The Best Drinking Glass
The lightweight but nearly indestructible Bormioli Rocco Rock Bar drinking glasses are our favorite all-purpose glasses (also available in ice, peach, and mint colors). We came to this conclusion after 28 hours of research and testing. In our tests, the Bormiolis withstood eight hours of freezing temperatures, boiling water, and other extreme abuse—we had to launch them off a roof into a concrete lot just to get them to break—and they do all of this without being so heavy that they’ll damage the floor or cause carpal tunnel. These are also sold under the name “Carley” at Crate & Barrel, but if you buy them straight from Bormioli Rocco they cost almost $1 less per glass.
Table of contents
Why you should trust me | Who should buy this? | How we picked and tested | Our pick | Flaws but not dealbreakers | The runner-up | Step down | The competition | Care and maintenance | Wrapping it up | Footnotes
Why you should trust me
With a 10-year restaurant career behind me, I’ve personally handled and subsequently broken just about every glass there is. I have several years of sommelier training, logged three years behind the bar in a winery tasting room, and still pour and educate at local events. In 2009 I published a collectible bar book with Chronicle Books.
Who should buy this?
Who knows where the glasses in your cupboard come from? They seem to just appear. As such, you probably already have a lot of things to drink out of. If you’re happy with the way things are, there is no need to buy more.
How we picked and tested
What could possibly set such an everyday object apart? We looked for existing reviews, but while there are plenty of product roundups, there was no research that I could find into the best qualities of the humble drinking glass. So we did our own.
Zachary Rudolph has been a glassblower for more than 17 years and knows a thing or two about crafting beautiful, delicate glassware. He currently teaches classes at the Bay Area Glass Institute in Santa Cruz. I asked him what design features make a good drinking glass.
“It can’t be too wide because you want to be able to get your hand around it. It should feel nice in your hand. It shouldn’t be too heavy and when you bring it to your mouth to drink, your lips should just fit right around the rim of the drinking glass. And it shouldn’t get in the way of your nose. You also want a nice thick bottom so when you set it down it’s not going to slide off the table.”
I’ve seen a lightweight glass hydroplane off a table a number of times, so this made sense.
Delicate, however, isn’t what really constitutes a baseline model for a working kitchen, and so the type of glass it’s made out of is important. We talk about crystal in our wine glass guide, a type of glass with lead oxide added. Crystal is fragile, and so not what we want. There’s straight-up “regular” glass, also referred to as soda-lime glass, as those are the base materials (sodium carbonate and lime) for making it. Also fragile.
Borosilicate is glass with boric oxide added. This makes the material more amenable to temperature changes. Pyrex Europe uses borosilicate, as does Bodum. It serves a great purpose in labware, like beakers and test tubes, but Sweethome writer Christine Cyr Clisset found while researching pie pans that the process by which borosilicate glass is made requires a more toxic process, which is expensive to clean up after, and therefore borosilicate is a little hard to find. We couldn’t find any widely available drinking glasses made of borosilicate other than the Bodums, which were too expensive for us to include. Also, drinking glasses aren’t meant to handle the extreme temperature changes involved in baking or stovetop cooking.1 So why buy something that’s toxic to make for a circumstance in which it’s not necessary? Plastic, while convenient, is also not suitable for drinking glasses.2
And then there’s tempered glass. Tempering is a process in which soda-lime glass is heated and cooled in a way that makes it more durable and break-resistant. And when it does break, it does so in a less dangerous manner, crumbling into dull (relatively speaking) bits, as opposed to shards, which is why we make car windshields out of it. This is what we’re looking for!
As we narrowed down the field of options, prices automatically settled between $2.50-$5. If you spend less than $2.50, you get glass that isn’t tempered, the kind you find at novelty stores or discount retailers. If you pay more than $5 what you’re paying for is design, like these Welcome glasses from Crate & Barrel.
From the moment we had our eight finalists in hand, I devoted all of my energy to breaking them. I dropped each from a height of 42 inches onto a linoleum floor. Survivors then got dropped 8 feet. When our glasses proved too tough for that, I subsequently dropped them onto marble tile, concrete from 42 inches… the finalists wouldn’t say die until I finally got them to break dropping them from 8 feet onto a concrete surface.
And finally, with an apartment full of company for a week, I filled my cabinets with two of every style to see what people gravitated towards most. I didn’t tell them anything about what I was doing. I just watched.
Of the eight glasses we tested, there were four that I had to drop from 8 feet onto concrete to break. And of these four, two of them were from Bormioli. That’s a really good indicator that the craftsmanship wasn’t a fluke, since two completely different models both withstood the same testing. If you have finished concrete floors in your house and bump this off a table, there’s a good chance it’ll survive the fall. Ours survived from 42 inches, which is standard bar top or kitchen island height. Your kitchen table or countertops are more likely 36 inches.
Here are the complete results from our drop tests, with an X indicating that a glass survived:
And as you can see, nothing could survive an 8-foot fall onto a concrete floor:
In addition, the Bormiolis survived both our hot-to-cold and cold-to-hot tests. Actually, every single glass we tested withstood these extreme changes in temperature, which was a neat discovery, if a little anticlimatic. So if you accidentally dump your ice-cold drink into a warm glass straight out of the dishwasher, you should be okay.
Another reason we loved the Bormiolis is because they weren’t that heavy. Instinctively I thought a heavy glass would probably not be ideal, because who wants to lift that beast over and over again? But in testing something I hadn’t even considered was brought to my attention—what about protecting your floor?
I had never, ever anticipated that something supposedly as fragile as glass would do serious damage to the surface it was dropped on, but in our very first round with a stone tile, a thin-walled, heavy-bottomed Schott Zwiesel completely shattered it:
That helped us weed out a lot of models, including the Schotts. And ultimately, this was the death knell for the other contenders that made it the furthest—the IKEA Pokal glass and the Libbey Gibraltar both look identical to the Bormiolis, but they’re heavier. A 12-ounce Bormioli weighs 9.6 oz. The same-sized IKEA weighs 13.5 oz., and the cooler-sized Libbey Gibraltar weighs 15 oz.
Maybe you don’t notice it much in daily life, and sometimes a weighty glass has a very satisfying heft to it. But side by side with a lighter option, over and over again I watched my guests put the heavy glasses back and fish around for the lighter versions, even going so far as to pull dirty ones out of the sink and wash them.
The Bormiolis also stacked better than anything else we looked at, fitting neatly and compactly together without getting stuck or chipping.
And with this chart summing up how each model we tested performed in a number of criteria, it’s easy to see how much value the Rocks glass has to offer and where the competition begins to fall apart:
With one exception (see our runner up) drinking glasses aren’t the kind of thing that garner a cult following, so outside reviews are hard to come by. But in addition to our own research, there are no fewer than eight separate product pages on Amazon for Bormioli Rock glasses, none of which are rated less than 4.5 stars. And on Crate & Barrel’s own product pages, the Carley’s (which are these exact glasses) reviews are resoundingly positive.
We tested 12-oz. glasses, which we consider an excellent all-purpose size. If you’re a beverage guzzler and want a pint glass, you’ll be better off with 16-oz. glasses, which our top two picks also come in.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Glass can still break. After all, it’s glass. The fact that we can drop it, heat it, chill it, bump it, topple it together, jam it in the dishwasher, toast with it, chuck it in cabinets, and pound it onto a table over and over again for years is kind of an everyday miracle.
Tempering a glass puts the outside and inside of the glass into tension—crudely speaking, it’s kind of pressing itself together, making it stronger. If something throws the tension in the glass out of balance it will break. (Constantly subjecting your glasses to extreme temperature changes can do this.) So if you’ve ever read about a glass just “spontaneously shattering,” that’s what happened—the pressure released and blew the thing apart.
If you look closely, in this slowed-down footage of one of our glass drops, it’s fascinating to watch a piece of tempered glass press itself apart long after the glass hits the ground:
This is a reality of the technology and can happen to any glass. The good news is that the dull-ish chunks that it creates are still way preferable to the razor-sharp shards and slivers of non-tempered glass.
Remodelista has included them in their roundup, calling them “A French classic, well suited for drinks from wine to water.” And in an article about the Top 10 Glasses the Picardie is the winner, and their praises are sung here: “They’re simple, durable, versatile. They’re stackable, comfortable to hold, and the perfect weight. And, amazingly, they’re inexpensive.”
What it comes down to is that the Picardie is the lifestyle brand; they’re the Pendleton, Filson, or Heath Ceramics of glassware. If those are the things you like, spring for the Picardie. Those few extra dollars will buy you a glass with a slightly thinner lip—a miniscule design detail that somehow does make a difference. My houseguests reached for this glass more than any other I had.
In addition, they were the only other glass (aside from the Bormioli Roccos) that stacked neatly. They’re definitely lightweight, and they survived our drop test up until we threw them onto the concrete, a fall which no glass should be expected to survive anyway. They weathered tumbles off tables and counters just fine.
But it has two large drawbacks. First, it can’t stack (and it’s a big glass to begin with). Second, we tested the cooler-size glass, which most resembled the size and shape of the Bormiolis, and they weigh almost a pound (15 oz.) each. It’s so heavy it’s basically a blunt weapon masquerading as glassware. This is an ultra durable option in a classic design, and my houseguests liked it well enough. But once until they discovered the much lighter Bormiolis and Picardies sitting right next to it, no one looked back.
IKEA Pokal – At only .59 cents each, IKEA products always create a tug of war between wondering if this is money well spent and whether it even matters since they’re just so darn cheap. These glasses did fine. In fact, the Pokal glass was one of the most durable I tested, making it all the way to the final round of dropping. But they are way heavy—13.5 oz. They do not stack. And in general, comment threads paint a picture of general ambivalence. We think you’ll be happier putting that $2.50 towards something that’s going to last.
Bormioli Bodega ($27 for 12) – These didn’t have the thick bottom we were initially after, but we decided to see firsthand if that was such a dealbreaker. They stacked but stuck together, which isn’t ideal either, so we set them aside. Nice basic glasses, but without the versatility that would make them best for most people.
Schott Zwiesel Convention ($41 for 6) – The biggest surprise in testing, I wanted to see how Schott’s Tritan glassware held up to being chucked unceremoniously onto a floor, and those razor-thin glass walls survived fall after fall. However, this is the glass that broke the floor, which put it out of contention. They also don’t stack and are by far the most expensive option, making them more suitable for their original purpose as barware.
Libbey Classic Collection ($46 for 16) – I wanted to consider these since they were from Libbey and because they come in extremely affordable sets with multiple sizes. Unfortunately, two arrived already broken in the box, and they didn’t survive a fall from any height.
Luminarc Working Glasses ($34 for 20) – All-around positive feedback on this Luminarc design led us to consider these, and the added benefit of having lids made them very attractive. But I set them aside the minute I saw them. The lip is so thick that it’s not pleasant to drink out of, and the glass itself is very wide. I can see how they are remarkable storage containers, but that’s exactly the problem: You feel like you’re drinking out of a storage container.
Care and maintenance
Don’t abuse these with temperature changes. We tested just to make sure that if you one day pulled it out of the dishwasher and filled it with cold liquid, it wouldn’t break on you, but tempered glass isn’t meant to withstand extreme hot/cold dynamics.
Wrapping it up
The Bormioli Rocco Rock Bar glass held its own against seven other very popular and extremely durable models, passing some pretty extreme stress tests with flying colors. The lightweight glasses stack well and come in a variety of versatile sizes. They’re affordable and well-stocked at many stores in the event that you need to replace them.
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Originally published: July 11, 2014