Did people actually drink coffee off the saucer?

20

2

This website has a claim that seems somewhat ludicrous nowadays.

"[People] used to pour coffee into the saucer to cool it off, and slurped it off the saucer.

This seems laughably silly by modern standards - enough so to make me question its veracity.

Did people actually do this in the 18th century? If so, why? We drink coffee out of cups now - what changed?

Zyerah

Posted 2015-02-20T04:58:34.890

Reputation: 203

2My Great Aunt also drank tea and coffee from the saucer. She was Chicago Irish and did this in the 50's and 60's. It was a bit embarrassing for us kids when we were all in a restaurant. – None – 2015-06-09T18:07:45.860

2My husband was raised in Kansas and loved history and folklore. He often repeated a country farmer's comment referring to a cooling cup of coffee, " it's all saucered and blowed". This indicates an established habit of some into the late 19th century. I'm a lover of antiques and own 6 handless cups with deep saucers, often referred to in old accounts as a dish of coffee. – None – 2015-07-12T21:45:22.030

2My paternal family is Lithuanian and every morning all the adults would over pour their coffee util it partially filled the deep saucers under the large coffee cups and they would drink from the saucers the cooled coffee. This took place in northeastern Pennsylvania in the anthracite coal regions where many Lithuanians lived. – None – 2015-07-06T11:39:15.770

3I'm a Bengali and I can confirm. In fact, we still have tea and coffee off the saucer. – therewillbecoffee – 2015-07-09T15:53:31.693

2

In the Southern part of India, saucers look a little different as shown in the link. It is common to drink from the saucer. This article explains more.

– rajakvk – 2015-06-22T06:54:00.540

@Sardathrion I'm interested in the infographic, but that doesn't seem to be a link to it! Do you know where you meant to link to? – Zyerah – 2016-12-19T17:33:30.970

@Emrakul Here is the real link to the "I Love Coffee" inforgraphic. Note that the most interesting things are the primary sources with dates. I would create a new answer but do not have enough reputation for it.

– Sardathrion – 2016-12-20T07:41:08.043

@Sardathrion Huh, that's neat! – Zyerah – 2016-12-20T09:23:31.607

@Emrakul … And if I had some reputation here, I would post it as an answer with links to all the primary sources. But I am a lowly peon with no reputation… ☺ You on the other hand could do it </subtle hint> – Sardathrion – 2016-12-20T09:26:03.670

2Back in the day, people drank tea from saucers (at least in Russia), which is more than oldfashioned today. So I tend to believe in saucers of coffee, too. – Ivan Kapitonov – 2015-02-20T10:09:49.913

Answers

15

In fact, it seems that people would drink both from the cup and from the saucer: After being served a hot beverage (e.g., coffee or tea) in a cup on top of a saucer, some would pour a small amount of the beverage onto the saucer, and then drink from the saucer. There's evidence that this was reasonably common into the 20th century, and evidence that some still do, for a variety of possible reasons! Though I've never seen this practice in person, the following is what I have aggregated from a bit of online searching.

A blog post contains some good links about the topic. I find the most compelling of them to be an article that discusses the use of deep saucers for this practice; the saucer is larger and deeper like a shallow bowl, alleviating some of the awkward logistical aspects of drinking from a flat or shallow saucer. Another anecdote, according to US government legend, George Washington (in a discussion with Thomas Jefferson) used the literal practice (cooling-off beverages in a saucer) as a metaphor for the cooling-off that occurs in the upper house of a bicameral legislature. Even if this exact exchange is embellished, it still suggests that the practice was common enough to be in the vernacular.

Fundamentally, pouring part of a hot beverage into a saucer would help cool it down faster. Many anecdotal sources have that as an assumed motivation; if you're in a hurry to start drinking your beverage (and are a bit careful about the pouring and the saucer-sipping) it's a practical way of doing so. Some other anecdotes suggest that it was fashionable or polite (maybe even fun?) -- perhaps like eating peas off the back of one's fork. Cooling a portion in the saucer would alleviate the need for potentially-impolite-seeming slurping or blowing across the beverage to cool it, substituting instead acrobatic-prowess-demonstrating yet possibly-more-polite sipping off of a saucer. Other discussion forums (one example) contain some additional anecdotes and pictures.

hoc_age

Posted 2015-02-20T04:58:34.890

Reputation: 6 629

7

This oddity of yours isn't really an oddity. The drinking from the saucer is actually a Swedish tradition. According to this site, it says that:

Certainly it's an old tradition in Sweden. You pour the coffee from your cup into the saucer and sip it - usually quite noisily - after blowing a little on it (to cool it). Dricka på fat (drink from a plate, i.e. saucer) can be combined with dricka på bit (drink with a lump, i.e. lump of sugar). You take the lump of sugar between your teeth and sip your coffee (from the saucer) through the sugar. Neither of these customs are, however, common in polite society... And, generally speaking, I've only ever seen older people do it, years ago, and in the countryside. Today's urban and international Swedes are more likely to have a latte - without sugar - in a tall glass, no saucer.

Well, you shouldn't do this in public - it's impolite. You could do it alone in the privacy of your house though. @hoc_age got this part right:

In fact, it seems that people would drink both from the cup and from the saucer: After being served a hot beverage (e.g., coffee or tea) in a cup on top of a saucer, some would pour a small amount of the beverage onto the saucer, and then drink from the saucer. There's evidence that this was reasonably common into the 20th century, and evidence that some still do, for a variety of possible reasons!

This pretty much explains this abnormal Swedish tradition. Yep, the fact you stated is true. The Swedish did it back in the olden days. I hope this helps you!

Anthony Pham

Posted 2015-02-20T04:58:34.890

Reputation: 1 437