I can’t tell you where they came from but I have dozens. The first was dug up from the ground dating back to the Stone Age and although my collection is missing is, I don’t see the need to add it anyway. There’s a tall black 16-ounce mug that reads ‘Carpe Caffeine’ in skinny white letters waiting for the button to be pressed and hot coffee to drain into it. Once it’s used I’ll replace it with another that has a different cheesiness to it like the ‘Don’t Mess With Texas Girls’ mug my mom thought was cute at an airport once or the Alice and Wonderland vintage collection I picked up at an estate sale years ago. If you can’t tell by now, it’s an obsession.
The cupboard to the right of my kitchen sink has three shelves full and there’s a box in storage of more that I decided I could live without in this apartment. Once I moved out I apparently didn’t see a need for an entire kitchen set. So instead of having matching ceramic pieces, I have plates, both small and large, and coffee cups. Coffee cups of all sizes, colors, and styles. Some the size of bowls but with handles. I probably couldn’t tell you where they all came from, but they’re there.
Other than actual coffee cups, if you looked inside my car a few years ago you would see a sea of empty paper vessels. Back in high school I rarely ate an actual meal, but made sure to have four lattes a day. A family friend owned a coffee shop, Liaisons, next to a run down bar with angry drinkers out front but I never failed to stop by every day. At 7 a.m., I would rush in the door and there would be a 20-ounce triple shot vanilla latte, waiting for me on the corner of the bar closest to the door. The classic white paper cups with Solo lids and a different saying every day such as ‘Have a good day!’ or ‘Good luck at the game tonight!’ filled the backseat of my car. So between paper cups back in the day to the mania surrounding ceramic mugs, an object that held coffee was my friend.
However, they haven’t always been the way I know them as. To figure out where portable coffee drinking began, we have to start with water. In the 20th century, everything was reusable, even to the upper class. Throwing things away was a big taboo. From the communal cup, which was a bucket of water anyone could dip out of to clothing and plates, nothing was thrown out. That is until the Spanish flu came along in 1918. Thousands of people died and so did recycling. The disposable cup industry began with Styrofoam but rather quickly switched to paper through companies being bought out and a need for lids.
1964 is when 7-Eleven started selling coffee in to-go cups. Not long after Solo created a lid for cups with a hole to drink from and an indent so consumers nose wouldn’t be in the way when drinking. Meanwhile, the Styrofoam cups were still trying to make a comeback. However, they were gone for good in the coffee world when the one and only, Starbucks, came along. Although the environmental effects of Styrofoam made paper cups an obvious choice, even Starbucks began to see issues with how paper held up comparatively. The foam cups were better insulators and safer to hold. I probably don’t need to tell you about the infamous Liebeck v. McDonald’s lawsuit, when the woman had to have skin grafts because the lid fell off her coffee, she made it out with $2.86 million and disposable cup and lid companies revamped their designs. Ironically, years before companies had created double and triple walled cups, and an Oregon man created a Java Jacket, more commonly known as a sleeve, to make holding your coffee more comfortable.
Today we are almost always served a disposable cup with a sleeve, the amount of ceramic mugs for sale in literally almost every store is mind-boggling, and there is even a software program called CoffeeCup. Considering the competition between disposable cups and the craze surrounding the liquid it holds, I highly doubt I’m the only out there with a coffee cup infatuation.