Aztext Press

Life Off-the-Grid

The Art of Coffee Mug Selection

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 experience.

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 meaning.

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 mug!

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¢!



  1. I too am a coffee mug aficionado. Lately I have been using the same mug over and over, that my wife have me some 10+ years ago. It has my favouriye quote on it:

    “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes it’s the little voice at the end of the day that says,”I’ll try again tomorrow.”- Mary Anne Radmacher”

    And is always inspirational when slogging through all those emails….

  2. Ahhh, so it’s not just me……what a relief !

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