Did you know that in France, tea, coffee and hot chocolate are served in bowls?
Well, it was news to me the summer that I volunteered in Provence, but I picked up the habit with pleasure. More than a mere traveler’s novelty, there was something deeply comforting about drinking from a bowl that I could not quite articulate at the time. I’ve recently resurrected the morning tradition in my own kitchen, which has prompted much pondering of the mug vs. bowl debate.
At least I know I’m not the only nostalgic bowl-drinking Francophile in America: antique one-offs picked from Parisian brocantes for a few euros regularly move in the market of $30 on Etsy, cracks, chips and all. You only have to add the words ‘Café au Lait‘ or ‘Latte‘ to their name and, Gallic lineage established, they sell like hotcakes.
My growing collection of French ‘Café au Lait’ bowls. The two on the left are affordable and dishwasher safe, and come in tons of colors. $5 each at Anthropologie stores, or $20 for a set of four online. On the right, two antique Ebay finds. I look for bowls with iconic details like the little ribs (côtes) on the sides, or a delicate flared foot, and am sticking to shades of white and cream.
My French friend Aurélie found my interest in bowls rather amusing, and in response to an enthusiastic “explique-moi” email, she told me that it’s totally French, everyone has bowls (especially the ones with côtes) in their kitchen, and people drink out of them everywhere. She also mentioned that since she moved into her apartment, she’s been taking her coffee in bed while on her computer, and that a mug is much more practical in that case. I wondered, then, if part of a bowl’s charm is the attention it demands of the drinker simply because it is easier to spill? Could it be that I was unknowingly longing for an antithesis to the American to-go cup culture, for a reason to sit down and enjoy my breakfast in lieu of dumping my coffee in a travel mug and rushing out the door? (I recently read that 1/5 of American meals are eaten in the car. Guilty, I am definitely guilty).
If anyone in Newport has figured out how to make a meal feel special, it’s Michele DeLuca-Verley at La Maison de Coco. We had a little conversation while I drank a bowl of her famous chocolat chaud (yup, she serves all her hot drinks in bowls). It’s infused with tea (this time I picked rose and mint) and made with dairy that comes from a farm in Tiverton, RI.
Chocolat chaud at La Maison de Coco, $4.25
When asked about her decision to break from the traditional mug, Michele said that she wanted café goers to feel like guests in her home. In her experience, people don’t really sip out of bowls at restaurants in France, but in the home, “that’s just the way you do it at breakfast with your toast.” It’s interesting that we assign connotations of chic-ness to pretty much everything that comes out of France, but in reality, these café au lait bowls are just a part of everyday life that we happen to find charming.
To bring a little bit of the French je ne sais quoi to your mealtime, Michele recommends that you “turn off the tv, turn off your computer and just make a nice space for yourself. If you’re a single person and making something for yourself, have a candle on, have a glass of wine with it, just really make it a ceremony of relaxation, really taking in the food.”
PS- That’s me in my cute little kitchen. I’m obsessed! When I moved in, the cupboards were a nasty wood stain that clashed horribly with the 1970’s citrine color of the counters and backsplash. Painting them white was the best thing I’ve done to that apartment, and now I even love the yellow. It’s a very cheery place to hang out.