An old debate “Espresso vs coffee.” This title reminds me of those old sci-fi movies…
Can a king or a queen wear any other monarch’s crown? Even attempting to do so, can cause much instability, confusion, and even war.
Espresso is king in its own right and doesn’t need more lure or legend behind it.
Does it matter which espresso cup you use? It certainly does!
You wouldn’t serve a vintage wine in a paper cup or whiskey in a mug. The visual aspect is important, but when we drink espresso, taste is all it matters. Nothing should offset the experience. To get it right, we must answer some questions before we get to the best espresso cups out there.
Simply because it will enhance the flavor of your espresso shot.
The design and construction of the cup you serve it on, play more into the enjoyment of the coffee, than the aesthetics of it. Note I said, “shot.” An espresso is the smallest coffee drink by volume you can make. It’s a concentrated infusion, no larger than 2 oz (75.6 grams), and that’s pushing it.
Something to remember is the fact that your shot will sit mostly inside an empty vessel because the serving size is so small. It will cool down dramatically within seconds. Just as an experiment, touch the surface of any table or counter around you with the back of your hand. Is it cold? That’s how cold your cups are. Heat retention is our number one priority when serving an espresso. That’s you should warm up your cup prior.
Cup design is equally important. We all want a head of foam on top of our espresso. When we don’t see it, we think something is wrong with our coffee or our equipment. The shape of our cup should keep the head from dispersing quickly, before we can drink it.
Since it’s not our intention to reinvent the wheel, let’s separate the standard cups from the more contemporary ones. Let’s discuss their pros and cons. Nothing is perfect. It’s nearly impossible to find an espresso cups set without flaws.
Espresso Parts do it again by putting their name behind an excellent product. This high-fired porcelain espresso cup set, can last a long time and withstand a lot of the rough handling at a café. The home barista can benefit from this, since investing in a dedicated vessel can be pricey, you want something that will last.
The glazing on these cups, a result of the high-firing process, makes cleaning easy. They won’t smell like your last cup of espresso.
But more relevant is the fact, that they offer these espresso cups set in the traditional size and style. Even if you fill them to the brim, they won’t exceed 2 oz (75.6 grams). You have a choice of seven colors to choose from. They come in sets of 2 and 6 with matching saucers.
They really feel right. The handle design doesn’t take away from the experience. Even enormous hands can hold these cups comfortably. Definitely a contender for the best espresso cup crown.
These cups are not just outstanding quality but fashionable too. Buy them in assorted colors to break the monotony of a one-color set. They are the “correct size” as they advertise. Imagine starting your day with a ristretto. Nothing should interfere with your morning start.
The porcelain construction of these cups ensures a hot drink. The thinner walls of the cup are not just better for heat retention, they feel better when they touch your lips.
Sweese promises a lead-free product. This is soothing when we hear more and more about chemicals in wares that come close to our bodies. They are pricey but worth considering as one of the best espresso cups set.
Although they claim to be following the Specialty Coffee Association’s guidelines for espresso, these cups are a little bigger, getting away from the purist’s dose size. I’m sure many people won’t mind. Particularly those who are used to long espresso shots. Made from high-fired porcelain, you won’t have a problem in containing the heat inside the cup. However, they can also withstand the high temperatures of a dishwasher. This makes them a very durable alternative.
These have an oval shape and are 2.7 oz (ca. 102 gram), making them a bit more contemporary looking. At least as of this writing, they were only available in black with a white border.
One important feature is the handle. One would think that because of its wider mouth, these cups would be less stable. The handle’s design is comfortable and firm, so you won’t lose your pinch.
They come with matching saucers.
Here we deviate a lot from the traditional size cup. Four ounces are good enough to make macchiatos, mochas, mini cappuccinos, etc… You can double-duty them and use them for tea.
They make these from ceramic, not porcelain. The inside of the cup is a different color than the outside.
Even though they are glazed and painted with vibrant colors, they are free from lead and cadmium. It’s nice to know you are not being short-changed on safety for choosing a colorful product.
Because they are ceramic, the walls are going to be thicker. This is not a problem for heat retention. Ceramic is a great insulator. Porcelain contains ceramics.
They claim these cups are chip-resistant. Because they are thicker, they have a bit more durability. However, all dishware eventually chips.
The tradition ended with our second review. Our next cups are 304 18/8 stainless steel. These will not shatter if you drop them. Typically, stainless steel would get cold quickly. But, because they make these from four double insulated walls, that changes the dynamics drastically. They act as little thermoses.
You can use these with all our caffeinated drinks. At 3 oz (ca. 113 gram) is easy to make custom-made variations of mochas, macchiatos, tiny cappuccinos, and of course, long and short espressos.
You have a choice of natural stainless-steel, or three other powdered coated colors. The handle’s design allows you to pinch it or stick your finger through. You can also wrap your hand around the cup without getting burnt. The heat stays where it matters, inside the cup.
DeLonghi is a household name. They offer these glass cups using the vacuum flask concept. These also act as thermoses and look very fancy as well. One feature that makes them different is that they don’t have a handle. You can grab them like you hold any other glass, though you won't get burnt.
Besides looks, it sticks to the traditional size of 2 ounces (75.6 g). You can enjoy watching the cascade effect of your espresso coming down from your machine into the cup. It’s a nice visual that enhances your coffee experience.
These cups don’t come with saucers. But for the daring, changing tradition is not a problem.
One benefit of the cups is their durability. We think of glass as a fragile. However, these are borosilicate glass. The same high heat-resistant glass you find in better bakeware. This emphasizes the fact they won’t just shatter or chip easily.
Just as I was typing "the DeLonghi don’t have handles", these come up. They are double insulated, following the same concept, but with handles. Made from borosilicate, they can withstand rapid changes in temperature. At 5 oz (ca. 189 gram), they are too big for espresso. That’s why they call them espresso mugs. They are the perfect size for you to enjoy all the popular espresso drinks at home.
Although they stray away from espresso tradition, they are a great alternative for those who do not want to have a set of cups only for one purpose.
Another unique feature is they are handmade cups. However, the design is basic. If these were porcelain cups, they wouldn’t stand out. Yet, because they are transparent, their shape doesn’t seem ordinary.
A traditional cup espresso cup is a nice accent to your China closet. After an evening with friends, get them out and show off your barista skills. Do you want to invest in something you’ll use rarely?
A traditional espresso cup will only hold 2 oz (ca. 76 gram). The average espresso drinker doesn’t linger with his or her cup of coffee all day long. The purist would drink it while the crema is still on top.
With this in mind, you would want to weigh your actual needs.
That said, we can always compromise practicability for vanity. Cups are small works of art and engineering you can admire.
Not all materials are equal. There are conductors and insulators. Of these, the insulators are a better fit for coffee. Porcelain, and all ceramics, are better at heat retention. Because of the fine ceramics used, they can make thinner and more delicate looking cups. They can keep heat considerably well. The final product is aesthetically appealing as well.
Stainless steel and glass are better at conduction, transferring heat from one point to the other. So ideally, these materials would suit colder drinks. But when designed with double vacuum walls, they are even better than ceramics and can preserve heat longer. Stainless steel, for instance, will last longer than any other material. You can even drop it, and it won’t shatter.
Just like we spoke back on the cappuccino cups article, there’s an espresso coffee standard for espresso. We can only make a certified espresso following certain guidelines that, to be honest, most cafes fail to adhere to. Home baristas follow not too far behind. The serving size of an espresso will not exceed 2 oz (ca. 76 gram) for a double.
So, when choosing cups, remember that a cup is just one factor to consider that will make you enjoy the experience.
Just remember that one day, long ago, someone started a tradition. You can be next.
A traditional espresso is just about 1 oz (ca. 38 gram) of liquid made with 7 grams of coffee, twice as much for a double. Therefore, you don’t need a cup larger than 2 ounces (75.6 grams). This standard keeps evolving, and you see variations as everybody has the best new idea.
A smaller cup will maintain the crema on top and not let it spread and dissipate. Think what would happen to 1 oz (ca. 38 gram) of any liquid inside a large mug. It will cool down quicker than you can drink it. A small cup is the correct cup for our regal elixir.
“Need” is a big word. You don’t need it, but it comes in handy to hold a spoon if you use one. A saucer comes in handy to hold biscotti, or you could try to fit my favorite breakfast bread, a piece of focaccia. Maybe not.
Well, I have to choose a winner this time around. All the cups in the review are great in their own right. The set of espresso cups that wins are the Sweese, porcelain cups.
They are traditional in every aspect. With these, you get the delicate feel and look of porcelain and the heat retention necessary to enjoy your drink. The Espresso Parts come right behind the Sweese.
The stainless-steel cups seem like a great contender as well, because they are the most durable of all. I just think nothing should last so long. Although they can’t shatter, they get dinged up. At some point, replace them, anyway. Stainless steel will get yellow with bleach and other household chemicals.
After so much consideration, we go back to the basic question, do you need to use a specialized cup to enjoy your drink? I have to give in here and say yes. The cup’s design makes the complete experience delectable. Your sense of taste, touch, and sight become one in this experience and a well designed cup, makes the difference.
It may seem trivial. But your most memorable espresso experience had all the right elements we discussed, primarily, the correct cup.
The kings and queens of old would never show up to an official engagement without wearing the crown. It brought dignity and legitimacy to the occasion. The same happens with espresso. Part of the lure behind it, lies with the cup. Just don’t forget one thing, it’s always about the coffee.