Many coffee and tea drinkers treasure a favorite mug, whether it's a memento from long-ago travels, a gift from a close friend, or simply one that just feels right. Use the same mug over and over, and it eventually becomes an irreplaceable part of your morning ritual. But I didn't have a favorite mug; at least, that is, until recently.
When I got married seven years ago, my random assortment of battered outlet-store mugs was partially replaced with a set of plain white porcelain cups that matched our new white porcelain plates and bowls. But these ho-hum basics, ordered online without an in-person preview, turned out to be too little and too light. I'd find myself at a coffee shop fondling a particularly nice cappuccino cup, admiring the satiny texture of its glaze, turning it over after I'd finished drinking so I could learn who'd made it. At that point, I figured that since I was spending so much money on café coffee anyway, I might as well splurge on at least one really well-made mug. I took the plunge and bought a tall gray looker from Sausalito, California–based Heath Ceramics.
My husband and I were soon battling over who'd get to use "the good mug," with its smooth handle and dark slate exterior, for afternoon tea. I'd spot it sitting idle on his desk and get irrationally frustrated, worried that he'd accidentally knock it over and break our precious new vessel. Facing the idea of such a loss, I decided it was time to buy some more. But I didn't want just tall coffee mugs. I also longed for a perfectly squat version for my weekend cappuccinos; a diminutive cup for rich drinking chocolate; and, while I was at it, something a little more colorful for dark and foggy mornings would be nice, too.
After visiting local shops and perusing various online catalogs, I ended up with six beautiful mugs and cups that I can honestly say make each morning feel just a little more luxurious.
Heath Ceramics Large Mug
The tactile pleasure of a smooth matte glaze and a handle that's big enough for four fingers to wrap around make this mug an easy favorite. Heath was founded in Sausalito in the late '40s. The company, which also produces lovely hand-glazed tiles, was purchased in 2003, and this mug was the first design from the new creative director. Though this 12-ounce beauty is available in a range of colors, I especially love the ones with an exposed clay lip and a contrasting interior hue. It's a heavy mug that still feels balanced, thanks to its softly curved shape. Maybe someday I'll have a full matched set with plates and bowls, but I'm guessing I won't be able to stop myself from acquiring a rainbow of these mugs first. (Available online, $36)
Mazama Wares Crater Lake Mug and Large Mug
While a tall mug is especially nice for tea and drip coffee, a lower profile feels ideal for a massive cappuccino crowned with foamed milk (often my weekend breakfast of choice). Fresh from a Portland, Oregon, potter's wheel, the Mazama Wares 16-ounce Crater Lake Mug is big enough for a triple—or even a cup of chowder. The glaze feels good on your hands, matte and satiny, and the colors are mellow and rich. (There are also a few dappled options reminiscent of the enamelware you'd take camping.) Thanks to an unfinished tapered section at the base of each mug, they stack nicely, should you decide to start a collection. Because of the cup's short stature, you'll probably fit only two fingers into the handle; if that bothers you, consider the taller Large Mug instead, which offers the same angled base for stacking. It's more delicate than the Heath version, with a bit of quirky angularity. (Available online, $42–46)
Alessi Ovale Mocha Cup
If you're an espresso drinker, or if you're into thick, European-style drinking chocolate, you need a little cup that will keep these short pours from cooling off too quickly. These simple, modern Alessi cups do away with the handle (always awkwardly small on demitasse cups anyway) and have a gentle taper—like a wine glass—to help direct aromas to your nose. They're matte on the exterior and a little shiny within, and the stoneware is thick enough to give the cup some satisfying heft. (Available online, $15)
Tactile Matter Sunset Cup
Though it has a glaze on the rim and interior, the exterior of this cup, handmade in Los Angeles by potter Kenesha Sneed, is rustic clay, with a texture that might have you thinking of beach sand. Painted with a swath of vivid orange that fades into soft pink, this little cup of California sky brightens even the most stressful Monday morning. (Available online, $32)
Slow Studio Dark Clay Mug
I love the textural contrast of this mug: the line where dark, unglazed clay and glassy-smooth glaze meet. This isn't polished china; it's handmade and rustic, and big enough to hold a pretty sizable percentage of your coffeepot. Amherst, Massachusetts–based potter Natania Hume makes these mugs in a light clay version, too. (Available online, $32)