The History Behind Vintage Demitasse Cups - The Brooklyn Teacup

The History Behind Vintage Demitasse Cups

Posted by Ariel Davis on

A 1800's Dresden Demitasse Cup and Saucer Set
Antique demitasse cup found on Etsy

In a world driven by modernity and technological advancements, there is something enchanting about uncovering the origins of vintage objects. One such item that holds a timeless charm is the demitasse teacup. Delicate and elegant, these tiny cups have a rich history that intertwines with the culture of tea-drinking and the social customs of bygone eras. Join us on a brief journey as we unveil the captivating story behind vintage demitasse teacups.

History of the demitasse cup

The history of the demitasse cup traces back to 18th century France, where the term "demitasse," meaning "half-cup" in French, was born. Inspired by the coffee-drinking traditions of the Ottoman Empire, the French crafted these small porcelain cups to serve concentrated coffee after meals. This allowed for a pleasant conclusion to the meal where you would get a quick caffeine spike while getting to savor robust flavors in petite portions. Gradually, demitasse cups transcended France and journeyed across Europe, captivating tea and coffee enthusiasts worldwide.

What sets vintage and antique demitasse teacups apart from the vessels produced today is the exquisite craftsmanship involved in their creation. Unlike mass-produced modern china, these cups were meticulously hand-painted by skilled artisans. Delicate patterns, landscapes, and portraits adorned their surfaces, while intricate gilding and colorful enamel detailing transformed them into miniature works of art.

Limoges (France) gilded demitasse cup and saucer found on ebay
Limoges (France) gilded demitasse cup and saucer found on Ebay

More than mere functional objects, demitasse cups became symbols of refinement and social standing.  Passed down through generations, these cups evolved into cherished heirlooms, carrying memories of and connections with one’s ancestors.

Demitasse cups: for more than just coffee?

Demitasse cups have traditionally been associated with coffee, but it was only a matter of time before tea enthusiasts discovered their potential in enhancing the tea-drinking experience. These small and delicate cups have captivated tea lovers with their unique attributes, elevating the pleasure of savoring tea to new heights.

One of the key reasons why tea enthusiasts have embraced demitasse cups is the petite size, which plays a significant role in intensifying the aromas and flavors of the tea. As tea is poured into the demitasse cup, the concentrated volume allows the scents to be fully released and appreciated. With each sip, the intricate nuances of the tea's aroma are revealed, creating a delightful multisensory experience.

Whether it's the delicate floral notes of a green tea or the bold and robust aroma of a black tea, demitasse cups enhance the sensory journey of tea drinking, making it even more pleasurable and immersive.

Furthermore, the delicate nature of demitasse cups encourages a more deliberate and mindful approach to tea consumption. The small size of the cups prompts us to slow down and take intentional sips, allowing for a greater appreciation of the flavors and textures. Each sip becomes an opportunity to savor and immerse oneself in the tea-drinking ritual, creating a sense of presence and connection with the moment.

Iconic Demitasse Drinkers: From Napoleon to Jackie O’

One of the earlier figures known for his preference for drinking from a demitasse cup is none other than the French Emperor, Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon's fondness for coffee was documented in paintings and sketches where he was occasionally depicted holding a demitasse cup, savoring his favorite beverage.

Napoleon even had his own portable coffee set that he carried with him during military campaigns which included a demitasse cup along with a small coffee pot, allowing him to enjoy a refined cup of coffee wherever he went. 

Images of Napoleon, dressed in his military attire, delicately sipping from a demitasse cup, became a symbol of his refinement and appreciation for the finer things in life. It also reflected the influence of French coffee culture during that time, where demitasse cups were commonly used to serve strong coffee.

Jackie O’ & Demitasse Cups

A more modern demitasse cup lover is former First Lady of the United States, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Known for her grace, style, and love for the arts, Jackie O’ was often seen enjoying tea and coffee from demitasse cups. Whether hosting gatherings at the White House or enjoying a quiet moment at home, she appreciated the delicate beauty and cultural significance that these small cups represented on her table.

Demitasse cups by other names: 

Demitasse cups are known by several names across different cultures and contexts. In addition to the short name they sometimes go by (“demi,”) here are a few other terms used to refer to demitasse cups that you may encounter:

Espresso cup:
Espresso cups, also known as demitasse cups, are specially crafted to showcase and elevate the flavors and aromas of concentrated espresso. In Italy and many cafes worldwide, you'll often find espresso cups in plain white, displaying the branding of major coffee companies like illy and Lavazza. Depending on the setting, espresso cups can also be beautifully adorned with intricate details.

  • With a capacity of 2 to 3 (or more) fluid ounces, espresso cups perfectly accommodate a single shot of espresso, which is typically around 1 fluid ounce.

After dinner coffee cup:
An after-dinner coffee cup is a small and stylish cup specifically used for serving coffee after a meal. It is typically elegant in design, made from fine china or porcelain, and is intended to add a touch of refinement to the post-dinner coffee drinking experience.


A traditional Turkish Coffee Cup found on Etsy
Traditional Turkish Coffee Cup found on Etsy

Turkish coffee cup:

Turkish coffee is traditionally served in a small cup resembling a demitasse cup called a “fincan” or “kahve fincanı.” These cups are usually made of ceramic or porcelain and tend to be larger than standard espresso cups. Some have a handleless design and are adorned with traditional patterns and motifs, reflecting the cultural heritage associated with Turkish coffee.

  • The serving size for Turkish coffee is around 2.5 ounces (75 milliliters) while espresso usually clocks in at around 1 ounce (29 milliliters).

Coffee tazzas:
In Italian culture, demitasse cups are sometimes referred to as "tazzas," which means cups. This term can be used interchangeably with espresso cups.

Café cups:
The term "café cups" is often used to describe demitasse cups in a more general sense, as they are commonly associated with coffee-drinking in cafes.


Chocolate cups:
While not technically demitasse cups, chocolate cups are fairly similar in size to demitasse cups and get used interchangeably. Known as chocolate cups, these petite, yet taller-sided teacups, are used to serve rich hot chocolate or cocoa. 

Regardless of what you call them, demitasse cups have found their place as ideal vessels for consuming the world’s favorite concentrated flavors, whether it's sipping a strong espresso, fragrant tea, or luscious hot chocolate.


A beautiful demitasse cup upcycled into a hand-poured teacup candle at The Brooklyn Teacup

The Brooklyn Teacup Upcycles Demitasse Teacups into Candles

Unless you’re at a particular kind of fine dining establishment or tea salon, there’s a good chance that the only time you’ll come across a demitasse cup is on sale at an antique store or estate sale. We think that’s basically a crime–that's why we've partnered with Brooklyn-based candle-makers, Glow to Grow Candle Company, to upcycle these captivating treasures into accessible and easily giftable candles to enjoy in your everyday life.

A Bavarian Demitasse Teacup Candle at The Brooklyn Teacup

Shop demitasse candles

Discover our collection of all-natural, soy wax candles thoughtfully hand-poured into darling vintage demitasse teacups. And get this: once the wax has melted away, these demitasse cups can be easily cleaned and repurposed for a variety of uses. 

Consider using yours to start a personal after-dinner coffee ritual, like enjoying a small cup of espresso or your favorite tea in a vessel with a rich history. Alternatively, transform these cups into permanent decorative pieces for your desk or bedside to serve as elegant storage solutions for your jewelry or other small accessories.

Do you have a demitasse set that you’d like to transform into candles? Get in touch with us, and together, we can create a one-of-a-kind candle that preserves the essence of your vintage treasure while giving it new life and purpose.

Learn more about upcycling your demitasse cups and vintage china.

Whether you're seeking a unique gift or a distinctive addition to your own decor, The Brooklyn Teacup is here to illuminate your space with vintage charm and sustainable style.


teacups vintage china

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