Just when you thought you couldn’t stuff another thing into your kitchen cabinets, a quick 5-hour walk through the 2005 Home and Housewares Show reveals just how wrong you are.

Each year, thousands of companies displaying hundreds of thousands of gadgets, platters, serving pieces, bakeware and patio furniture, come to Chicago for a few days to showcase the new and noteworthy and hopefully take orders from stores around the world.

One housewares trend that’s obviously strengthening is coffee. At this year’s show, more than 100 companies were on hand to sell you anything you need to roast, grind, measure, percolate, brew and drink your favorite beverage with ease.

Some of the aisles were like rivers of gleaming stainless steel espresso machines. Several major manufacturers offered espresso bars where you could belly up, order your favorite concoction at no charge, and then sip it slowly while nibbling on a double chocolate biscotti.

But coffee isn’t just about making the perfect cup of cappuccino.

Over at Hamilton Beach (HamiltonBeach.com), a new coffee pot allows the water to percolate up into the grounds. A new pour spout allows you to fill cups individually, and is even tall enough to fit most travel coffee mugs.

When it comes to drinking hot coffee, the worst thing is getting a travel mug that leaks. At the show, Oxo (OXO.com) introduced a travel mug that does not leak — which an Oxo spokeswoman demonstrated to a group of intrepid reporters by pouring water into the cup, sealing it, and shaking it vigorously upside down.

“It will also keep beverages hot up to 7 hours,” she noted, adding that the company expected mothers would buy the colorful cups to fill with hot soup for children’s lunchboxes. Or, perhaps, for themselves.

Oxo, which is best known for its sleek designs and soft black grip material it has put on the handles of everything from gadgets to cleaning tools to teapots, had a few other nifty new items: White plastic cutting boards featuring their trademark black handles help grip the countertop so the cutting board doesn’t slide all around; a double-face kitchen timer comes in stainless steel with black accent; and, the company introduced a serrated-edge peeler, which supposedly can peel tomato skin without damaging the fruit.

While you may think of silicone as something the computer chip industry can’t do without, it is apparently something that cooks and bakers can’t live without either.

While silicone spatulas and some baking trays and molds have been around for a few years, Silicone Zone (Siliconezone.com) offers almost any kind of size or shape baking pan, all made out of commercial-quality silicone.

Used frequently in Europe over the past decade, silicone has become more popular in the U.S. the past few years as cooks and bakers have become more aware of what it can do.

Silicone bakeware can go from the freezer to a 500 degree oven. It is non-stick, doesn’t retain odors or flavors, offers quick and even cooling and is flexible so removing cakes, popover, cookies or cupcakes is a breeze. You can even throw it in the dishwasher.

At the show this year, Silicon Zone introduced individual cupcake wrappers in festive colors, which would allow a baker to bake as many cupcakes as she wanted. While the silicone’s inherent flexibility makes it easy to unmold the cupcakes, it’s difficult to fill the cupcake mold up enough to get a big enough top for frosting.

(Of course, if you like big-topped cupcakes, the company makes an oversized cupcake mold in red silicone.)

Silicone also popped up at other manufacturer’s booths as part of oven mitts, trivets, and even on the handles of some cookware. Look for more silicone-based products to be introduced over the next couple of years.

Next week: I’ll take a look at innovations in cleaning supplies, bathroom equipment and other trends on display for housewares this year.

March 25, 2005.