Old Time Practice: Drinking Coffee from Saucers



Though the practice has fallen out of habit at many modern coffee shops such as Starbucks, it wasn’t very long ago that just about every roadside eatery and hole in the wall establishment that served breakfast would present the coffee cup to patrons atop a small saucer — this is common knowledge, but have you ever given the thought as to why this is the case when no other beverage is served in these establishments with a saucer?

Though saucers were invented during the medieval times, it became popular to serve them with a cup of hot beverages during the colonial America period in an effort to allow those drinking the tea or coffee to not burn their mouth — the person being served the saucer and coffee cup would separate the two and pour small amounts of the beverage into the saucer plate.  The thin layer of steamy drink would then cool considerably faster than the beverage contained in the cup, allowing the person drinking to enjoy warm but not scalding coffee.

This custom was so widely practiced that when the US Constitution was first created and George Washington was attempting to explain to Thomas Jefferson the purpose for having two houses of Congress, he used this practice as a metaphor.

“Upon his return, Jefferson visited Washington and asked why the Convention delegates had created a Senate. ‘Why did you pour that tea into your saucer?’ asked Washington. ‘To cool it,’ said Jefferson. ‘Even so,’ responded Washington, ‘we pour legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.'” This exchange has been published by the US Senate.

Over the next century, the practice of drinking from one’s saucers remained common practice in America, well into the 1900s.

A Christian song was even published, giving nod to this ancient practice, the lyrics of which state, “I’m drinking from my saucer cause — my cup has overflowed.”

Today, the sight of a person drinking from their saucer may seem odd, but it’s most probable that anyone with a few gray hairs atop their head can remember a time when their granny would do just this!

Do you like articles like this?  If so, click here to learn more about receiving a year’s subscription of the print edition of Appalachian Magazine!

Share this article with your friends on Facebook: