The Art of Coffee Mug Selection

Reader Contribution by Cam Mather

By Cam Mather

First off, let’s dispense with the mandatory admission of guilt.
Yes, I shouldn’t be drinking coffee. It is very bad. It travels long
distances and farmers who grow it are often exploited. This said, I
love coffee and still drink it. Michelle and I have found a very nice
Organic Mexican Shade Grown blend that our daughter Nicole introduced
us to from, yes, the evil empire, Starbucks. As I have said in previous
blogs I did in fact cheer on the people throwing chairs through
Starbucks windows during the G8 Summit – Battle of Seattle, so many
years ago. But since they seem to have tried to clean up their act, and
their awesome, cheery baristas happily provide me with thousands (yes,
I’m into the thousands now) of pounds of coffee grounds for my
blueberry plants, for free, I’ve become a huge Starbucks fan.

I have one cup of coffee a day. While I like to pretend that I am a
junkie with a heroin-like addiction to this evil beverage, it’s just
something I like to have first thing in the morning. I don’t like it at
any other time of the day. There’s been the odd evening that we’ve
been driving home from Kingston with a trunk full of coffee grounds
(smelling insanely great!) and I’ve succumbed to temptation only to be
completely disappointed by how much I don’t enjoy drinking coffee at
night. In my world, it simply should NEVER be consumed at night.

About four times a year I make a grand announcement that I am giving
up coffee. Within a few days I’m dragged back by that wonderful aroma,
kind of like Michael Corleone being dragged back to the mobster life
after trying to make his business legitimate in the movie “The
Godfather.” It’s like the mafia, but with a caffeinated beverage!

In lockstep with my obsessive-compulsive preferences of the timing
of my one cup of coffee a day, comes perhaps something even more
important than the actual blend of coffee – the mug in which it is
consumed. I believe my manic attachment to the mug choice makes me
about one step away from mental institutionalization, and yet when I
see how much attention is paid to disposable cups by the coffee
behemoths, I may not be that far off the mark.

For many years my Apple mug was the ONLY mug that I would use to
consume coffee. As a Macintosh user since 1984 my attachment to all
things Apple, especially that logo has been voracious. Even as the
rainbow image was adopted by other social causes, I was undeterred in
my Apple logo loyalty.

I did go through a period of transition though when my yellow IKEA
mug started to overtake my Apple attachment. I liked the design of the
mug, smaller at the bottom and larger at the top, and the fact that mug
was white inside and yellow outside. A coffee mug MUST have a white
inside to provide the proper contrast to the rich brown of the
beverage. We have some green mugs that make me violently ill when I see
coffee in them. My head spins and my entire homeostasis is thrown off
by any mug that is not white. It’s like the house has been hit by a
twister and removed from its foundation.

As time went on though, I decided I was ready for a change, and The
Salvation Army Thrift Store provided the necessary solution when I
found my “Van Houtte” coffee mug there. Van Houtte is a chain of coffee
stores in Quebec. I remember sitting in a “Le Commensal” Restaurant on
Catherine Street in Montreal once and seeing the Van Houtte logo, and
it obviously became imprinted on my subconscious like a new-born orphan
monkey adopting a stuffed animal as its mother. Mr. Van Houtte became
my new coffee vessel.

What a French guy wearing John Lennon-type glasses has to do with
coffee I have yet to figure out. Coffee beans don’t grow in France. If
anything I should be repulsed by this image because it represents all
that is wrong with the imperialist world. White guy goes to warm
climate, absconds with native drink and exploits it for great personal
gain back home. And yet there’s just something inviting to me about
this guy’s steaming cup of coffee that draws me in. His cup is small,
it looks rich and inviting. It simply adds to my coffee drinking

Like so many things in one’s life I find I get in a rut, especially
with coffee mugs. I love Christmas because it means for 30 days (40
days? 47 days?) I can replace our entire mug collection with
Christmas-themed mugs and every day is a new mug experience. The
downside of this tradition though, is that it means that as January
rolls around, I have to put away my shiny happy red and green themed
mugs, and go back to the ones that have been in the cupboards for
decades. As if January wasn’t depressing enough!

Michelle had a new coffee mug to look forward to this year. Our
daughter Katie gave her a beautiful new pottery mug made by Jean Marr
of Brockville. It’s a beautiful mug with a bulrush theme on the
outside. It even has a small ceramic frog at the bottom of the mug. It
makes getting down to the bottom of your coffee mug take on a whole new

I’ve been looking for a new coffee mug for years but until recently I
just hadn’t found the right one. The secondhand stores that we
frequently shop at have hundreds of them, but none have resonated with
me like the Mr. Van Houtte one. Until recently when we were at the
Napanee Salvation Army Thrift Store and there it was, like a shining
beacon of new creative coffee expression in ceramic form, my new coffee

It’s perfect. It has all of the right themes for my life right now.
It’s country themed with incredible fake barnboards running down the
sides. Then, of perfect relevance, is the seed package! Starting a CSA
this spring means seeds are taking on a huge new meaning, so I can
start each wintery day with a reminder of the warmth of spring soil and
the potential it holds which is just perfect. And the sunflowers on
the seed package was la pièce de la résistance!

Michelle has always loved sunflowers, and we call our homestead
“Sunflower Farm” (probably along with a thousand others). When I was
designing the logo I tried to blur the “F” and “L” together and make
the bottom of the “L” weak so that one might actually read the word as
“SunPower”. I thought that since we power Sunflower Farm with sun power
this was a pretty good fit. I don’t know how successful I was with the
logo, but sunflowers are huge part of our garden. They grow
everywhere, and they self-seed in the vegetable garden, many of which I
leave as food for the birds.

The fact that those big sunflower heads actually track the sun, like
our solar arrays do, has great synchronicity (or feng shui) with our
little off-grid homestead.

Michelle and I came up with a code many years ago. When one of us
falls into that negative trap of complaining, for example saying “I am
so ticked off at that (customer/family member/driver/corporate
polluter/fill in the blank)” the other one of us quickly says, 
“Weren’t the sunflowers incredible last summer?!” And the topic quickly
and easily turns to all of the wonderful things that we have in our
life to be thankful for. To have a mug with a symbolic representation
of all the good things I have in my life, is really a big deal!

This blog post is a bit like a Seinfeld episode … basically it’s
about “nothing.” Coffee mugs? Really? Is this what your pathetic life
has come to? Coffee mugs?

Well, yes, kind of. I do not have a vacation planned to a warm and
sunny location this winter. I’m staying here in my cold, sunny location
and not putting any more carbon into the atmosphere than absolutely
necessary. I have no major purchases to look forward to as so many
North Americans do. You know how it is, “When I finally get that new
(cross-over SUV/80″ Plasma TV/12 person hot tub, etc.) all will be well
with the world” syndrome. Once you get that hot tub you’ll need all
sorts of related paraphernalia to go with it, along with more hours at
the office to pay to heat it all winter.

Nope, there’s nothing like that on my horizon. Everything is working
well. I have everything I need in my house. I would love a tractor and
log splitter, but my fantastic neighbors allow me to borrow theirs
when I really need one. There’s no retirement fantasy in my cards,
because I never put enough away for that rainy day. So it looks like
I’ll be growing vegetables and trying to sell books until they find me
keeled over in the potato patch. And I’m good with that.

Best of all, I get to start every day with a fantastic new barnboard
and sunflower seed packet-decorated coffee mug to remind me that I’m
living in paradise and the luckiest man on the planet. And it cost me
all of 50¢!

Photos by Cam & Michelle Mather.

* * * * * * *

Don’t forget we have a new book out! “Little
House Off the Grid” by Cam & Michelle Mather, describes our move
from the city to an off-grid home in the country, sharing both the joys
and the challenges of our journey. Available right here at Mother Earth News.

For more information about Cam or his books please visit or