It has been transporting drink to mouth for over 400 years but the coupe has not had a smooth ride.
You have to feel sorry for the coupe. In its own right it is a lovely looking object yet for most of its existence people thought it had been modelled on Marie Antoinette’s left booby (thankfully now debunked). It’s like growing up being told you look just like Brad Pitt rather than being appreciated in your own right, it’s a terrible burden (trust us!!).
However that is the least of the coupe glasses problems over the years. It continually spends years doing its job with a particular drink expertly only to be usurped by some new fangled design.
It started hundreds of years ago, when champagne was first becoming the drink of the moment. There wasn’t a gathering of upper-class twats across central Europe without a case or twelve of champagne being consumed.
These days everyone knows (or has been told by someone who sounds like they know what they’re talking about) that drinking champagne out of a coupe is the definition of uncouth. However back then it was the glass of the hour, the reason it was so popular, besides the fact flutes had yet to be invented, is up to some debate.
One theory is based on the fact that champagne back in those days was less fizzy and as such the champagne was poured from a height as a show of skill of the waiter and to increase more fizz into the drink, this required a glass with a wide opening.
Typically another theory goes completely against this one. This theory is that it was awfully rude to drink very fizzy things (presumably it was what bodily results come from drinking fizzy things that was actually frowned upon), and the coupes ability to dissipate the champagne bubbles was a bonus. Some reports go as far as to have little forks and whisks served on the side to get rid of them quicker.
The third theory however is our favourite. This goes that champagne was actually drunk as a shot. Poured into a coupe, downed in one and the coupe then put upside-down on the table to drain the glass before the next bottle came round.
Despite being invited to all the big parties the coupe was dropped from the top echelons of society like a rock when by the mid 19th century the champagne flute (invented in the mid 18th century) had sashayed its way into every party on the scene. The prancing show-off designed to highlight the bubbles in the liquid swept the coupe to the back of drinks cupboards everywhere.
It has taken nearly 200 years but it seems that the flute maybe about to get a taste of its own medicine. More and more it seems that champagne manufacturers, experts and sommeliers are suggesting that the flute is not the best glass to use. It is generally agreed that a slight variation on a white wine glass is the way of the future and the flute is a goner, don’t think it could happen? Just think of the poor coupe.
The coupe, much like Baby, is not one to be put in the corner. It saw another opportunity on the horizon and jumped on it.
Across the water in the US at this time ice had become a staple not just of bars but of homes. With this came a whole new generation of cocktails in bars across the nation, the straight-up serve. A style of drink that the coupe, with its elegant stem keeping the guests hand away from the cold liquid, was perfectly suited for.
By the end of the century the Martini cocktail was sweeping both the US and the world. The coupe was back on top (with its friend the cocktail glass), back at the greatest parties, hanging around with royalty and stars. However this dalliance was not to last long.
By the 1920’s a new glass had emerged, it wasn’t a million miles away in looks from the coupe but it had been invented specifically for the drink of the moment and even took its name. By the 1930’s the coupe had once again been usurped, this time by the Martini glass.
There are rumours that the Martini glasses popularity is due to the design meaning that drinks could be thrown away quicker during prohibition if raided, but that sounds like complete nonsense. It was, we suspect, simply that it was cool and that the shape itself was quickly copied and became an instantly recognisable and easy to replicate signal for a cocktail.
However not unlike the flute, the martini glass was not the best design for the job. In fact it’s a shit design and was made worse as time went on. Soon the cocktail glass had been swallowed up by the martini glass and perhaps this was why the Martini glass seemed to swell in size quicker than a Russell Crow flick book.
It was extremely unsteady to start with but designers seem to insist on making the stems thinner and longer and the bowl bigger and wider. They may have well just put a pint of beer on a Weeble and put the table of guests at the end of a trampoline park.
On top of that every drink served in a martini glass was called a Martini resulting in the single worst trend in cocktail bartending, ever.
Nick & Nora
So once again by the 1990’s our long suffering, but resilient as fuck friend, coupe was back. The bartenders backlash against the Martini glass in top venues was quick and vicious. Suddenly it was gone and more than 4 glasses could fit in the blast chiller, floor staff said a little prayer of thanks, happy days were returning.
Whilst some bars kept some ‘sensible sized’ Martinis the coupe was back doing a majority of the heavy lifting. Then along came Audrey Saunders and some fancy new place in New York called Pegu Club.
It was 2005 and whilst the new glass on the scene wasn’t a new concept it was Audrey who helped bring it back to fashion. The irony was that this new glass was also one that was sent packing by the Martini glass way back in the 30’s.
The Nick & Nora, has two advantages over the other glasses to knock the coupe of its perch, it is both a great design and has a great story.
The Thin Man was a film from 1934 by the man who brought Sam Spade and The Maltese Falcon to the world, Dashiell Hammett. The husband and wife sleuths at the heart of the film were Nick & Nora Charles and boy oh boy did they like a drink. The film is littered with quotes to make any bartender smile.
It spawned five sequels and a glass. Throughout the film the couple are drinking. Whilst many things are consumed it’s the Martini that stands out as the drink of choice. In one famous scene Nora sits down at the table to discover her husband is 5 Martini’s ahead of her so she immediately orders 5 to catch up.
It is important to point out that this was before the influx of the martini glass and the ever increasing size of the glassware. The glasses that they were drinking out of at the time only held 60 – 120ml of liquid. This was probably the main reason they disappeared as the rise of the Martini Grande increased.
By the time they reappeared on the scene at Pegu Club they had grown to about 180ml but still significantly smaller than the modern martini glass and something a bit different from the popular coupe.
However this time it wasn’t the end for our main protagonist. This time there was room for the coupe to sit alongside the Nick & Nora in the blast fridges and back bars of the world.
So next time you reach for a glass hold a thought for the coupe, it may have been around a while but it’s had its fair share of hi’s and low’s and deserves to be celebrated.
Reporter: Say, listen, is he working on a case?
Nora: Yes, he is.
Reporter: What case?
Nora: A case of scotch. Pitch in and help him.