A carafe is an ornamental container which is designed to hold hot or cold beverages. There are numerous variations on the basic design, ranging from plain glass carafes for water to complex insulated ones for holding coffee. The device is closely related to a decanter, which is designed specifically for alcoholic beverages. Many kitchen and home supply stores sell carafes.
A very simple carafe is a wide bottomed container which a narrower neck and a wide lip. Liquids are poured into the container, which is brought out to the table for service. Guests may serve themselves from a carafe, or beverages may be poured for them. Many restaurants, for example, keep a glass carafe of water on the table so that diners can help themselves as needed. Cheaper, plastic varieties may also be used.
Often, a carafe is decorated with ornamental etching, paint, or relief designs. The designs may be intended to fit within a specific theme, or they may be tied in with the branding of a restaurant or company. Often, it is clear or transparent, allowing people to see the beverage inside.
In some cases, a carafe may be used as a decanter for wine. Wines are typically decanted to allow them to breathe, and so that sediments in the wine will settle out to the bottom. White wines are not generally decanted, as they do not mature in the same way that red wines do. Red wines of all ages benefit from decanting, as people can discover for themselves through a blind tasting of decanted and freshly opened wines.
An insulated carafe usually has an internal layer of glass and an external layer of plastic or metal, surrounded by an air pocket. Hot or cold beverages poured into such a container will retain their temperatures longer. In the case of an insulated carafe designed for pouring, a fitted lid is usually used to ensure that the temperature remains stable, while others are equipped with pump tops. A pump top container is sometimes called an airpot.
When seeking out a carafe, consumers should determine what their needs are first. An insulated carafe that retains temperatures will likely be more expensive than a plain glass one. Carafes for children's parties and other casual events should probably be made from plastic, while a formal party merits one made of glass or crystal. Decorated carafes should coordinate with the tableware.