We have a mug cupboard. Everyone in the UK has a mug cupboard.
None of them match. Mugs that match are creepy. Those sets of six mugs that come dangling on a stupid stand that unbalances and falls over if you don’t take them off alternative sides? Don’t trust anyone who has one of those.
Anyone who drinks tea or coffee in a normal, British way does so about five times a day AT LEAST. So mugs get used a lot, and washed a lot, and left on the side of the work surface or the arm of the settee or the side of the chair so they get knocked off and kicked and bashed against the taps or crammed into cupboards on top of other mugs and chipped.
Lots of matching mugs means they haven’t been broken, and so the owner doesn’t have a tea habit, but is pretending they do. They are just going through the mug motions. And therefore not to be trusted.
That aside, there is a definite heirachy of mugs, with favourites used time and again while others are destined to be shoved to the back of the cupboard, only to be pulled out when you haven’t washed up and are desperate, or need something to put a spare egg yolk in.
The qualities that make a good mug are impossible to define. It isn’t down to design, good gods no. It much more intangible than that. But there are rules:
China for tea
My monarchist mother keeps me supplied with royal-themed china mugs, gifting me a new one every time the royal family do anything, and thank the lord for it. Tea has to be drunk out of china, and you get more in a mug than a cup, and don’t have to faff with a saucer (because only a brutal-minded heathen would drink from a cup WITH NO SAUCER **clutches pearls**).
But never for coffee
Coffee out of china mug is disgusting and not to be tolerated. We will never speak of it again.
Not too small
I have many cute little mugs, including a dear blue spotty Cath Kidson one from a dear friend. But there are few things that can leave you with such a feeling of desolation as coming to the end of a cup of tea or coffee before you are ready. The sense of loss stays with you all day. So these mugs are used for various other purposes, like whipping up an egg, making a tiny amount of glace icing or scooping out pasta water to add to the sauce (as recommended by Nigella).
Not too big
Coffee is a life-saving beverage and tea is the curer of all ills, so you would think the bigger the mug the better. But no. Too heavy, too clumsy, the drink goes tepid, it dribbles down your chin. And you look stupid.
Unless it’s hot chocolate
You can never go too big when you are making hot chocolate, as you need the extra inches for cream, marshmallows, sprinkles, a dessert spoon etc. The only exception is the massive Sports Direct mug (and every other house has one, even though no-one has ever, ever paid money for one). This is far too big and stupid to be any good as an actual mug. Ours is in the garage, filled with odd screws (there’s a metaphor there for the company itself if I could come up with it).
Not too thick
Hard to describe, but some mugs feel as if they have been made by a six-year-old at a drop-in craft workshop. They are really thick and heavy and fill your mouth up with clay instead of coffee. Without even knowing you do, you always reach past this mug.
It doesn’t matter what’s on the front
You buy a mug (or get it bought for you) because it matches your kettle, or has a witty slogan or is tea-snortingly rude or it is a souvenir. “Oh ha ha,” you say, when your workmates at the presbytery give you a mug with a winking nun on the outside whose clothes fade away once hot water is poured inside. And then no-one ever comments on it again. When it comes to mugs, it is how it feels that counts.
(This post was inspired by a tweet from Jen Williams, author of the superb Copper Cat trilogy and the EVEN BETTER Winnowing Flame series. Giant bats, drone armies, alien (or are they??) invasions, green fire witches. There’s nothing not to like there.)