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Monday, March 21, 2011

History of the Cup & Saucer

Cup & Saucer Sizes
 Left -Tea Cup & Saucer -Middle Demitasse Cup & Saucer-
Right-Mini Cup & Saucer (Also known as Doll size)
(Not shown-Coffee Cup & Saucer)

The History of the Cup & Saucers 

  Coffee was originally served in a can-which was a metal cylinder with high straight sides that had a handle.The metal cylinder's measured approximately 2 1/2" high & 2 1/2" in diameter (this is where the term "can shape" cup derives from. However, there was a problem, the "metal cans" became very hot due to the hot liquid inside the metal cup, making it difficult to hold on too. In the middle 1800's the problem was solved, a new, more elegant form of the coffee can emerged using porcelain & bone china instead of metal. By using these materials, the potter's were also able to produce the cups in a variety of forms & decorative designs. The saucers at this time in history had a center depression in order to hold the cup & were referred to as a "coffee stand" rather than a "saucer". The coffee cup & saucer is the largest in the cup & saucer family, (not shown in picture). Today's average cup measures approximately 4-4 1/2" tall & the saucer measures approximately 6- 61/2" in diameter.

The History of the Tea Cup & Saucer

   An early custom of drinking tea was to drink it from a "tea bowl", designed with curved sides the tea bowl, looking much like the saucers we know today, were used due to the larger surface area, which allowed the fluids to cool down more rapidly. The "East Indian Trading Company" in the 1700's was the first to import the tea bowls from China. The tea bowls were also designed to hold less fluid than the metal cylinders that were used for coffee, due to the high cost of tea at the time. In the 1800's the tea cup with higher sides & handles became more popular than the use of the tea bowls, due to the fact that the tea bowls became very hot & due to their short sides, they were very difficult to sit down on a flat surface. The new form of the tea cup became universal. As the tea cup developed, the saucer became smaller, now functioning as a cooling place to hold onto while the hot tea cup rested in the center of the small plate, which also became a handy place for the tea drinker to rest their teaspoon. The tea cup & saucer is the next size & most common in the cup & saucer family (far left in picture). Today's average cup measures approximately 3- 3 1/2" tall & the saucer measures approximately 5-5 1/2" in diameter.

The History of the Demitasse Cup & Saucer

   The Demitasse (pronounced-"dem-i-tas"), originated in France in the 1800's. Demitasse means "half-cup", due to it typically being half the size of a full coffee cup. The purpose of the smaller half cup is for drinking stronger coffee's such as espresso, cappuccino & Turkish coffee, typically served after dinner. The Demitasse cup & saucer is the next size in the cup & saucer family (middle in the picture, also referred to as a "Demi cup" or "Child's size" cup & saucer). Today's average cup measures approximately 2-2 1/2" tall & the saucer measures approximately 4- 4 1/2" in diameter.

The History of the Miniature Cup & Saucer

   The first miniature dinnerware set for doll's was produced in Nuremberg, Germany in the middle 1500's. Miniature collecting is one of the largest hobbies in the world. The miniature cup & saucer is the smallest size in the cup & saucer family (far right in the picture, also referred to as a "doll size" cup & saucer). Today's average cup measures approximately 1-2" tall & the saucer measures approximately 3-3 1/2" in diameter

   The difference in these sizes are very noticeable when the cups & saucers are setting side by side, as shown in the picture or displayed in glass hutch, but it may be very difficult to tell the actual size of a set from a picture of a single set or when the set is setting by it's self on a shelf at a store without another size to compare it too. For this reason I recommend that you always ask the size of a set if you are purchasing it off of the Internet if the size is not already listed in the description (that's how I got the Tea cup & saucer & the Miniature cup & saucer set. They were listed as "Demitasse cups & saucers" & it wasn't until I unpacked them that I realized they were NOT Demitasse cups & saucers). I also recommend  that when you are shopping at an Antique store that you carry a small pocket measuring tape (found at most hardware stores) in order to check the size before you get it home. It will save a lot of disappointment of placing a set among your collection only to realize it's the wrong size.

   For all of you experts out there, you are right, I did forget one other type of cup & saucer set, the Chocolate cup & saucer, pictured below.

The History of the the Chocolate Cup & Saucer

   Chocolate or "cocoa water" has been around since 500 BC when the Mayans & Aztecs would pour "kaka" (cocoa) from one pot into another in order to produce a frothy head of foam, this drink was served cold  & was at times mixed with other ingredients which included chilies & cornflower. The consumption of this drink was reserved for men. By the middle of the sixteenth century the Spanish added cane sugar to the drink in order to cut the bitter taste.The earliest chocolate cup was a standard part of the Spanish chocolate service, which were called "Mancerina", which was a saucer with a depression in the middle in which a porcelain cup would sit without sliding. In the middle 1600's the chocolate drink grew in popularity throughout Europe. The first porcelain chocolate service set dates back to the 1770's & was produced for nobility throughout Europe. In the late 1800's Limoges & Dresden produced fine chocolate sets that are very collectable today. Chocolate drinking arrived in American colonies in 1765 when the very first American chocolate factory, "Walter Baker & Company" opened in New England & is still in operation today. The size of the chocolate cup & saucer is similar to the size of the Demitasse set, with the exception that the chocolate cups are taller & thinner. Today's average cup measures approximately 3-3 1/2" tall & the saucer measures 4- 4 1/2" in diameter.


  1. Wonderful information! Thanks so much- great to know how to measure the different sizes and what each was used for. :)

  2. good information on cup & saucer set .Came to know about description.Got to know more things about cup & saucer.nerver thot so much.Thankyou

  3. Great !!! This is so phenomenal!!!That is very impressive! Cup & Saucer Sets are gorgeous and the makeover is totally amazing. I love it. You really did a super job with the Cup & Saucer Sets! I use to do buy online Cup & Saucer Sets as its time saving.

  4. What is the metric measurements of this demitasse cup and saucer. Is it 2 deciliter of fluids in the cup size?

  5. Very interesting. Being a tad pedantic and in the interests of good grammar would you correct your plurals, please. The 1700's means belonging to the year 1700. I think you mean 1700s and 1800s i.e. belong to the decade beginning 1700 / 1800. Forgive?

  6. I'm actually collecting donations of Demitasse Cup and Saucers for a school presentation in September

  7. I just purchased at a yard sale a Antique Jumbo size cup & saucer. The cup measures across at 5 1/8 inches & saucer measures 8 1/4. It has Maling, Newcastle England and on tyne on the bottom. The pattern is blue & white with pheasants & flowers. What was the use for a cup of this size?

  8. Would anyone be able to tell me how many demitasse cups are in a set? Four? Six? Eight? I'm trying to complete my grandmother's collection!