Taking a hot drink to go is a simple convenience in a hectic day. If you use your own mug, you're not only saving cups, you might also save a little money if you frequent the right coffee house. But not all travel mugs are created equal. Here's what you need to look for.
Mugs are made of many materials, including plastic, ceramic or stainless steel.
Stainless steel keeps things hot by reflecting heat back into your beverage, keeping it hotter longer. Look for one with a double wall construction for better insulation. Stainless is easier to clean than plastic, and won’t absorb flavours like plastic can.
Plastic, which is less expensive than stainless steel, allows heat to radiate out. If you usually drink fast, it may not be an issue.
Some people like the feel and texture of a ceramic mug. Drinking from plastic or steel isn’t always as enjoyable as a traditional ceramic. However, obviously, ceramic is very breakable, so these mugs aren’t the best choice.
If you’re buying a mug for use in your car, make sure it will fit in the cup holder. There’s nothing more frustrating than a tippy travel mug.
Mugs come in a variety of sizes, including 8 oz, 12 oz, 14 oz, 16 oz and even 20 oz – that’s a lot of coffee!
The lid is an important piece of the puzzle. Choices include a snap-on (or push on) lid or a twist-on lid. Twist-ons are better at leak-proofing. Snap-ons Decide on a snap on (or push on) lid or twist on. While snap-on lids are easier, they can easily pop off if the mug is dropped.
Also part of the lid, the drink flap is another important feature that can appear as a snap-shut, a slider, or a press-and-sip lever. Try them all out one-handed to make sure you can manouever them while your other hand is occupied.
We hit the road to test out these five travel mugs:
- Copco (plastic-lined): $8
- Plug-N-Heat Auto Mug (stainless steel): $15
- Thermos Nissan (stainless steel): $25
- Starbucks Tumbler (stainless steel): $26
- Bodum (stainless steel): $33
Heat Retention Test
We filled each mug with coffee at the same temperature and left them for three hours to see how long they would hold their heat.
After one hour:
Our three stainless mugs (Nissan, Starbucks, Bodum) stayed hot, but dropped by approx 20 degrees.
The Plug-N-Heat (unplugged) and the plastic-lined Copco dropped 40 degrees.
After three hours:
The coffee was still warm in the Nissan, Starbucks and Bodum.
The Plug-N-Heat (unplugged) went cool and the Copco, despite its claim to keep its temperature for three hours, lost all the heat after two hours.
Each mug had a different type of closure so we filled them with coffee, closed the lids and started tipping:
- The Copco, Plug-N-Heat, and Nissan all leaked.
- The Starbucks and Bodum mugs sealed nicely with no leaks.
As it turns out, we didn’t like any of the travel mugs very much:
Bodum’s built-in press didn’t make a lot of sense because we weren’t sure how or when to put the cream and sugar in, and it wouldn’t work well at a coffee shop fill-up.
The Copco had a comfortable handle.
The Plug-N-Heat seemed like a gimmick. You have to plug it into the car for it to work, but what if you’re on the bus or are going for a walk? It was also quite big so might not fit in all cup holders.
The Nissan had comfortable grip and the closure clicked out of the way of your nose when drinking.
The Starbucks mug lid bumped the nose a bit, but not uncomfortably.
OUR TOP PICK
We didn’t love any of our test mugs, but would choose a stainless steel one with a good, non-leaky lid.