It’s All Greek to Me – The Story of the Anthora Cup

A yellow taxi cab. The green Statue of Liberty. A silver skyscraper.

It’s almost impossible to not think “New York City” when you see them. But few objects are more quintessentially New York City than our ubiquitous blue and white paper coffee cups.

The New York Post even once dubbed these cups as one of “the 10 things that are the essence of New York City”. Sure, you can find some pretty fancy coffee shops around here (one of our personal favorites is the Starbucks Reserve. But as New Yorkers, we are always on the move and we think that sometimes there is just nothing better than a cheap cup of coffee on-the-go.

At Metro Tours, we love these cups (although maybe not as much as THIS guy!) and we have several ceramic versions around the office.

Hey, just doing our part to save the environment, one less paper cup at a time.

We are even hosting an Instagram giveaway to get a ceramic version of what the New York Times called “the most successful cup in history” into the hands of a lucky Metro Tours account follower.

But on to the good stuff. If you have ever visited a New York City street cart for coffee and a donut, chances are that the coffee was served in some version of this very famous cup.

Did you take a closer look to notice the typography and graphics on the cup? If you’re like us, you might have needed to down the caffeine contained inside prior to engaging in any critical thinking.

We’re here to help.

We want to share some more information about these storied cups with our readers so that next time you are lucky enough to be in New York and have one in hand, you will be able to appreciate more than just that very magical brown liquid inside!

While many of us refer to the cup as the “Greek diner cup,” or “paper coffee cup,” its proper name is actually the “Anthora cup” and it was first introduced to New Yorkers in the early 1960s when Greek immigrants were at the helm of the City’s coffee shop and diner industry.

In an effort to appeal to this Greek coffee crowd, Sherri Cup Co. Sales Manager Leslie Buck designed paper cups bearing classic Greek iconography in the Greek flag’s blue and white colors; a key design, a ceramic amphora vessel, and the words “We are happy to serve you.”

Buck himself was a Czech immigrant, and it has been said that “Anthora” was actually his thick Eastern European accented pronunciation of the word “Amphora.” Thus, the cup became known as the “Anthora cup.”

Just as Buck suspected, the Anthora cup was a big hit with Greek coffee peddlers and it reached an astonishing 500 million sold in 1994.

About a decade later, the Solo Company (yes, Solo Company of those famous red plastic frat party cups) absorbed Sherri and eventually phased out the Anthora cup as many Greek immigrants starting leaving the City for the suburbs.

Not to mention a little coffee shop called Starbucks expanded outside of its hometown of Seattle and into other American cities like New York, drawing sales off the streets. In 2005, sales fell to 200 million.

In a nod to New York City’s days past, artists began to incorporate the Anthora cup into works of art, and the Museum of Modern Art even started selling the ceramic versions that line the Metro Tours office cabinets.

The iconic New York image started showing up everywhere. Here are just a few of our favorite more recent artistic renditions of the Anthora cup:

NYC Greek Coffee Cup Illustration

Anthora NYC Coffee Cup Painting

NYC Coffee Cup Print Art

Iconic New York Coffee Cup Poster

With the official Anthora cup phased out of the market, copy cats saw an opportunity to capitalize on its established notoriety and variations of the famous cup’s design soon started to pop up throughout the New York City streets.

The designs are close, but discerning New York coffee drinkers notice some important differences.

While only the original Anthora cup boasts that familiar hospitable tagline “We are happy to serve you,” others say “It is our pleasure to serve you, “We are pleased to serve you,” or some other variation thereof. In 2015, in response to popular demand, the Dart Container Corporation, the owner of Buck’s design, brought back the cups bearing Buck’s original and trademark-protected design. And we are so glad they did!

If you are not in New York City but want to get your very own ceramic Anthora cup, follow Metro Tours on Instagram and enter our giveaway.

You can also buy the paper street cart version from Amazon here to put into your Keurig machine.

We suggest pairing it with the soothing sounds of car horns and hurried commuters for an even more authentic New York City experience.

Or even better, plan a trip to New York City, grab a fresh cup of coffee from a street cart and carry it with you on a walking tour with us at Metro Tours.

It really does not any more New York City than sipping some coffee from an Anthora cup while you log some steps.

You can check out our tour offerings and scheduling at Metro Tours. We hope to see you in New York soon – Anthora cup in hand!

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