Technically speaking, you can drink a cocktail out of almost any vessel. A mug, a juice glass, a Mason jar—even a measuring cup will work just fine if your only goal is to convey your drink of choice to your lips. (In Some Like it Hot, Marilyn Monroe’s character famously mixes her Manhattans in a hot-water bottle and serves them in paper cups from the water fountain.) But dedicated glassware can make a big difference in your drinking experience. A good martini or coupe glass elevates the presentation of your cocktail and raises its celebratory spirit.
We’d never reviewed cocktail glasses before, and with home bartending on the rise, it seemed like a good time to do so. We decided to evaluate both martini and coupe glasses, as either type can be used for cocktails that are served “up” (without ice). And while it’s possible to get cocktailware in a wide range of capacities, we limited our focus to glasses with volumes from 5 to 6 ounces, the best size for standard cocktail recipes. In the end, we tested seven models—four martini glasses and three coupe glasses—priced from about $5 to about $25 each.
We’re pleased to say that your cocktail will be delicious in any one of these glasses; they’re all serviceable vessels that hold drinks well and make them look a little fancier than they would in a Mason jar. There are, however, a few factors that you might want to consider in choosing the glass that’s right for you.
First, decide whether you want a martini glass or a coupe glass. The two glasses have fairly different shapes. The martini glass has a bowl that’s roughly V-shaped, or conical; the coupe glass has a more rounded, half-spherical shape. Curious to see if the shape had any impact on the perceived flavor or aroma, we drank martinis, daiquiris, and margaritas from each. The results were inconclusive; while a few testers felt that the curves of the coupe glass helped concentrate the aromas of some drinks, ultimately, there was no clear consensus on whether or how the shape mattered. (Our finding tracks with the mixed results seen in existing studies on how wine-glass shape affects sensory perception.)
Instead, the choice of which glass to get is largely aesthetic: Do you prefer the sharp V-shape of the martini glass or the rounder curves of the coupe? You don’t need both types, although it can be nice to have them. Bars often choose one type or the other, based on current trends and individual preferences; going by their example, it’s neither unusual or improper to serve a martini in a coupe glass or a daiquiri in a martini glass. If you’re only going to buy one type, the most important thing is which shape you like better.
But there are a couple smaller considerations that you might want to take into account as well. It was harder to transport drinks without spilling in the martini glasses than it was to transport them in the coupe glasses; there was nothing to keep the liquid from sloshing over the sides of the martini glasses as we walked with them. By contrast, the rims of the coupe glasses curved inward ever so slightly, helping to contain the drinks, so we could more confidently walk 25 feet holding them without spilling. If you are concerned about spilling, you might want to stick with a coupe glass.
That said, if you have a steady hand—or want to develop one—there is at least one good reason besides aesthetics to buy our favorite martini glasses, and that’s their material. All good stemware is made from glass, but some is produced from a special type of glass called crystal, which is glass that has been made with the addition of certain minerals. As we learned from James Shackelford, Professor of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of California, Davis, the primary purpose of these mineral additions is to increase the index of refraction, and thus the sparkle of the glass. But as Shackelford and Alexis Clare, Professor of Glass Science at Alfred University, explained, the presence of minerals also makes it easier to blow crystal glass thinner and lighter than conventional soda lime glass (the type of glass most commonly used in housewares). And the thinner and lighter the model, the more we liked it. For some reason, coupe glasses in the size that we prefer just aren’t made from crystal—they were all made from thicker soda lime. But three of the martini glasses were made from crystal. Even those of us who didn’t ordinarily like the shape of martini glasses found ourselves drawn to these models. The two lightest weighed about 4 ounces each, feeling elegant and airy in our hands as we held them. Our favorite, the thinnest, measured just under a millimeter thick at the rim and seemed to almost disappear as we drank from it, allowing us to focus more intently on the cocktail itself. By contrast, the soda-lime coupe and martini glasses—most measuring around 2 millimeters thick and weighing between 4.8 and 6.25 ounces—felt a little more rustic, though still perfectly serviceable.
And, although these crystal martini glasses looked delicate, they were just as durable as the soda-lime glasses, surviving 10 washes—including one after we left the remnants of a drink in each overnight and then scrubbed them (carefully!) with our favorite sponge—without scratching or breaking. As Clare explained, the minerals in crystal make it softer than soda lime glass, and thus more resistant to scratches and brittle fracture. All the glasses we tested can be put in the dishwasher if they fit in your upper rack and they aren't in any danger of knocking into anything. Still, because some of them are so delicate, we decided it was better to hand-wash them. When hand-washing them, we were sure to hold the glasses by their bowls, not the stems; there's actually some danger that the stems will snap otherwise. (Also, it ensures that the most fragile part of the glass is being handled carefully.)
We were curious whether the thicker glasses had any advantages when it came to keeping our favorite drinks cold. But when we filled each glass with chilled vodka and measured its temperature increase over the course of an hour, we noticed no significant differences between models.
There’s one final feature you might want to consider: the length of the stems connecting the bowls of the glasses to their bases. We generally preferred longer stems measuring at least 2.5 inches. Shorter stems were harder for large-handed users to grasp comfortably or without cupping the bowl—a move that can warm up your drink faster than you might like. Longer stems were easier for hands of all sizes to hold—and made the cocktail glasses look far more graceful to boot.
We think most folks will be pretty happy with almost any of the cocktail glasses we reviewed, but we do have a few favorites. If you’d like to buy martini glasses, we highly recommend the Riedel Vinum Martini Glasses, which cost about $49 for two (about $25 each). While it took a little extra practice to carry these crystal glasses without spilling, they were incredibly elegant, light, and gossamer-thin, making them a real pleasure to drink from. If you’d like to buy coupe glasses, we recommend the Cocktail Kingdom Leopold Coupe Glasses (about $34 for 6, or about $5.50 each). Though made of soda-lime glass, these glasses were among the thinnest coupe glasses we tested, and they had some of the longest stems; they were also the lightest of the coupe glasses, making for especially effortless handling.