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How to Set a Table, Demitasse Spoons, and Antiques

How to Set a Table, Demitasse Spoons, and Antiques

If you look at silverware placement in formal dinner settings, you値l notice something if you look hard: there are NO demitasse spoons! Or if there are demitasse spoons, seeing them is a rare thing: they look a bit overdone; even ostentatious. (And should they match? More on this later.) In this article, we値l first consider the format of a formal dinner. Then we値l discuss the evolution of espresso and the demitasse spoon. Finally, we値l go antiquing. And then we値l show you some 21st Century pragmatism: what we offer at The Coffee Brewers!

Place Setting for a Formal Dinner

In the figure below, we致e shown a typical formal dinner setting. This setting assumes that soup is to be an opening course, and that both fish and meat (or fowl) courses will be served as well. Notice that the rightmost utensil is an oyster fork, specifically for dealing with shellfish and crab that might need to be separated from a shell. There is no demitasse spoon.

A Formal Place Setting

A Formal Place Setting with Correct Placement

Note also that there is a knife and fork pair for salad, another knife and fork pair for a fish course (likely a first course the fact that the fork is on the outside indicates primacy in this case), and a third knife and fork pair for 電inner, a.k.a., the main course. At a formal dinner, you would not use the same dining utensils for different courses, since oils, flavors, and sauces from one course would carry over and contaminate the delicacy of expertly-prepared seasonings and sauces in subsequent courses.

So at the conclusion of each course, that tableware is to be left ON the plate to be removed by the wait-staff with the plate. Traditionally, you should turn the fork OVER, and place it tines-downward in your plate as a signal to the wait-staff that you have finished. This way, they can remove your dishes without having to interrupt your conversation to ask: 鄭re you finished?

While the figure shows a soup bowl and both a salad and a dinner plate, these (typically) would not all be piled up at the setting; the figure is drawn this way just to indicate that all of the dishes go here, in front of the diner (Duh!). In fact, the initial setting might only have a 田harger (decorative plate) in this place, with the actual dishes brought as the courses are served. Sometimes, instead of a charger, the napkin could be folded into a tent-like configuration, and placed here instead.

When you see pictures like this (usually advertisements in bridal catalogs), all of the dinnerware has been put there so that it looks impressive, but they would not stack the plates like this in an actual service. (Or if they did, they would remove most of these plates when people were actually going to sit.)

Note that the three knife-fork pairs frame the plates. Immediately next to the knife trilogy is a teaspoon, to be used (usually) AFTER dinner with tea or coffee. And to the right of the teaspoon are the soup spoon and oyster fork (already discussed). Where are the demitasse spoons?

Tablespoon, Teaspoon, and Demitasse Spoon

Relative Sizes: Tablespoon, Teaspoon, and Demitasse Spoon

Demitasse, like coffee is 菟ost-prandial, that it, it痴 had AFTER your dinner, not with it. But now, note that in this setting, above the dinner plate are post-prandial utensils to be used with dessert. Why are these in the setting, while demitasse spoons are not? There are two reasons.

First, the dessert utensils are placed in the setting to let the diner know that there will BE a dessert course, and to give them a clue as to its size. This allows the diners to pace themselves while dining, and to save room for dessert!

Were the after-dinner utensil merely a spoon, the diner would assume that dessert was to be simple: a sorbet, or something like this. Were it merely a fork, the diner would assume that dessert was simply a pastry or a (thin!) slice of cake. (The nice thing about pastry is that you needn稚 eat the whole thing.) When it痴 a spoon AND a fork, this means that you should go easy on your dinner!

Demitasse is NOT going to take room (in your stomach), so a demitasse spoon is not needed in the setting to 努arn the diner that there might be demitasse coming!

Further, and the second reason, not all diners will have demitasse, so it needn稚 be part of the place setting. So why is there a coffee cup?

Simple: it痴 not for coffee, it痴 for tea. Some diners like to have a cup of tea to drink with their food. It would be unusual (and frowned on) to have coffee with your dinner. If you don稚 drink tea, then this cup can be for your 菟ost-prandial coffee (assuming that you don稚 want espresso). If you did have tea with your meal, then the wait-staff should replace your cup (give you a new one) at the end of the meal if you are going to drink coffee. (You should tell them that this is un-necessary if you値l be having espresso.)

Note that the place setting also has a bread dish with a butter knife. Bread can be eaten both before the dinner, and throughout it. So the bread dish is standard. IMPORTANT: notice that the bread dish goes to the LEFT. It ALWAYS goes on the left, although I致e often seen people in restaurants take the dish to their right. Never do this. It confuses the other diners around the table, and someone will lose their bread dish (if the person on their left uses the wrong one). When this happens, they will need to bother the whole table to locate another dish and get it passed to them. (And then, where are they supposed to put it?)

Why is the bread dish to the left? It痴 because the wine glasses (and water glass) are to the right. This assumes that the diners are all right-handed (which they might not be). Nonetheless, since the glasses go on the right, the bread dish goes on the left.

Where Are the Demitasse Spoons? (Salvador Dali)

Where Are the Demitasse Spoons? (Salvador Dali)

Now look at the glasses. The water glass is the largest, and it goes on the inside. Why? It痴 because it was assumed (when this formality began) that the diners were not going to drink much of their water. Water is not there to drink WITH your food. Wine is what is drunk with the food. The wine is usually specifically chosen to complement the food that it will accompany, so it痴 assumed that the diner uses (mostly) his wine glass.

The water glass is there only for the occasional gulp to clear the palate, and/or to wash some food down if you池e having problems. Water is also there for when you are ordering wine at a restaurant. When the sommelier pours a small amount of wine for you to taste, the water is there to clear your palate before tasting it so that you can taste it fully.

At a formal party, or at a dinner served in someone痴 home there IS no 努ine tasting; it痴 assumed that the host serves wine that痴 known to be GOOD. In fact, 努ine tasting is likely outdated. Today, it痴 extremely rare that there is any problem with the wine. The technologies (for producing, bottling, and storing wines) are MUCH better than they used to be. So while a sommelier will usually go through this traditional procedure with the host of the table, it痴 purely 鍍heater today.

Note that the white wine glass (slightly smaller than the water glass) in the place setting is on the outside. That痴 because the fish course (in this case) is to be served first, and it痴 assumed that white wine is to be drunk with the fish.

The red wine will be drunk with the main course probably meat so the red wine glass is on the inside. After the fish course, it痴 assumed that the white wine glass will be removed by the wait-staff so that the diner can reach the red-wine glass without the white wine glass being in the way. I.e., when the white wine glass is removed (after the first course), the red wine glass will be in a more natural position.

An Ostentatious (Overdone) Place Setting

In the place setting below, we are showing a setting that has been 登verdone. This kind of thing might be seen at very expensive reception-factories where they致e pulled all the stops, but it痴 impractical, and hardly 電ecorous; it痴 much like wearing too much jewelry. If you致e been around the block a few times, it steps over a few bounds, and shows (frankly) a misunderstanding of the formal place setting.

In this place setting, they致e added a champagne flute to the right of the water glass, a cordial (or sherry) glass to the right of the white wine glass, a demitasse cup to the right of the tea cup, and a demitasse spoon between the teaspoon and the soup spoon.

An Overdone Place Setting

A Place Setting That痴 Been Overdone

What痴 wrong with this picture? First, what is the champagne flute for? If it is to drink a pre-dinner toast, it should be on the inside, where the cordial glass is shown. If it is for an after-dinner toast, it should be above the glass line (i.e., further out than the water glass and wine glasses, since it won稚 be used until later).

Instead, if champagne is not for a toast, but instead it痴 to accompany one of the courses, then the champagne flute should take the place of one of the wine glasses. And while we池e at it, note that the wine glasses shown in this picture are reversed (with respect to the previous picture). This would be very unusual. (Otherwise this setting is wrong.)

Why is this unusual? Again, it痴 common sense. A formal dinner is NOT a random assortment of courses. The dinner is 殿 composition. Given the main course, you can稚 just choose 殿nything to have as your first course; it needs to be congruous. This is also true of the soup (if there is to be a soup course), and it痴 particularly true of the salad dressing, which should not desensitize your palate prior to the serving of the main course. (If the dressing is overly vinegary, what痴 sometimes done is to serve a single spoon of a fruity sorbet to clear the palate before the main course is served.)

Since the courses 菟rogress, meaning that the first course is first, the second course is second, and so on, the assertiveness of flavor needs to do the same (or at least, it can稚 flow the other way). So if we were intending to serve poached sole and chateaubriand as two of the courses, they would be served in this order: first the sole (a light and subtle flavor), THEN the chateaubriand (a full and assertive flavor). And this is WHY the wine glasses should be positioned as they were in the first arrangement: the white wine glass on the outside (to go with the sole), and the red wine glass on the inside (to go with the beef, AFTER the white wine glass has been cleared).

In this second place setting, they致e put the red wine glass on the outside. That痴 either wrong, or it means that the dinner will attempt to do something very different. For example, if the first course were to be a veal tenderloin, and we were serving it with a light and fruity red wine, and the main course were cioppino (a spiced tomato-based seafood stew), and we were serving it with a very bold and assertive white wine, then the glasses could be placed in this order. But this kind of menu is very daring; it痴 certainly not 砥sual.

Now back to this second place setting: why is there a cordial glass and a demitasse cup (and spoon) in the table setting? These are AFTER-DINNER drinks. They are in the way. They should not be in the place setting. It痴 too crowded, and it makes it difficult to navigate when you are reaching for the right items (especially if you池e going to drink all of that wine!).

The other thing about these items is that they assume too much (about the diner). Are ALL of the diners having cordials and espresso? In my experience, few of the diners have ALL of this. While an empty coffee cup is fine, if every place-setting contains lots of empty (and clean) things, it makes the dinner appear to have been 殿 failure when you look at the table after everyone痴 finished: why all of the unused china? Were people unsatisfied? Was the food that bad?

Also, what about children? Are they all having cordials and espresso? I don稚 think so. The dinner will likely have been tiresome enough for them without even more superfluous ostentations added.

Note also, that to make this (un-natural) setting look a little more balanced, they致e put the napkin to the left of the forks so as to widen the setting symmetrically about the dinner plate. This is patently un-natural. Typically, the forks are placed ON the dinner napkin. The placement of the napkin in this case is a clue that this setting is 登verdone.

The Dinner Party (Jules-Alexandre Grun, 1911)

"The Dinner Party," by Jules-Alexandre Grun, 1911

Demitasse: An After-Dinner Drink

After the main course, 鍍he dinner (its formal part) has concluded. The wait-staff should clear all plates, and all of the unused silverware that痴 adjacent to the plates from the table. This does not include the dessert spoon and cake fork. That痴 why these implements are not put in-line with the other tableware, and are instead put above the dinner plate. It痴 understood that these implements are for post-prandial (after dinner) use: for dessert.

The wait-staff should remove the (used) coffee cups (really, tea cups) and saucers from all settings in which the diner had had tea with dinner. Those should be replaced with clean sets. Typically, the wait-staff will bring coffee service, and will pour coffee for everyone. If you致e no intention of drinking your coffee, you should tell the staff not to pour yours when they come to your place. If you want demitasse, let them know that you値l be having demitasse instead. (You CAN have both, but this would be very unusual.)

What you should notice here is that choosing demitasse is a 都pecial thing. It is not part of the canonical flow. The reason that this is important is that it means that the cups and silverware used to serve the demitasse need not match the dinnerware that was used for the rest of the event. In fact, generally they SHOULD NOT match.

In fact, demitasse cups AND spoons are supposed to be 都pecial. They are meant to be a little flashier than all of the 田ongruous china that went with the dinner. They connote (and accent) a 菟ost-prandial splendor. It痴 a GOOD thing to have flashy, and even unusual, china and silver for your demitasse service.

Your Demitasse Cups SHOULD Make a Statement

Your Demitasse Cups SHOULD Make a Statement

This is also why it痴 not uncommon for people to have several different sets of demitasse cups and demitasse spoons. A host might want to finish off a successful dinner with any of several different accents using different demitasse tableware.

For example, should the cups match the guest-of-honor痴 dress? Wouldn稚 that surprise (and delight!) her? Or perhaps the demitasse cups should match the wall color in the dining room, so that they (subconsciously) catch your eye while sitting there noticing the colored demitasse cups as distinct from all of the other white tableware on the white tablecloth. The point is that demitasse cups and spoons SHOULD BE different.

And it痴 also why the demitasse spoons can be (and SHOULD BE) a departure from the other silverware. While demitasse spoons CAN match the rest of the silver, that痴 overly formal (to the point of being blah like wearing a black tie with a black suit). It should be your point to punctuate the end of a dinner by offering a much livelier pattern to have with your post-prandial espresso: WAKE UP!

Coffee and Tea

To understand why demitasse needn稚 fit the format of a classical dinner (and its china pattern), we値l take you through a little bit of culinary history. Demitasse was a LATE ADDITION to Western cuisine; it is not meant to 吐it the pattern of formal Western dining. It was originally an accent put atop a formal dinner that made it just a little more worldly; it痴 fairly recent that demitasse has become a standard offering. And it痴 tied to the tea trade (from a Western cultural perspective, as we値l see).

Tea came to the west from China in the middle of the 17th Century (circa 1660). You might recall that unlike what British 滴igh Tea became, Chinese tea was (and is) served in small cups, and the small spoons (that eventually became demitasse spoons) that were used with tea service were proportionately tiny. These tea spoons evolved; they were the fore-bears of the demitasse spoon.

Part of the purpose of the spoon was to signal (to the wait-staff) that you had had enough tea, and didn稚 want more. As we mentioned above, just like the placement of your fork on the dinner plate (to signal the same thing), the teaspoon was placed face downward with the back of the spoon痴 bowl facing upward across the top of your cup to signal: 哲o more tea, thank you very much!

Incidentally, today in Chinese restaurants, the way to tell the wait-staff that the teapot is empty, and therefore (because you are taking the trouble to signal this), that you would like MORE tea, is to turn the topper of the teapot upside down, but to leave it exactly where it should be on the top of the teapot. (Or if it is a hinged top, to simply open it.) A knowing waiter will spot this, and should bring you another pot of tea with no words spoken.

Because the tea spoon would be placed with the back of the bowl facing upward (across the tea cup) at the conclusion of a formal tea, artisan craftsmen began decorating the back of the spoon痴 bowl with intricate carvings and designs. The Chinese tea spoon, which evolved to become the demitasse spoon, became a miniature art form. Rather than standard silver patterns, the demitasse spoon was an escape: it was 鍍he canvas for silverware artists to ply their trade.

An Extremely Ornate Spoon Handle

An Extremely Ornate Spoon Handle

This means that demitasse spoons (which were originally Chinese tea spoons) were NOT made to 杜atch silverware patterns; they were meant to be a silverware artist痴 opportunity to show their craft to the Max! So while it痴 appropriate for a silverware pattern to be decorous and to match at a formal dinner, it痴 also appropriate for the demitasse spoons to depart from this dramatically. The demitasse spoon is SUPPOSED to be more flamboyant even at a formal setting!

We had pointed out earlier that coffee was an after-dinner drink, and that (like in China) tea could be served with dinner. Notice that the small spoon that is part of the canonical table service is called a 鍍easpoon. While we use this spoon for after-dinner coffee as well, it痴 called a teaspoon, and it痴 placed in-line with the other silverware because it痴 used with tea during the dinner service.

We had said that tea came to the West, and became part of an elegant dinner service at around 1660. What about coffee? The first evidence of knowledge about the coffee tree (and therefore, coffee itself) is from Sufi Muslim monasteries near Mocha in Yemen in the 15th Century. By the 16th Century, coffee was drunk and had spread throughout the Middle East to Persia (now Iraq), Turkey, and North Africa. At that time, the largest shipping industry was in Venice, and trade was thriving between Venice, North Africa, Egypt, and the Middle East, so coffee first entered Europe through Venice.

From Venice, the coffee business spread throughout Italy, and was exported to Indonesia and to the Americas. The first 摘uropean Coffee House was thought to have opened for business in Rome in 1645. While the coffee business was originally slow in the American colonies, Americans began drinking lots of it following Boston Tea Party (1773) so as to avoid drinking tea. (After the War of 1812, Britain temporarily blocked all tea shipment to the USA, which caused the coffee business to really blossom.)

So notice that both coffee and tea became Western staples at around the same time (the late 17th Century). This is hardly surprising. This is the period in which Western shipping hit its zenith.

And notice that coffee and tea (as hot beverages) originally used the same cups and silverware. While England had cultivated 滴igh Tea as an informal afternoon get-together, this actually had started as a French custom in Paris in 1636 before becoming a strong British custom over 20 years later (circa 1858). Once 典ea became a common Western practice, the teacup had grown much larger than the original Chinese teacup, and it had grown a handle as well, and a plate! The 鍍ea spoon (Teaspoon) grew accordingly. And this is why it is now called a 鍍easpoon (as part of a silverware place-setting) and NOT a 田offeespoon.

Espresso and the Modern Demitasse Spoon

The figure below shows the current (approximate) dimensions of Western tableware. The modern teaspoon is shown as being around 6 inches in length. The original teaspoons that came from China were 4 to 4.5 in length. So the modern teaspoon became much larger than the original, as did the teacup. But the demitasse spoon evolved from the Chinese teaspoon, and (roughly) kept its dimensions. The modern demitasse spoon is shown on this chart as being about 4.5 long.

Lengths of Standard Spoons Used Today

Lengths of the Standard Spoons Used Today

Originally, Chinese tea spoons which evolved to become Western demitasse spoons - were even smaller: about 4 long. These were appropriate for the Chinese tea cup, which was diminutive (about 3-4 ounces), had no handle, and did not use a saucer for tea service. The point of a Chinese tea service was 兎lementalism; the focus of a Chinese Tea Ceremony is the tea itself, introspection (focus on 鍍he self), and respect for nature, and especially for our elders. The focus was not on the china. As such, tea cups were not ornate although the teapot could be.

While coffee and tea became additions to the Western table in the 17th Century, demitasse (espresso) required significant technical innovation, which didn稚 come about until the 20th Century! It痴 amazing that the dimensions of the Chinese teaspoon survived the transition, but that痴 easier to understand when you consider the flavors associated with early espresso flavors that have only started evolving in the last 20 years, as the technology used to make espresso advanced dramatically advances that we can attribute to the (now pervasive) microprocessor.

The espresso machine (hence, espresso) was first built and patented in 1884 in Turin, Italy. The inventor was Angelo Moriondo, who exhibited a working model of his invention at The Turin General Exposition of 1884. Moriondo was granted a patent (# 33/256 issued on May 16, 1884) on his machine, entitled 哲ew Steam Machinery for the Economic and Instantaneous Confection of Coffee Beverage Method. (For those who understand patent language, this title conflates several different concepts together. And for the youth who are reading this, his machine didn稚 have a microprocessor in it!)

Angelo Moriono and his Espresso Machine Patent

Angelo Moriono and his Espresso Machine Patent

Before espresso was invented, the process of brewing coffee was very similar to how we make tea. Espresso required a completely new technology. To brew espresso, hot (but not boiling) water is forced through a very densely packed 菟uck of finely ground coffee under very high pressure. In this way, the flavor is 兎xtracted from the coffee, and not (directly) 澱rewed out of it. Since the extraction is quick, the drink itself is small.

Improvements were made on the first design, and the patent embodiment that most closely resembles the modern espresso machine was filed in 1901 by Luigi Bezzera who was a mechanic in Milan. He actually patented several different improvements. This first patent was entitled 的nnovations in the Machinery to Prepare and Immediately Serve Coffee Beverage (# 153/94), and was granted on June 5, 1902.

In 1905, rights to this patent were purchased by Desiderio Pavoni, who founded the 鏑a Pavoni company to build commercial espresso machines on a relatively small scale (about 1 machine per day) in Milan. Soon, espresso spread throughout the Western world and is now becoming a mainstream offering in the East as well. It痴 amazing to think that 兎spresso is only about a century old.

What痴 surprising is that the commercial espresso machine that we just described actually proceeded the invention of the moka pot, which was designed to 杜ake espresso on the stove. The espresso machine was a commercial product meant for use by businesses, while the moka pot was made for home use, to try to emulate the beverage made by the espresso machine.

Moka pots (generally called 都tove top espresso makers) also brew the espresso using pressure to do the extraction, but the temperature is much higher (steam) and the pressure is much lower, so the 兎spresso that痴 made has slightly different characteristics.

In an espresso machine, the pressure used to do the extraction is 9 bars (1 bar is the atmospheric pressure of earth at sea level), and the temperature of the water used is 195-200 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 91-93 degrees Celsius). In a moka pot, the water is boiling (212 degrees Fahrenheit = 100 degrees Celsius), and the pressure is much less (roughly 2 bars).

Since the extraction is done under much less pressure in a stovetop espresso pot, the grind used for canned pre-ground espresso (sold at the supermarket) is coarser than what you should use in an espresso machine. The espresso machine requires a finer grind so that the puck can create enough back-pressure during the extraction to withstand 9 bars (this is also why you need to use a tamper). If you use store-bought pre-ground espresso in your espresso machine, the extraction will be weak and watery.

However, since the water is hotter when using a stovetop moka pot, the espresso will be more bitter more acid will be extracted, and more caffeine too. What many people don稚 realize (because of the strong flavor of espresso) is that it has less caffeine than drip coffee. The quick, lower-temperature extraction doesn稚 extract as much caffeine as the steeping does in drip coffee.

Most people that grew up with European grandparents, think that espresso is strong (and bitter). This is typical of the moka-pot extraction used by all of the (relatively poor) European immigrants in the 20th Century.

Modern espresso machines are quite sophisticated, and can apply VERY precise control to an extraction. The result is that today, espresso should NOT be bitter; it should be smooth! Today, espresso should have very refined flavors, and a large range of roasts are used to obtain different effects.

Another effect of this is that unlike in 鍍he old days (and still in much of Europe) where a shot of espresso is an ounce, it痴 common for Americans to use two double-shots (or even three) in a tall coffee drink. It痴 NOT bitter. It痴 delicious! While this can work nicely with espresso made in a high-quality espresso machine, I would hesitate to try it with espresso made in a moka pot, although the moka pot can produce a satisfying doppio (which will be strong).

This is why the demitasse cup and its accompanying demitasse spoon (which was once a Chinese tea spoon) have survived into the 21st Century. But since demitasse itself (when we are talking about espresso) is only a century old, while the Chinese tea spoon dates back to the 17th Century in Western culture (and the Western 鍍easpoon evolved into something much larger), it makes one wonder about 殿ntique demitasse spoons. What are they?

Demitasse, and Demitasse Spoons

The term 電emitasse was started in France in 1842 (the mid-19th century). At that time, espresso hadn稚 been invented yet. So 電emitasse was used (then) to refer to a small cup of black coffee (and as we致e said, it was also used to refer to the cup itself). Espresso was invented later at the turn of the century, and it co-opted the 電emitasse terminology. So while more correctly, the terms should be 兎spresso and 兎spresso spoons, we frequently use the terms 電emitasse and demitasse spoons today.

Nonetheless, in the mid-19th Century, the fashion was to have a small cup of black coffee in a demitasse cup, using a demitasse spoon to stir in sugar. It was also at this time that silver became very stylish, so the time was ripe for silversmiths to use the diminutive (hence, relatively inexpensive) demitasse spoons as vehicles to show off their talents. These demitasse spoons, crafted ornately, were statements that a host could make about fashion, style, class, and culture. Thus, people would collect several different sets of demitasse spoons to be used on different occasions. Different demitasse spoons could be used with different (specific) coffees, and different demitasse spoons were crafted for formal, informal, and personal celebrations.

Luigi De Ponti, the Moka-Pot, and Alfonso Bialetti

Luigi De Ponti, the Moka-Pot, and Alfonso Bialetti

As we had said, the espresso machine was originally used only commercially, and was first commercialized in 1905. The home-appliance was the moka-pot, which didn稚 come about until nearly 30 years later. In 1933, Luigi De Ponti invented and patented it for his employer Alfonso Bialetti, who made it a household appliance. While wealthier people collected demitasse spoons before espresso existed (to have with their 電emitasse coffee), demitasse spoons became common household tableware only after this new business (making espresso on the stove) was started by Bialetti.

So the 田ollection of demitasse spoons (or even people having them in their homes) is much less than a century old. The good news is that since 兎spresso technology is relatively new, and the first technology was relatively crude (and produced a relatively bitter drink) using coffee (which was very expensive at that time), most sets of demitasse spoons that were given as gifts especially as bridal gifts were never used. Note that the original demitasse (small cup of coffee) of the 19th Century had died out, and the new 電emitasse (espresso) was just catching on.

While a nice set of demitasse spoons isn稚 a wildly extravagant bridal gift, most of the families giving and receiving these gifts at the beginning of the 20th Century didn稚 use them for the reason that the new 20th-Century demitasse was a bitter extravagance. The result of this is that usually when you find a set of demitasse spoons in an antique shop or advertised on-line for sale, they will be in pristine condition: new and never used! This makes them very nice collectibles indeed!

Because of the artistic bent toward producing elaborate demitasse spoons in the 19th Century (using gold and silver), by the very end of the 19th Century craftsmen were producing demitasse spoons to commemorate specific events, and/or as tourist memorabilia (i.e., with engravings of well-known landscapes, monuments, and people on them). Many of these demitasse spoons were crafted with elaborately designed handles garnished with unusual objects (gems, pearls, etc.). A particularly popular set of spoons was made with the twelve apostles, and that has been reproduced a lot.

The Twelve Apostles Demitasse Spoons

The Twelve Apostles Demitasse Spoons

Antiques: Spoons and Demitasse Spoons

Spoons had been the essential eating utensil up until the late 16th Century, when forks first started gaining popularity, but it took forks nearly a century to become commonplace. Among serious collectors, spoons can be found that date back to about 1500. As late as 1600, it was common for people to bring their own tableware to feasts, using their hands and a general-purpose knife to break up their (individual) food, and then to (generally) eat it with a spoon. It was only in the late 17th Century that forks were generally used to eat with.

While the modern demitasse spoon didn稚 emerge for another 200-300 years, experts date spoons by looking at their construction, metallurgy, design, and (only rarely) the dates on them. Up until the 18th Century, the stems and bowls were made separately, and then joined together usually with a solder. Starting in the 18th Century and ever since, spoons have been stamped from a single piece of metal, and then shaped and tailored appropriately.

So if you find a two-piece spoon, it痴 likely a very early one. Until the late 17th Century, stems tended to be slender and plain, with the bowl being relatively large. It was in the 18th Century that stems became more ornate, hence larger. So to evaluate a spoon, a first approximation can be made by looking at the styling itself. We had mentioned the 鄭postle Spoons which might have been first made in the 18th Century (and then copied a lot). These were unusual for that time; most of the spoons from that era were relatively plain.

Throughout the 19th Century, the decoration of spoons became more ornate and elaborate, with detailed embossing sometimes including the spoon痴 bowl itself. But then in the 20th Century, plainer, simpler designs became the norm. So lots of elaboration likely suggests an older spoon.

Valuable Demitasse Spoons

Very Valuable Demitasse Spoons

Markings on the back of the stem can indicate the silvering process that was used. Common markings are 摘P and 鄭1 which indicate that the spoon is silver plated (silver bonded to a different metal, which formed the spoon痴 structure). Silver plating was first used in the 1820s, so if a spoon has these markings, it痴 certainly no older than this. And note that stainless steel wasn稚 used in cutlery until the 1950s after World War II, so if it痴 marked as such, it痴 not an antique.

Most manufacturers (and even some individual craftsmen) use stamps to identify their work. On silverware, these are called 塗all-marks (a medieval guild was called a 塗all). Hallmarks are usually stamped into the backs (and even the sides) of a spoon痴 handle, so that they are easy to see without disrupting the design itself. You should be able to see a hallmark on most spoons, but it might require polishing the spoon and looking with a magnifying glass.

We had mentioned that craftsmen began making souvenir spoons in the 19th Century to commemorate events and places. This practice started in the later part of the century: there were no American souvenir spoons made before 1889, although the practice had been going on in Europe for a short while.

While dates imprinted in spoons might be accurate, sometimes the date was put there not to date the spoon, but to commemorate an event for which the spoon was made to symbolize (e.g., 1776). On very old spoons, dates are not reliable at all: if anything, they might indicate a forgery (ironically, forgeries are easier to sell when they have dates on them).

In assessing the value of a spoon, keep in mind that spoons made to commemorate popular tourist sites (Niagara Falls, The Grand Canyon, or big cities like New York and San Francisco) are common, so there will likely be many of those, hence they will not be highly valued. Also, spoons made with lots of little pictures embedded into the handles and/or bowls are also common. These were designed to attract tourist sales, and were very successful, so are not rare.

Collectible Souvenir Demitasse Spoons

Possibly Valuable Souvenir Demitasse Spoons

Obviously, the most valuable spoons are those that commemorate an important event, person, or subject for which few spoons were made their rarity is what makes them valuable. And spoons that show elaborate silversmithing are also more valuable. And also obvious: spoons that were silversmithed by hand are much more valuable than those done by machines. The older the spoon, the more valuable; and if the spoons bear legitimate hallmarks of famous silversmiths, they池e more valuable still.

Demitasse Spoons at the Coffee Brewers

At The Coffee Brewers, we池e not in the antique business. We sell state of the art espresso and coffee equipment. We致e made it a point to supply a very large assortment of demitasse spoons that will fit all occasions.

And this is the 21st Century! We are for extravagant pragmatism: simple ostentation without pedantic expenditures. And we池e for variety! Your demitasse spoons should be fun and entertaining. You should have several sets for different occasions, but you shouldn稚 break your bank to do it! You can even give a REAL set of demitasse spoons to your little girl (or to a niece) to accompany her tea set she痴 sure to treasure them, while their actual cost is moderate.

We did not choose to carry killer-expensive silver. Instead, we致e chosen to deal in very high quality 18/10 stainless steel. (To learn about stainless steel, click HERE to read our article.) And we致e chosen to carry a very large assortment of stylings.

Some of Our Demitasse Spoons

Our Demitasse Spoons Click the Tags Below to See the Others

Most casual coffees and dinners with friends are small and intimate. So we池e offering lots of small sets of demitasse spoons. You should view demitasse spoons as fun and inexpensive collectibles. Your friends and family are sure to notice that you池e using different spoons on different occasions. It痴 a very civilized thing to do! (After all of this history.)

Here are some of the designs that we carry. Just click on the names below to see the spoons and read about their designs.

Dimpled Handled Spoons

Gold Fleur de Lis

Golden Edged Spoons




Queen Anne









Iron Stone

Classic Baroque










Bossa Nova