In Praise of Simple Things: The Metal Enamel Cup

posted in: musings | 0

metal cupBased on some questions I’ve gotten on Twitter and Instagram, it would seem that folks are sometimes interested in the “tools of the trade” that people use in their work. So, let’s talk about one of the most important tools of coffee reviewing: the humble cup. Without it, you’d have to drink coffee using the innovative “hand cupping” method developed by the Sweet Maria’s gang (it’s a 12:00 long joke, basically, so don’t put too much effort into watching this, but this is one of the reasons I love the Sweet Maria’s/Coffeeshrub gang so much!):

I have a lot of coffee cups. Too many, really, considering I only use one at a time, ever! As it turns out, I really use two different cups more than any others in my entire collection and they are metal enamel cups. I bought my first one from Thou Mayest here in Kansas City and when I spotted them for $9 at Kaldi’s I had to add a second one to my arsenal. They are durable, you can drop them all you want, they can hold quite a bit, travel nicely, they look cool and if you ever end up in jail you can run it back and forth over your bars for something to do.

The reason I love my enamel mugs so much is probably the same reason why a lot of people who use them may not: they dissipate heat really fast and coffee cools down very quickly in them.

That sounds totally opposite to what most normal people want out of a coffee cup, doesn’t it? But hear me out. In the evaluation of coffee, I want to experience the coffee at brewed temp as well as through a wide range of temperatures all the way down to room temp, more or less. The character coffee changes, sometimes dramatically, as it cools and most coffees “open up” and taste best some 20-30°F cooler than they are brewed at. In a good ceramic mug this can take a long time as heat is transferred and then held by the cup’s material. In the thin enamel cup, though, heat transfers efficiently through the metal and the coffee cools down. Fast.

I’ve never timed it but I wouldn’t be surprised if I can drink a “pot” (around 400 mL or so) of coffee from my Gino dripper twice as fast through the full range of temperatures in one of my metal mugs than I could from a good ceramic mug. When you drink as much coffee as I do, usually very early in the morning before the realities of the “real job” kick in, then efficiency is of the essence, and that’s why I love these mugs so much! The only downside to them is that most branded enamel mugs will set you back an easy $18-$20 (except for Kaldi’s, which is half that much!), so collecting them as souvenirs leaves a little bit to be desired…