2007-06-14 / News


By Robert Morton-Ranney

We have too many coffee mugs. The trouble is that throwing any of them out, or even donating them somewhere, feels like jettisoning a piece of life. Some have names of places we've lived. Others advertise schools we attended, or paid for. A few are from wonderful vacations.

Switching over to functionality, there is also a category for those that we enjoy using. Either because caffeine just seems better from them, or because they approach ergonomic perfection- these are the ones we really ought to keep.

Then there are those that just looked good in the store. I keep hoping they will attain the same beauty on the shelf in our kitchen.

Here, by the way, I beg to differ with all those marketing experts who keep repeating that people buy benefits rather than merchandise. The favorite example is that nobody buys a drill- they buy the ability to make holes.

Wander into any hardware store you like and hang around the power tool aisle for a few minutes, and see who picks up some of those bright orange babies. They don't care about holes. They want to feel the handle. They want to know how heavy it is and how easily it can be maneuvered. They want to point it at the wall to see how it lines up. They want to rock it back and forth and check out the balance. They want to hold it long enough to decide whether it's just a cheap thrill or they're falling in love, and if so nothing can prevent them from making it their own.

Then they'll go home and find an excuse to drill holes just so they can use it.

Same with coffee mugs. Sometimes I make coffee just so I can use the mug.

No matter where you purchased your supply, ground or not, it always tastes best in a classic, ceramic mug. Stay away from glass. Sure, they can look sophisticated, especially if they're nicely etched, but glass has a way of making coffee seem thin. It renders even the fullest of full-bodied blends oddly anorexic. Take my word for it, glass coffee mugs are best used as souvenirs or pencil holders.

On the other end of the shelf is the genuine pottery variety. Some of these are quite beautiful, but they have the opposite problem. They manage, somehow, to compromise every sip by adding a mystery flavor that you know was never intended to be there. It's just murkier than it should be. And in some moments, I would swear there's a hint of glaze, even though the nice 1970's-style pottery salesperson assured me there would be no chance of such an occurrence.

You cannot always blame bad coffee on the coffee.

So, by my account I should keep all the standard, cylindrical, ceramic samples and toss the others, right?

But I can't. I tried collecting coins. It wasn't the same. Even though I found all the new quarter designs quite interesting, I have no particular memory attached to South Dakota, Idaho, or most of the others. I do have a good number of hats, yet their utility is random. Most conjure up welcome recollections, but they're not as much a part of daily life as my caffeinators.

Coffee mugs are almost the perfect household item. They're useful (yes, you can even put tea in them if you absolutely have to) several times a day. They sit in the kitchen, where most of us spend the bulk of our home time. They're colorful and, if carefully selected, bring back a chunk of your living every time you pick them up.

I can't think of anything else that accomplishes so much, so neatly.

So, I guess I'll have to try to hang onto them as best I can. Perhaps take a stab at future purchasing restraint. Be a little more effi- cient with shelf space. Pack a few off to the garage and rotate locations every once in a while.

I must say, it is nice to know we'll never run out of them when we have guests.

And, maybe having a life recorded by coffee mugs isn't that bad.

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