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Tea leaves and coffee beans both gradually lose their flavor when exposed to air. The green ceramic tea canister seen here would originally have had a tight-fitting silver or pewter lid that kept moisture from hydrating the dried leaves. Similarly, coffee sellers in the late nineteenth century developed the vacuum-packed can and the one-pound coffee bag. The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company—better known as A&P stores—hired industrial designer Egmont Arens to create modern-looking airtight tins for its three grades of coffee. The bold designs became so iconic that A&P adapted them into promotional coin banks.

The French word “demitasse” (for “half-cup”) was adopted by English speakers around 1840 to describe small cylindrical cups used for serving strong French-style coffee. Susie Cooper’s hand-painted Art Deco design emphasizes the overall geometry of the demitasse form. A softer, curved precursor is seen in the black earthenware coffee cup to the left, whose gilt floral decoration is partially lost today but which originally would have glittered brilliantly on a candlelit tea table.

Demitasse with Saucer, 1928
Susie Cooper
(English, 1902–1995)
A. E. Gray and Company, Ltd.
Burslem, Staffordshire, England
Hand-painted earthenware
Lent by Jody and Dick Goisman