Your Morning Mug

Jan 17, 2018–Here’s a riddle: What is something we greet every morning by pressing our lips to it and cradling it to warm our hands, yet we literally overlook it?

The answer: Your coffee mug.

A random kudo from a reader who shared how happy she was to win my genuine “Full House” coffee mug in a drawing got me to thinking about the intimate relationship we have with our morning coffee delivery system.

I decided to ask others what their favorite morning mug was, and why. The depth of passion in responses proves that our coffee ritual goes beyond introducing caffeine to our bloodstream. Here are some examples:

Emotional

Perhaps the strongest is when a mug elicits memories of a loved one. This ranges from the “World’s Greatest Dad” variety to several readers who shared pictures of coffee cups covered in photographs of parents and spouses.

Historical

Many mugs commemorate a trip to a cherished place, from Disneyland to the local Kwik-E-Mart.

Branding

Sports teams and implement companies spend those bucks on branding for good reason. Readers were proud of their cups with Elvis, John Deere, Dunkin Donuts, and every college and professional sports team.

Shape

Another reader pointed out how her pyramid-shaped mug (narrow at the top, wide at the base) helped hold in the heat longer. A critical factor for those who linger over the morning joe.

Size

Serious caffeine consumers picked their mugs based on coffee capacity. “One cup” of coffee is now is only loosely based on the avoirdupois system, and more nearly contains three times that amount.

My personal stable of favorites reflects all these reasons. Top three includes the Star Trek mug declaring Riverside, Iowa, as the future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk; an out-of-print advertising mug for the first newspaper in which my writing appeared back in 1968, the also nearly out-of-print newspaper The Wellman Advance; and a pretty pear-shaped cup with a rainbow arching over the word Iowa. My daughter brought that back from a visit with her grandma, which I appropriated. Sorry, girl. She was my mom first.

It also reminds me of my dad. One of my memories is how he would leave the house to do chores after breakfast, carrying along his coffee cup for a final few sips to sustain him on the long walk to the barn. You would regularly find empty cups sitting atop fence posts and tractor fenders, right where he left them. I find myself doing this now, marking my territory with empty cups.

Today, the humble moveable cup has become an industry. In the 1950s, my folks would mobilize their coffee in the classic green Thermos brand bottle, complete with cork to hold the liquid, and a screw-on cap that also served as a cup.

Now you can buy weapons grade coffee containers with highly engineered dispensing valves, knurled grips, and guarantees to keep the java hot through a bomb cyclone.

I’ve had my trials with these. First I have a hard time justifying spending in the mid double digits for a cup, no matter how heavy duty.

But the real Achilles heel is that each cup requires a lid, and no two lids are interchangeable. The result? We all have a cupboard clogged with lidless cups, and a drawer filled with lids that don’t match any vessel. A cup without a lid is as useful as a bowl without a bottom.

I’ve tried to carry my car coffee in a Styrofoam cup and lid like those used in takeout. But plastic and foam doesn’t give the same mouth feel as a good ceramic mug.

When you think about all this, it makes you believe that mankind’s greatest under appreciated invention must be the cup. What a leap of intuition by some aboriginal biped! How do you bring the spring water to the lips of the thirsty traveler? One man or woman somewhere, tired of crouching along the muddy stream, decided to fashion a vessel, perhaps from a curled leaf or pitted shell. Suddenly they realized they could sit back and contemplate the ferny world while drinking tepid water, curdled yak milk, or fermented grain at their leisure.

And how long after before two drinkers raised their clam shells in a toast?

Something to contemplate the next time you cradle your favorite mug.

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