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Coupe, flûte, or tulip glass? A bit of history

Reims, October 2021

What is the proper glass to drink champagne from? Where do the different types come from, and how are they used? What shape is best suited to champagne’s color, its effervescence and its flavors?

There’s a history behind it all, a story with twists and turns, from the 1730s up until today. And as is often the case with history, both the French and the English are protagonists.

Le déjeuner d’huîtres, Jean-François de Troy, 1735, detail

From Louis XV’s fine wine glass to the champagne flûte

Historically, in the time of Pierre Chanoine, when champagne and the House of Chanoine were born in the early 18th century, champagne was drunk in fine wine glasses.

They were conical in shape, vertical, and not very tall, as can be seen in the painting “Le déjeuner d’huîtres” (The Oyster Dinner) by Jean-François de Troy, which dates from 1735. The painting, which decorated the dining room of the King’s private apartments at Versailles, is rich with details of the period.

In the 1750s, in England, taller glasses appeared, especially designed for champagne with a deeper and narrower cone intended to better show off the foam and the bubbles. They soon took on the name flûte à champagne (champagne flute) and became fashionable in France in the time of Napoleon I. The flûte, often made of cut crystal, was long the favorite of the courts and aristocracy of Europe.

English merchants tasting champagne in flûtes in the cellar

In the 19th century, the romantic, bourgeois coupe

The champagne coupe (sometimes called a “saucer” in English) appeared in the late 1830s, during the reign of Louis-Philippe in France and the start of the young Queen Victoria’s in England. It was the epoch of Romanticism and the advent of a new business bourgeoisie associated with the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution.

The coupe was especially appreciated at banquets and in restaurants since it made serving easier and quicker. It’s true that the coupe fills more quickly than the flute, one advantage of which is that it makes it possible to create spectacular “champagne fountains” since the shape of the coupe also lends itself to building pyramids of glasses.

The coupe is ideal for creating a champagne fountain.

This may be why the image of the coupe has become associated with the idea of festivity and abundance — “the champagne flowed like water.” This is wonderfully evoked in the very recent film Illusions perdues by Xavier Giannoli — based on the novel of the same name by Honoré de Balzac — in the form of a spectacular fountain built of coupes at a festive supper.

The tulip-shaped champagne glass: The choice of 20th-century devotees

The disadvantage of the wide, flattened coupe is that it shortens the vertical path of the bubbles, accelerating the dispersion of the effervescence. The foam does not build and hold as well, and the aromas disperse more quickly. The wine also warms more quickly in a coupe held in the hollow of the palm. For all these reasons, the coupe fell out of favor with champagne lovers beginning in the 1920s and 30s.

The term, however, is still used in French — the standard phrase is “Je t’offre une coupe de champagne” (“Let me buy you a glass of champagne”), and bars and restaurants feature “champagne à la coupe” (“champagne by the glass”), when in fact the glass is almost never a coupe.

Despite the survival of the flûte, whose verticality lends itself to contemplating the champagne and preserving its bubbles while lending an aristocratic touch, the verre à champagne or tulip-shaped glass is now beginning to hold sway.

This glass first appeared in France at the start of the 20th century and was adopted around the world beginning in the 1930s. It is a wine glass specially adapted for serving champagne.

Its shape is an elongated oval, somewhat narrow at the top and rounded in the middle, both open enough to allow enjoyment of the wine’s aromas and closed enough to concentrate the flavors. The tulip champagne glass is at least 185 mm high and is always held by the stem or by the base.

Isabelle Tellier, Chef de Cave of Chanoine Frères 1730, tastes using a tulip-shaped glass.

Today, depending on circumstances, desires, and fancies, anything is possible and nothing is taboo.

Whatever the shape, however, always prefer glasses with thin walls, rinsed in lukewarm water, drained and wiped with a dish towel so as to avoid strong detergents and encourage the formation of bubbles.

Aficionados will prefer to savor their champagne in a tulip-shaped champagne glass. At apéritif time, a delicate and vivacious champagne should be accompanied by a flûte. Whereas a milestone or wedding can quite properly be celebrated with coupes, which can be used to create beautiful champagne fountains and unforgettable moments.

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