Delicate, Dainty, Proper, a relaxing conversation over tea …… these are just a few terms of imagery that may come to mind in describing the collector’s attraction to demitasse spoons. If you are unfamiliar with demitasse spoons, their history, and uses, then you have come to the right place.
Demitasse spoons are small, approximately three to four and a half inches in length, metal, usually silver but also in gold and stainless, with a wide bowl, and originally used to accompany coffee and tea in Europe and now North America. The demitasse spoon is used to stir sugar, milk or cream in a any hot beverage served in a small cup, such as tea, coffee, cappuccino, or espresso.
The term demi-tasse originated in France in 1842 to describe a small cup of black coffee, as well as the cup that it was served in. Italy also served espresso in this manner, with the coffee itself sometimes referred to as demi-tasse, and demitasse spoons are also referred to as espresso spoons for this reason. Literally “demi” means half, and “tasse” means cup.
A Time for Tea and the Demitasse
Although tea was discovered in Asia much earlier, it wasn’t known of at all in Europe until the beginning of the seventeenth century, at which time it was a rare luxury item and known only to a few of the very wealthy. By 1667, some tea was imported and available in English apothecaries and a few prominent coffee establishments serving businessmen, and was marketed as a medicinal drink. Tea consumption in England escalated in the early nineteenth century as the country was able to grow and produce its own tea, and quickly
overcame coffee as the beverage of choice. With the introduction of afternoon tea, initiated by the Duchess as a result of her hungering in wait of the evening meal, it gave rise to an array of utensils necessary for serving tea in the proper manner. The Italians also considered their espresso with high reverence such that all the necessary utensils were available to produce the perfect cup of coffee, and the particular cup, saucer and appropriate spoon were highly regarded. The drinking of tea for the English, and espresso for the Italians was considered a luxury to be cherished.
The Spoon Craze
It was also at this time, the mid-nineteenth century, silver was also very popular throughout Europe as well as the Americas, and silversmiths began to use spoons as an avenue for artistic expression, crafting spoons for every imaginable purpose. There were soup spoons, snuff spoons, salt spoons, oyster spoons, sugar spoons, and namely, the small, delicate demitasse spoon. Antique demitasse spoons were chosen carefully, and were considered a statement of style and culture, and even different demitasse spoons were selected to properly accompany a particular coffee and to coordinate with the cup and saucer. The same can be said for the English teas, the cup, saucer, and demitasse spoon were as important a part of the occasion as the tea itself.
Today, although demitasse spoons continued to be used for tea, after dinner coffee, or a smooth dessert of gelato, they have become very popular among spoon collectors as antique collectibles. There are so many wonderful designs and styles available, with floral designs, animals, insects, and the like that can still be used for coffee and tea service. But, by the late nineteenth century and the heightened popularity of souvenir spoons, a multitude of sterling silver demitasse spoons were produced for the purpose of commemorating a particular event, trip or occasion. Many of these demitasse have elaborately designed handles, as well as odd and unusual objects. A set of silver and enamel demitasse spoons with the twelve apostles plus Jesus are especially collectible, but only later reproductions of these are available. Demitasse spoons are still being manufactured today, some of which are reproductions of the nineteenth century originals, but now available in gold, silver, pewter, stainless, and sterling. Antique demitasse spoons have traditionally always been made with a metal such as these in order to preserve the flavor of the coffee or tea.
With the recent popularity for antique spoon rings, the availability for antique demitasse has lessened. Jewelry artists use old demitasse spoons because the size is more appropriate and delicate for designing for a woman’s hand. Old demitasse spoons can be found in a variety of places such as local antique shops, estate sales, auctions, and lately, Craigslist has been a great avenue for antiquing. But, whatever the style, whatever the fashion, antique demitasse spoons continue to be at the heart of many a collector.