Remember When: Coffee can taste a lot better in the right kind of cup

Tom Mooney - Remember When | May 7th, 2017 11:00 am - updated: 11:00 am.

Ask an art aficionado why he likes Edward Hopper’s famous painting “Nighthawks” and you’ll probably hear something about isolation — people sitting in an all-night diner, staring ahead as if unaware of one another’s existence, while their coffee grows cold.

Yes, I see that. But I also like their coffee cups.

Not only do I love coffee, but I consider the cup I drink it out of pretty important.

For me, nine times out of 10, having the right kind of cup is what makes the difference between “ah, it’s OK” and a gut-warming, lip-smacking slug of real joe.

A pasteboard 12-ouncer from a convenience store is permissible in a pinch. But for true, heavy-duty coffee drinking that would have made Epicurus lean back and smile, give me one of those white, solid-looking Edward Hopper “Nighthawks” cups.

I hit the jackpot a few years ago when, in a second-hand shop, I found a pair of mugs that looked like the ones in the painting. I don’t hang around all-night diners, but for drinking your coffee while reading the paper with the dog lounging next to you, they can’t be beaten.

I have no idea what Hopper himself drank, but I get the sense that he knew his coffee.

Sometimes, though, I crave a bit of a different caffeinated experience. I haunted the second-hand shops until I found a half-dozen extra-wide-brimmed and super-thick restaurant cups, probably from some eatery that had gone out of business. You never see them in stores.

I call these beauties, white with a burnt-orange stripe, my film noir cups. They’re the kind preferred by 1940s trench-coated private eyes and women with mysterious pasts in the movies when coffee was a nickel a cup and when if business wasn’t being transacted in a bar with quiet music, it was conducted in restaurants that served their steaming java in squat, wide-mouthed cups.

Not as capacious as my Edward Hopper mugs, their virtue is that they allow more of the coffee aroma to hit you as you raise them to your lips while wondering whether Mary Astor or Lauren Bacall has really killed her husband or is being set up. But that doesn’t matter because you’ve fallen in love with whichever gorgeous lady in this old black-and-white movie is slurping coffee, and you don’t care if someday you get offed by her.

My latest quest is to sip my way into the one percent.

The lords and ladies of “Downton Abbey” drank from thin, delicate-looking cups which liveried servants kept filling from huge silver carafes that seemed bottomless. There was a special method of picking them up that I think would have drawn scorn from my Edward Hopper and film noir buddies, so I’ll pass on that.

But I like the sense that with every snooty sip I’ll be getting closer to the moment when one of my elegantly bedecked dinner guests will pop off with “Mr. Mooney, what are your thoughts on current tax policy?” With lordly grace, I replace my heirloom cup with gold filigree in its saucer, purse my lips, and after a dramatic pause intone “First, we must consider …”

The cabinet members and assorted nobility in their tuxedos and ball gowns turn toward me and lean forward. The servants pause in the doorway, eyes averted but straining to hear.

Out of my way, folks. I’m off to the second-hand store.

Tom Mooney Remember When Mooney Remember When

Tom Mooney

Remember When

Tom Mooney is a Times Leader history columnist. Reach him at [email protected]