Coffee Service, Vol. 5, Issue 23

Once upon a time it was so easy to offer someone a cup of coffee, but science got in the way. All one needed was coffee, cream, and sugar. Everyone understood this and took as much or as little coffee as they wished. The implements of a Perfectly Proper coffee service became enshrined over time: cup and saucer, spoon, sugar bowl, cream pitcher, and coffee pot. This simple arrangement got complicated by scientific progress and, as always, personal preference. Never mind that personal preference would be used to trump courtesy . . .

First science brought us decaffeinated coffee, then artificial sweetener, then a rainbow of artificial sweeteners. Dieters went one step further and began putting milk in their coffee instead of cream; Science accommodated them by creating fat free milk, 1%, 2%, and the Deity of Your Choice only know how many other kinds of milk different from whole milk. Etiquetteer even knows people who prefer powdered milk substitute to real milk. Woe betide anyone offering the simple hospitality of their home who forgets any of these items! Their guests will transform themselves into pursuing Furies, following them from dining room to kitchen to larder looking for the perfect combination of ingredients without which they could not possibly consume a cup of coffee.

Engineers, however, have come to the rescue, at least partly. The invention of the two-part percolator saved a great deal of trouble; one can serve fully-leaded coffee on one side and decaf on the other. Etiquetteer's only gripe is that they forgot how to do so in sterling silver. Percolating coffee urns of the 1930s and 1940s were made in silver or chromium to resemble antique coffee urns. The invention of plastic ended that product line, alas, and we are faced with really casual-looking coffee pots drafted into formal service.

The service of artificial sweeteners, however, has required more ingenuity on the part of hosts and hostesses. Obviously another serving piece is required, but what to add? Etiquetteer saw a particularly elegant solution at a formal dinner recently. The coffee tray was passed with a silver sugar and creamer and the addition of a small silver urn stuffed with Familiar Pink Packets. This urn was in a different pattern from the other pieces, but it was so clearly Perfectly Proper that Etiquetteer could not endorse it more highly. For everyday service at Etiquetteer’

s house, the china sugar and creamer have been supplemented with a pewter sugar bowl perfectly suited to the size of the Famliar Pink Packets.

Etiquetteer finds the remaining solution in guest behavior modification. Please, if you aren’t offered the dairy or sweetener choices you prefer, make do with what you’re offered! One cup of coffee with cream instead of milk, or Sweet ‘n’

Low instead of Splenda, is not going to wreak your diet.

Dear Etiquetteer:

What on earth am I supposed to do with the sugar packet after I’ve emptied it into my coffee? Shouldn’

t we have a little glass or something on the table for that?

Dear Sweetened:

Etiquetteer never thought he’d pine for the days of rampant indoor smoking, but the fact is that when ashtrays were still standard features on dining tables, that’s where everyone put their used packets. Nowadays, in the absence of a saucer, people put them almost anywhere unobtrusive: bread plates, under the rim of service plates, even folded neatly and put back in the bowl from which it came. Clever hosts and hostesses draft the slops bowl from their tea service for this purpose, since it has a cover. But Etiquetteer can’t see restaurants doing this across the board. When it’

s just you faced with a bare table, Etiquetteer suggests you roll up the packet into a small ball and slip it into your purse or pocket.