The road to the perfect coffee mug / travel mug is paved with shattered glass and plastic, leaking lids, irregularly shaped containers, and, the ultimate loss, coffee that’s gone cold.
Why is it so difficult to find the perfect travel mug?
Well, for starters, we all often want something different. We want something sleek and stylish, preferably can fit in the cup holder in my car, but locks securely if it's goes in your backpack. A mug with some sort of ventilation system on it is nice too, because who enjoys drinking coffee so hot it may have come from the hottest magma lake in hell?
There are two types of travel mugs, really. There is the kind that gets tossed in bags and thrown around which need the designation of “leak-proof,” and then the type that is designed to remain in a hand or cup holder with the label “spill-resistant.”
Let’s chat about what those terms mean.
Here’s the thing—it all depends on what sort of commuter or traveler you are. There are a few quick questions you can ask yourself to figure out your needs:
If you’re the type that requires coffee as hot as the ninth circle of hell regardless of how long you wait to take a sip, you’ll definitely want to take a look at the vacuum-insulated options, which, to understand, we have to head back to basic science.
Heat travels in three different ways: convection, radiation, and conduction. To keep things like coffee hot, we’re primarily combating convection and conduction, but radiation plays a small role in heat loss, as well.
Coffee comes out of your machine or brewer between 195-205 degrees Fahrenheit. The moment it touches the room temperature air, it begins to cool. If you dump it into a ceramic coffee cup— or, really, any unheated mug—it cools, the fast, warm molecules dispersing among the slower, cooler molecules.
There are ways to combat that, including pre-warming the cup, much the way baristas do with demitasses above espresso machines. You can also do it the plebian way by rinsing the cup with warm water from the sink.
To keep this theme of warmth going, vacuum insulation is the key.
Using two walls either made from glass lined with reflective metal or stainless steel with the air suctioned out from in between them combined with a tight stopper, all three forms of heat dispersion are prevented. You can firmly grasp the container without causing conduction, the reflective metal or steel throws any radiation back at the brew, and the lack of air prevents convection.
Vacuum insulation is really an impressive invention, both for keeping hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold.
Now, note that there’s a difference between something that’s double-walled and vacuum-insulated. Double-walled tumblers feature two walls, as expected, but they don’t vacuum out the air and molecules between those two walls, the same way vacuum-insulated travel mugs do. They won’t counter radiation or prevent convection or conduction as thoroughly, though they can offer enough heat retention for shorter periods of time.
Now that we have a grasp on how our brew loses so much heat, let’s take a look at the travel coffee mugs designed to combat it. We’ll grapple with these from most affordable on up, so let’s get started!
There are two reasons to start with this Takeaway Bamboo mug — it’s the most affordable on the list and it also can encourage more environmentally friendly behavior, which is always a bonus.
If you hit up your local coffee shop for coffee every morning and use their to-go cups, this can be a perfect substitute without the waste. Made from biodegradable, natural bamboo fiber with BPA-free silicone lid, sleeve, and spill stopper, the Joe Cup is dishwasher safe for a super easy experience.
Rubbermaid — we’re mostly familiar with them through leftover and lunch containers, but they’ve also debuted a very affordable leak-proof travel mug that’s worth a look. It features double-wall vacuum-insulation with a leak-proof guarantee for the lid. Tack on the fact that it fits most single-serve machines and in most car cup holders, and it sounds like a pretty decent option most on the go coffee drinkers.
Hot up to six hours or cold up to 24, the Juro Outdoor Tumbler uses double-walled insulation to keep up to 20 oz. at your desired temperature. The Juro comes with a number of customizable options, too, including two different lids, a metal straw, and a straw cleaner.
The first lid has a slide option, whereas the second has a flip up feature, so you can choose suits your style of travel better. Keep in mind that this option is spill-resistant, so it’s not a great option for tossing in any sort of bag. It can handle some sloshing and moving around, but not a total 180-degree flip.
The Ello Campy looks ceramic, but, surprisingly, it’s stainless steel. Capable of holding up to 16 ounces of java, it features a leak-proof sealing slider lid that’s also easy to open and close with just one hand.
The tall, rather lithe figure of this mug means that it fits easily in car cup holders and it also features a comfort-grip handle. So what’s the downfall? You should probably hand wash it.
Made of stainless steel, the Bubba HERO travel mug has a unique quality that has to be said right up front: while it features the coveted vacuum insulation, it’s covered in a ceramic coating on the inside.
Metal can infuse a sort of taste or emit a smell that can definitely mar the coffee-drinking experience— it’s why some people prefer ceramic mugs or glass bottles over steel. The Bubba HERO takes the positive qualities of both, the durability and vacuum-insulation capabilities of metal and the lack of taste or smell of ceramic, and created an ideal mug.
Thermos is a big name in the heat and cool retention world for both drinks and soup. This stainless steel travel tumbler uses the preferred vacuum-insulated method for longer term heat retention in combination with a thick, involved lid.
Holding up to 16 ounces, this travel mug comes in several different colors and has a built in tea hook, in case you want to change up your caffeinated beverage.
The Nature Flask is on the extreme end of travel mugs—capable of holding 32 ounces worth of delicious java and with a laundry list of features, it offers quite a lot at a decent price.
One of the top attributes it flaunts is the ability to keep beverages hot for up to 18 hours and cold for up to 35, the longest of any capabilities on this list. It attributes this incredible ability partially to the vacuum insulation, which we can see on a number of listings here, but mostly to its unique “super copper coating.” It comes with three BPA-free lids so you can drink however you want, too.
This unique insulated coffee tumbler by Leidfor has the feel of a coffee mug you’d use in your own home. With a bell-curve bottom and handle, it tops off with two different types of lids so you can hit the road whenever you please.
Made of stainless steel and utilizing vacuum insulation, it will keep your coffee nice and warm for up to three hours. Note that the lid is made of polypropylene plastic and one version features a flip top for sipping—the more the flip top is opened, the cooler the coffee can become despite the vacuum insulation.
Zojirushi gets super specific about its heating abilities, which is a unique quality for a travel mug. Vacuum insulated, this travel mug the heat at 189 degrees for one hour and then 160 degrees for the next six hours. When it comes to cold retention, it’ll stay at 46 degrees for six hours.
Specially designed to be lightweight, the inside also features a non-stick coating for easy cleaning. The lid is also a sort of masterpiece, featuring a two-step lid release to prevent any sort of splash from condensation, there’s also a lock feature if you need to throw it in your bag and hit the road without hesitation.
Contigo is a well-known name in the travel mug world — you can see them on shelves just about everywhere, but how good are they really? Well, despite their commonality, Contigo travel mugs offer a lot of what’s traditionally looked for by commuters.
The Contigo West Loop features a THERMALOCK vacuum insulation that can keep beverages warm for five hours and cold for 12 hours. Capable of holding up to 16 oz., it’s certainly capable of lasting for even the most conscious sippers on commutes into work.
This particular Contigo model is very well adept for coffee-on-the-go—sip easily one-handed with the easy hold button. The moment you let go, it reseals. To be entirely frank, one of our writers uses a Contigo West Loop everyday and she says it's the one travel mug that hasn’t spilled on her. In fact, her primary gripe is actually that it keeps coffee too hot so she can’t sip while riding the train.
Depending on your coffee habits and just what sort of traveler or commuter you are, your needs are going to change. If you’re rough and tumble with your mug and it goes from pot to bag to passenger seat to bag again and on and on, the Contingo West Loop or Zojirushi will likely be your best friend.
If your coffee stays securely in your hand and you just don’t want it to spill, the Ello Campy, Leidfor, and Bubba HERO are great options. If you frequent the coffee shop, a Takeaway cup is a total must-have.
Analyze your coffee habits and determine your must-haves and don’t-cares and pick a great travel mug to streamline your morning caffeine. Happy on-the-go coffee drinking!