A set of stoneware cup & saucer traditionally used by coffee shops in Singapore & Malaysia. Tropical floral motif printed in green on both cup and saucer. Great for teas and coffee - espresso, piccolo, macchiato or long black.
The icons of the kopitiam (coffee shop) of Singapore and Malaysia from a yesteryear. In Singapore, this classic floral motif on stoneware coffee set was the de facto utensils used by coffee shops since they began in the early 20th century. Pioneered by the people of Fuzhou and Hainan, such establishment peaked in numbers during the Depression Era in the 1930s when many vacant shop lots were up for grabs at low rent. The Hainanese, in particular, many of whom had been cooks for the British, snapped up shophouse units by the dozens to capitalise on what they learned in the British kitchens. As the barriers to entry for selling coffee and tea to the working class was low, coffee shops sprouted across the island beginning from the Hainanese enclave of Middle Road, Purvis Street and Seah Street.
These coffee shops enjoyed brisk business, receiving hundreds of customers every day. The coffee set was in many ways useful to the coffee shop assistants coping with this high-speed operation. An assistant typically served several drinks at one go, especially when large groups of customers arrived together. However, the cup, which became hot when filled with coffee, must be held by its ear. The assistants would have to make multiple trips to the tables if they delivered only two orders each time. With a saucer, they could easily juggle five cups on both their hands and wrists.
The saucers also served as plates for food. Coffee shops sold breakfasts - soft boiled eggs and toast with butter & kaya (a local coconut jam) To consume them, customers crack the eggs and mixed in dark soy sauce and white pepper before slurping it up from the saucer with a spoon. Some coffee shops also used the saucers to serve cakes they baked. Using a standard-size plate kept things straight forward for the busy assistants.
The original cups and saucers were made from porcelain. These cups came from Jingdezhen, a Chinese city known for its high-quality porcelain. Larger coffee shops would order theirs directly from the manufacturers so that they could have their business name printed on the cups. Other big buyers of porcelain coffee sets were drinks suppliers, who printed their logos on the cups and gave them to the coffee shops to promote their products to the patrons. As most of these cups were either thrown out or destroyed when many of these coffee shops closed, and newer ones migrated to the plastic cups used today, these porcelain and stoneware cups have become collector's pieces.