Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Introduction: Espresso Cups 101

Having a good espresso cup is fundamental to good espresso. Having a poorly designed cup, saps the heat from the espresso into the cup itself, noticeably cooling the espresso.

What do you say? Isn't a cup, well, a cup? To some it may be, but a well-designed cup enhances the taste and keeps the espresso hot until one drinks it. This isn't coffee elitism, but a utilitarian approach to cups. Quality espresso cups do not need to be expensive to do their job. To demonstrate this point, I have three cups "designed" for espresso. Two come from a chain retail store, and the third is a Bodum Espresso cup, which a set of two can be found on Amazon for about 11-15 dollars.
I included the tamper on the right to provide an aid in gauging the size of each cup. The first ceramic cup (top left) has a stylish square design providing a classic, but unique design. It holds ~2.5 oz, yet has thin walls. The brown cup is larger at ~3-4 oz with thicker walls allowing for small macchiato or a large espresso. Finally the Bodum cup is made out of glass that is hand-blown, and sports a "double wall" designed to keep espresso hot. It is surprisingly light, and holds 2oz.

How do they perform?

On looks alone, I find the glass and square white cups most aesthetically pleasing, but first cups must do their jobs, which means providing a proper vehicle to serve espresso. To state bluntly, espresso cups must do one thing well. Keep espresso hot! If it fails to do that, one can pre-heat the cup by running hot water through it, or buy a better insulated cup. Either works. By heating the cup with warm water, this prevents the brewed espresso warming the cup transferring heat. Since the cup would be already warm, the heat doesn't transfer to the cup. In a future post, it may be helpful to measure the temperature of the espresso in each cup to quantitatively measure the difference. Any takers?

Unfortunately, the square cup due to its thin walls needs to be heated up every time, or the espresso will be quite cool. In my experience, this cup tends to create lots of crema (the brownish cream on the top), and has little body. I am not sure why this is, but prevents the full flavor from coming out.

The brown cup, should be preheated, but isn't a necessity. The larger size allows for a variety of drinks such as an Espresso Lungo or a small macchiato. A neat cup overall, yet still doesn't adequately keep the espresso hot and is certainly not designed with espresso in mind.

The Bodum cup with its double walled design, does keep the espresso hot with no preheating. The crema remains for a while afterwards, this could be due to the espresso machine I use, but the cup plays a role as well. I have two pictures to show the double wall, the crema, and the body. Somehow the glass design insulates the espresso extremely well similar to a thermos. One can see the body (the dark brown liquid under the crema), which the white cup lacked when used.
Those are the first few things, one should look in an espresso glass. Certainly not everything, but for beginners and anyone looking for a good beginner espresso glass look for it's ability to keep the espresso hot. Thin walls and cheap ceramic espresso cups sold at local retail stores are rarely quality espresso cups. They only look like them.

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