One critical element that I think is often overlooked when making espresso at home is the cup and I am not immune from this slight either. When drinking espresso or any other coffee beverage it is in my opinion that the type of cup that you are drinking from has a lot to do with the experience that you are about to embark on. If you are sipping on a to go paper cup you are probably not really paying much attention to your coffee, or if you are sipping from a thin porcelain you probably have blistered hands. With that thought for home drinking I think a heavy thick cup is necessary. I have large come to this conclusion through my experience with this set of Bodum espresso cups.
I pick up this pair of espresso cups the weekend before I got my espresso machine at a Tuesday Mornings (discount homewares store) for about five dollars. As you can see from the picture they are appealing to the eye and have a nice sleeve around them to keep your hands from getting burned. Now I picked these up largely because of the price they were offered and having just dumped the majority of any sort of discretionary income I had on a espresso machine.
When you pick up this cup the obvious first thing you notice in your hand is the silicone sleeve, smooth porcelain and the apparent doubled walled nature of these cups. You should also note there is a bit of weight to these cups, but also there is no handle. I think the no handle is the blessing and curse of this cup.
Without a handle on this cup when your espresso comes streaming out of your machine in it's silky goodness it's about 185 degrees or so, combine this with the fact that you should be preheating your cup the sides heat up. The silicone grip on it does prevent a lot of this heat from coming through but when cupping it in your hand you will feel the heat. I much prefer the handle offered on a more traditional cup.
While the handle may be more of a personal choice, what is not is the silicone grip will get espresso caught behind it. The liquid runs down the side and and behind the grip, especially if you are pouring from the espresso cup to mug or a careless sip. It just adds to the cleaning as the sleeve is not too easy to remove either to clean.
The one thing that this cup wins hands down in though is heat retention. This little cup seems to keep espresso hot for a long time which when you are steaming you milk on a single boiler this can be a very good thing. The crema from your shot is very well preserved.
And so with these experiences I have come to learn that for a cup you probably want something that is going to keep your drink hot, your hands cool, and not be a chore to clean. Which leads me to the conclusion that the traditional espresso cup is probably going to be your first choice when making a drink.