Today’s coffee mug towers above a traditional cup of coffee.
A cup of coffee was once actually 1 cup (C) or 8 fluid ounces (oz). That’s less than 250 ml of brew. At home or in a restaurant, it was served in a china or ceramic cup of about that size. A little fresh cream and sugar may have been added to taste, when it was available, and perhaps a biscuit or cookie on the side.
In the days of Dickies From Gunton: Canadian Brothers in Two World Wars, a cup was a cup. The boys would never have imagined how literally big a cup of coffee might become, and the many ways it would be served up and sold to us today.
In their day, coffee was brewed on the stove. First, boiling water was poured over the grounds and through an improvised fabric filter. Some say they would use an old sock but a clean one. The pot sat on the stove or was placed on a trivet on the table where it would not stay warm for long. Only a few cups at a time were brewed.
Then, they had a percolator. They would fill the pot with water, add the basket with ground coffee, put on the lid, and set the pot on the stove. As the water boiled, it was forced up the tube to the basket to wash over the grinds and brew their coffee. Next, an electric percolator meant they could plug it in to percolate rather than setting it on the stove.
Coffee was rationed during the Second World War, and the boys did try substitutes with Chicory and Postum. They would also later try instant coffees- the powder to which you simply added boiling water. But these alternatives never measured up. They enjoyed their perks, real cups of coffee.
When automatic or filter drip coffee makers came along, Percy’s children would eventually make the transition, trading in their six-cup glass party percolator. But he and his wife would continue to use their old metal percolator with its glass bubble on the lid bubbling darker as the coffee brewed to just how they liked it.
On the rare occasions when they went out to a restaurant or coffee shop, the boys would enjoy a simple cup of coffee. There were no fancy variations and no huge cups. Perhaps the waitress would serve them a refill.
If they were around today, Percy and Earl would find it hard to believe that people actually wait in their cars to get to the drive-thru window and order an immense paper cup of coffee with so much cream and sugar or other adornments. It would be an unimaginable indulgence. They would never think to order coffee with milk and artificial sweetener or be tempted by exotic and unfamiliar items like espresso and latte and other drinks we have come to enjoy today, no matter how fancy the names.
They would wonder what happened to the cup of coffee.