BRIDGEPORT — Master potter Jay Strommen estimates he’s crafted about 10,000 mugs over the course of his career.
One of them really stood out to Mike Pilkington, founder of Bridgeport Coffee Company — like really, really stood out.
“It’s the best coffee mug I’ve ever seen,” he said.
So perhaps it was inevitable that Pilkington would commission Strommen, a Bridgeport resident and longtime coffee shop customer, to handcraft 48 replicas of the mug given to him by his pal about seven years ago.
Those mugs were recently given as holiday gifts to the coffee roaster’s wholesale customers, with a small handful still available at the coffee shop, 3101 S. Morgan St., for $17.50 apiece.
Soon, they’ll be a regular item.
“We’re kind of anti-tchotchke. We concentrate on being a good restaurant and not, you know, selling T-shirts up front,” Pilkington said. “But if I come across a product that really fits who we are. ... We’re going to start offering it.”
So what makes these mugs so special, aside from the thickness, large handles and glossy, handsome appearance?
It’s actually the things you may not notice at first sip.
First, there’s the “circle-within-a-circle” designed into the mug’s bottom, a reference to an ancient Japanese symbol of the “ultimate perfection,” said Strommen, a Minnesota-born artist whose experience includes an apprenticeship in Japan, exhibitions in galleries across the world and teaching gigs at Trinity Christian College, Lillstreet Art Center and the University of South Florida.
There’s also the handpainted words underneath the mug, words like “good," "thanks," “star” and “moon," all meant to "remind you of something good every time you put them in the dishwasher," Strommen said.
And the mugs contain another feature, something secret.
On the direct bottom of the mug, next to the handpainted word, there’s a little convex button, another technique borrowed from Japanese tea rituals.
Strommen said coffee drinkers should take the first sip while placing a finger on the button to connect with “everything that was and will be."
Take the second sip the same way, but this time to reflect on your personal concerns.
“It’s a way of surrendering yourself to the universe in a really simple way,” Strommen said.
For Pilkington, placing the order for more mugs — crafted at Strommen's studio and home at the Bridgeport Art Center — was a no-brainer. He said they fit the coffee shop's ethos — locally made, created with love by a friendly, familiar face, and they're of "super high quality."
"He’s going to have to make me more," Pilkington said.