Everywhere I look there are metal coupe glasses. At restaurants, the coupes carry desserts, as has long been classic: cremolata at Una Pizza Napoletana in New York City, sorbet at Lutèce in Washington, DC, a cherry-topped soft serve at Esmée in Copenhagen, or a chocolate cake piped with coquettish bows at Rollinwood Bakeshop in Seoul.
More recently, the coupes have become a fixture of the aesthetic Instagram tablescape, particularly among the niche of food designers and stylists who put forth a sense of highly stylized yet casually lived-in opulence. The coupes hold heaps of simple vegetables, puffs of meringues, and individual fruits. There is a very specific microtrend in metal coupes that are filled with swirling swoops of softened butter.
In a sleek metal coupe, even a melting scoop of ice cream is suddenly rendered romantic. A stack of empty coupes next to a mountain of butter manages to evoke the moody feeling of old still life paintings. The vessel makes a stark background or a plain table into a clearly calculated design choice; the coupe is attention, and intention, enough.
“I’m obsessed with the coupe glasses for desserts,” says pastry chef Isabel Coss, who has also been seeing them more and more on her feeds in the past few years. At Lutèce in DC, Coss uses them to serve ice creams and sorbets, sometimes testing gravity by seeing how many quenelles she can stack in one. Other times, she fills them with colorful mounds of bonbons. Although she uses both glass and metal, Coss somewhat prefers the latter, both for fashion and function.
For one thing, metal coupes, which hold temperatures better than glass, are eminently practical. At restaurants, they’re often frozen before service to help prevent desserts from melting in hot kitchens. And unlike glass coupes, they can bang around in dishwashers without worry.
That functionality is bittersweet for Coss, who began her collection with a vintage set from France: “I knew their destiny lay no more in the delicate box but in the coldest depths of the freezer or enduring the daily cycles of a restaurant dishwasher, multiple times a day.” She’s since bolstered her collection with aluminum coupes from the restaurant supply store.
Still, the metal coupe is undeniably a style choice. At Una Pizza Napoletana, the vessels add to a nostalgic vibe. Owner Anthony Mangieri sourced vintage coupes from Italy, and he hopes that in New York City, they call to mind both Italy and the New Jersey ice cream shop that his grandfather owned for decades, though his grandfather’s shop didn’t use them specifically. “They give that nod to the past and to that Italian style and history,” says Christina Tobia, vice president of operations for the restaurant.
Their transportive appeal spans the globe. Coss associates metal cups of ice cream as much with her childhood in Mexico City as with newer French establishments like the trendy Paris ice cream shop and wine bar Folderol, which serves its scoops in steel coupes so cute that they’ve been stolen by visitors. The vessels feel both Italian and Korean to Suea, the professionally mononymous co-owner of the Brooklyn cafe and design store Dae; she points to the stainless steel tableware that Koreans often use for banchan or other cold dishes.
“We definitely do gravitate towards stainless steel,” says Suea, who is also an influential food artist and food stylist. Dae uses stainless steel coupes for ice cream in the summer and marinated olives in the colder months. When envisioning Dae, which sells hammered-metal pour-over coffee filters in a space anchored by a large metal counter, Suea and co-owner Carol Song “made it a point to not do ceramics,” she says. “It was getting crazy with so many people doing it.”
If the boom in restaurant ceramics was about embracing the distinctly earthen and handmade, then in the way trends go, perhaps we’re simply due for a shift toward the opposite. Coss believes that to be true at least on the level of the individual diner: When much of a meal is served in ceramics, a new visual and physical texture at dessert “wakes you up a bit,” she says. Metal tableware is trending with brands like the industrial-leaning Service Projects, the vintage-curated Pouf, and the trendsetting Gohar World, which launched an “Old World silver” collection.
The coupes, which can stand alone or slot into a spread of another style, are an easy entry point into a different table aesthetic. Everything, no matter how basic, is more special in a coupe. On a neat table designed by Berlin-based culinary studio Herrlich Dining, metal coupes make a simple spread look like an art installation, presenting the olives and radishes on pedestals. Instead of desserts, “I like that we use them in the ‘wrong’ way,” says Hannah Kleeberg, one of Herrlich’s culinary creative directors.
At Brooklyn’s Le Crocodile, which uses stainless steel coupes to hold ice cream, chocolate mousse, and the whipped cream that accompanies hot chocolates, the coupe is “substantial, but it doesn’t take away from the dessert,” says executive pastry chef Leanne Tran. No dessert leaves the kitchen in a coupe alone: Each is also placed on a doily on a ceramic plate. “I really do think that adds to the experience when you bring something out in a coupe like that,” Tran says. “It makes you naturally want to take your time with it and appreciate it.”
The metal coupe is a satisfying exercise in contrasts. It feels simultaneously old-timey and modern, casual and upscale. To Suea, it juxtaposes a brutalist and industrial style against one that’s more cute and ornate; Dae is the same in this regard, its harsh minimalist elements softened by touches of romantic frivolity. And for Coss, it’s a treat to see the playfulness of her desserts against the hard formality of the metal coupes.
“It’s impossible not to feel sophisticated but childlike at the same time holding a nice cold glass full of ice cream or dessert in your hands,” she says. After all, underlying the desire for the perfectly curated tablescape is, increasingly, just an attempt to find the little things that inspire joy.