Category Archives: Shape-shifters


My colleague McKay Jenkins writes:

What’s with the newly trendy use of the word cuppa, to imply a coffee- or tea-drinking experience? My lovely wife tells me that this is a “400-year-old” British expression. Is she right?

Well, McKay, 79 years, 400 years, what’s the diff? The OED says the term is used “elliptically” and colloquially to mean cup o’ tea and offers a first citation from Ngaio Marsh’s A Man Lay Dead (1934): “Taking a strong cuppa at six-thirty in their shirt sleeves.” All subsequent citations are from U.K. or Commonwealth sources.

But McKay is right that it’s hit these shores. The Tampa Bay Times in an article last month referred to a local establishment that serves “lunch and an old-fashioned cuppa,” and the Palm Beach Post said of a tea house in that city, “the experience isn’t complete without a girl to chatter with and a good, strong cuppa.” (Must be something about Florida.)

The interesting thing about cuppa is that, like some other NOOBs (their identity escapes my mind at the moment), it has acquired an additional meaning here. McKay alludes to it: cuppa to mean (the horror!) a cup of coffee. Thus, Holley’s Cuppa is a coffee shop in Las Vegas. And an Associated Press dispatch from December 2012, datelined “Golden Triangle, Thailand,” begins:

In the lush hills of northern Thailand, a herd of 20 elephants is helping to excrete some of the world’s most expensive coffee.

Trumpeted as earthy in flavor and smooth on the palate, the exotic new brew is made from beans eaten by Thai elephants and plucked a day later from their dung. A gut reaction creates what its founder calls the coffee’s unique taste.

Stomach turning or oddly alluring, this is not just one of the world’s most unusual specialty coffees. At $500 per pound, it’s also among the world’s priciest.

For now, only the wealthy or well-traveled have access to the cuppa, which is called Black Ivory Coffee.

The U.S. cuppa contains multitudes. The Philadelphia Daily News recently noted: “One trick is to stir chopped chocolate into a little of the milk to make a paste, then add that to the rest of the steamed milk, for a smoother, richer cuppa.” That’s right, a hot chocolate cuppa. What’s next, cold beverages?