Sunday, February 04, 2007

When French Artisans Drink Lattes in Udon Fashion

We made our way to the East End's Marché Artisan Foods this morning after other mornings of passing it by after judging it stuffed to the gills with diners. But this morning we were fortunate that some of the marble-slabbed, claw-footed tables were open. We ordered quite modestly from the otherwise cultured menu. Intimidated by French quiches and an oppulent-sounding omelet, I settled for the oatmeal ignobly, with some peanut butter on the side. S-townwife, cut from more adventurous cloth, had the muffaletta.

But the most important part of any brunch for me is the coffee, so I ordered a double latte. When the java arrived, it was served in a large bowl-like cup, which I rotated looking for a handle to grab. My turning was in vain. It was not a mug; it was literally a bowl. When I mentioned the possibility that the bowl was a mistake to our server, he told me that this is the way that double lattes were served at Marché. I wondered in silence whether some of the artisans--which means "craftmen," after all--could not put some effort into fashioning handles for these bowls.

Even though baseborn, I tried to be a good sport about it. I scooped up the latte and took a few hits like I was sitting at a sushi bar swigging miso soup. However, the fact that I lacked a handle on which to latch gnawed at me to the point that I could not savor my coffee. It just felt awkward to drink coffee according to the Marché method. I finally had to ask the server for a to-go cup, which fit more neatly into one hand, even with the "sleeve" (which our toddler calls a "coffee bracelet"). Once I poured the drink into the paper cup and latched down the plastic sippy-cup lid, my petty neurosis was immediately relieved so that I noticed the flavor and aroma of my coffee.

Being too vulgar, I have to say that a conventional coffee mug would have been optimal. There is a nice balance between utility and aesthetics in a mug, that is, a cup with a handle. Everybody understands its utility: handling heat and managing a grip that leaves one hand free. But there is also a symmetry in the circular or elliptical one-sided handle on a coffee cup that has a quality apart from its function. Drinking coffee out of a soup bowl instead of a mug is like reading a book on line instead of in hard-copy, between actual covers. A basic element in the visceral experience is missing. Likewise, I keenly missed the handle this morning in awkwardly cradling a bowl in two hands, even if French artisans do not miss the grip.


  1. I can't remember if it was in French Women Don't Get Fat or some other book about the so-called French paradox but somewhere I read that coffee in France is typically served in these handle-less cups. So Marche is probably being authentic, but that doesn't mean you have to enjoy it. ;)

  2. LOL!!! Ben and I have been wanting to have breakfast at Marche's,...thanks for giving me a perfect picture of our future experience. Sometimes I wonder if you and Ben were cut from the same cloth;)