaporizes. That’s why when a spirit like vodka is warm, the smell of pure alcohol can be overwhelming.

By sipping a vodka that’s properly chilled (near freezing), a balance is created between the natural volatiles and the taste of the things that you are eating with the vodka. Which brings me back to a “Nikoli.”

You need four things for a Nikoli – aforementioned near-freezing vodka, thinly sliced lemon (I use Meyer lemons – they’re sweeter), a small dish of regular white sugar, and another small dish of freshly ground coffee (the finer the ground, the darker the bean, the better).

  • Prep the Meyer lemons by pressing one side of each slice into the little dish of sugar and the other side of the lemon slice into the dish of ground coffee.
  • Then pour about one to two ounces of chilled vodka into either shot glasses or aperitif glasses.
  • Pick up one lemon slice by the rind and fold it between your fingers (like a taco) with the coffee side inside and the sugar side on the outside.
  • Bite the flesh of the lemon clean from the rind, take the shot and then chew the lemon and swallow it all together.

Absolutely delicious!

One more little recommendation: chill your glasses. Chill your shot glasses in the freezer with the vodka, but place aperitif glasses in the regular refrigerator.  I like to use my antique aperitif glasses, they’re pretty, and they make the table look more festive, but I’d never put them in the freezer – they’re way too delicate.

Try a Nikoli – it’s a great way to get a party started!!