Thursday, February 01, 2007


Those of my Esteemed Readers that have young children (or grandchildren!) know what is a Sippy Cup.

It’s a drinking cup, generally made of impact-resistant plastic, with a tight-fitting lid. The lid has a little spout out of which one may drink.

The Sippy Cup is generally the first step in weaning a child away from the bottle or breast. Tots who have enough hand-eye coordination and muscle control to hold a cup in a more-or-less vertical position, and who can master the complexities of tilting the cup to their little faces, are prime candidates. The whole point of the Sippy Cup is that while it’s easy to slurp liquids from it, the flow rate is restricted. That way, when it gets inverted or thrown on the floor, spillage is minimized. For the runny-nosed kid who always manages to drop his drink on his crotch, the Sippy Cup is a veritable godsend.

How our antecedents handled the travails of the weaning process without the Sippy Cup, I cannot imagine. Think of it: Toddlers...drinking from open cups! Millions of gallons of milk spilled upon the linoleum floors of America! The wastage! The cleanage!

We grownups have our Sippy Cups too.

Stop at any roadside fast-food place, any filling station. They sell coffee there, and along with the coffee they provide plastic lids, the purpose of which is to help keep you from spilling boiling hot coffee on your nutsack while you’re cruising down Interstate 95 at 78 MPH. Most of these lids are designed so you can drink the coffee without removing the lid.

Enter the Great Corporate Salt Mine.

The GCSM is an extremely safety-conscious corporation. Cynics may say that the safety consciousness arises from the desire to protect valuable assets, or to minimize exposure to lawsuits that target the GCSM’s exceptionally deep pockets, but the fact is that the safety culture here is real and all-pervasive.

And here, when you drink coffee, you are impelled by the Safety Gods to use a lid on your cup.

I’m generally a supporter of the Coffee Cup Lid. People walking down corridors or up and down staircases while carrying cups of hot liquids should have lids on their cups. It’s common sense. Who wants to be standing in an elevator when someone accidentally jostles the secretary with the big mug of steaming java? Not I.

But lately, the Accepted Practice here is to keep that lid on the cup even while you are seated comfortably at table, enjoying your lunch. Gotta use the Big-People Sippy Cup, lest disaster befall!

Is it safer? Sure it is...although the risk of getting your ’nads drenched in a pint of boiling liquid when you’re sitting down to eat is minuscule. Especially if you avoid dining with people who are (1) extremely clumsy, or (2) who talk mostly with their hands.

But this morning, as I was sitting in a meeting, sucking my coffee out of (of course!) my styrofoam Sippy Cup, it occurred to me that the coffee sucked, too. Why? The coffee here, if not excellent, had always been serviceable. Now it was completely flavorless. And then I flashed back on other times - mostly on long car trips - when I had consumed my coffee from a lidded cup. Flavorless!

The fact is, drinking coffee from a Sippy Cup denies one the true Coffee Drinking Experience.

When you drink coffee, a lot of the pleasure comes from bringing that cup to your mouth. Steamy, aromatic vapors waft upward, filling the nostrils and warming the face. And the sense of smell is a far more important part of the sensory experience of eating and drinking than the sense of taste by itself. By drinking from a container with a lid, you bypass 80% of the flavor of a cup of coffee...and almost all of the pleasure. It might as well be (feh) water.

One could (if one were so inclined) draw a crude analogy between Sippy Cup Coffee and “safer sex.” Sure, the risk/reward equation’s a little different, but it's still a tradeoff between safety on the one hand and pleasure on the other. And with coffee, at least, there's a real benefit to “going bareback.”

So: What’s the right balance between safety and sensuality?

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