The Best Travel Mug

The new Zojirushi Stainless Mug offers the best balance of heat retention and versatility. It’s very much an evolutionary improvement over its predecessor, which was our previous pick for the best travel mug, but in this case that’s all that’s needed. The new version is lighter and has a more svelte lid design. It’s more pleasurable to drink from, but retains similarly astounding insulating abilities. After a full 8 hours, coffee kept in the new Zojirushi Stainless Mug was nearly as hot as the coffee in the old version of the hardware and 20 degrees hotter than it was in the next mug down in our test group—just enough to make the difference between drinkable and lukewarm.

Last Updated: August 27, 2014
After the latest update to this guide was published we were contacted by a reader who was concerned about the fact that the latest iteration of the Zojirushi Stainless Mug uses a non-stick flourine coating, which is contradictory to what we were told by Zojirushi on several occasions while researching the guide. Those who prefer a mug without that kind of coating should opt for our runner-up, the older model of the Zojirushi Stainless. See the Our Pick section for more details.
Expand Previous Updates
August 4, 2014: The new Zojirushi Stainless Mug is an evolutionary improvement over its predecessor (our previous pick for best travel mug) and doesn't compromise on design or insulating abilities. After 8 hours, coffee was 20 degrees hotter in the Zojirushi than the next mug down in our test group.
March 4, 2014: Added some long-term test notes below.

The new Zojirushi Stainless mug is lighter and more compact than its predecessor, but it still offers one-handed usability and a foolproof locking mechanism that will keep your valuables safe. It’s available in a 20 oz. version that can double as a water bottle, as well as 12 or 16 oz. versions.
The 16-ounce Zojirushi Stainless Mug costs $30, which puts it at the higher end of the cost spectrum. But its well-designed exterior, one-handed usability, and foolproof locking mechanism are well worth the price of admission. It will never, ever spill in your bag. It’s hard to put a price on that sort of thing (well actually, it’s about the price of a new bag, laptop, phone, and whatever else happened to be in there at the time). And the fact that it’s now available in a 20-ounce version means it holds enough liquid to use as an everyday water bottle as well. On the flip side, if you want something smaller, the 12-ounce version will suffice.

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.
The old Zojirushi Stainless Mug is a great runner-up if the new vesion is unavailable (or becomes wildly expensive). It’s heavier and less compact than our main pick, but it’s also a slightly better insulator.
If the new Zojirushi Stainless Mug is sold out or becomes unavailable, our runner-up is the old Zojirushi Stainless Mug, our previous pick. It’s a slightly better insulator than the new mug, but we believe that the lighter, more compact design of the new model will be more appealing to most people—one of the only “complaints” we had about the old one was that it kept drinks too hot for too long. Otherwise, it has virtually the same design as the new mug, including the foolproof lid-locking mechanism, but does have a slick steel finish. You’d be hard pressed to tell the difference unless you had them standing side by side.

Also Great
The OXO is a bit wider than the Zojirushi, which means it fits more snugly in a car or bike holder, if that’s important for you. A simple button open and closes the seal for minimal fumbling.
The Zojirushi is undoubtedly the best overall travel mug, but it is a bit on the skinny side. If having a mug that fits snugly in your car or bike cup holder is a top priority, get the $20 OXO Good Grips LiquiSeal Travel Mug. It will only keep your drink at an ideal temperature for 1-2 hours, but that’s enough if you just plan on sipping while you commute.

And let’s not forget that these things need cleaning every once in a while. That’s why we also have a bottle brush recommendation down below for when you need to clean the gunk out from time to time.

Table of contents

Who’s this for, and should you upgrade?

The new Zojirushi Stainless Mug.

The new Zojirushi Stainless Mug.

The type of person who would buy one of these things is one who likes to make their own hot drink at home to take with them throughout the day—perhaps because of stingy office mates, or perhaps because of the horrible-quality coffee and tea out in the world. You usually want the coffee to stay hot at least through the duration of your commute, if not for several hours after you arrive at the office. You want the mug to be easy to use in the car or at your desk and so leakproof that you can toss it into your bag or briefcase without worrying about ruining your gadgets.

If you’re a big coffee nerd and don’t mind proclaiming it, this could be the factor that makes you decide against a travel mug.

We talked to 2012 U.S. Barista Champion Katie Carguilo and The Awl’s editor in chief (and the author of our coffee gear guide) Matt Buchanan. Both agreed that the true best way to enjoy a high-quality cup of coffee is to drink it out of an open-air container within 15-20 minutes of its being brewed. This is because the flavor of good coffee begins to degrade the minute it’s brewed, so the still-piping-hot coffee from your travel mug will taste different 6 hours later than it would if it were freshly brewed. If you care to know more about how travel mugs affect taste, read Footnote 1, but we won’t bore tea drinkers with the details.1

But we realize most average buyers just want a decent cup—probably something better than whatever your office buys from the local Save-a-Lot or whatever you can pick up on the road from Starbucks. In that case, you’ll likely be brewing your own at home using whatever coffee you like best and pouring it into a travel mug to be taken with you. That’s the target audience for this guide.

Our testing showed that our pick was more than twice as effective at retaining heat compared to the highly commended Contigo Autoseal West Loop Stainless Steel Travel Mug.
As far as upgrading goes, if you already have a mug that works for you, then there’s little reason to get a new one. But if you often find yourself wishing that your drink stayed hotter for longer, you should upgrade. Our testing showed that our pick was more than twice as effective at retaining heat compared to the highly commended Contigo Autoseal West Loop Stainless Steel Travel Mug.2 That means you can make coffee first thing in the morning and it will still be piping hot by the time you return from your lunch break (and then some).

How we picked

Travel mugs tend to come in three basic materials: plastic, glass/ceramic, or stainless steel. According to previous tests performed by Cook’s Illustrated, all-plastic mugs can’t retain heat for more than an hour and all-ceramic for no more than 30 minutes. Good Housekeeping agreed, stating that plastic and ceramic mugs don’t retain heat for long and break easily.

That wasn’t acceptable to them or us, so all-plastic and all-glass mugs were out. Indeed, when you look at various other guides that have been written on the subject, including an extensive heat retention test performed by Tested, the ones that rise to the top are always stainless steel—double-walled, vacuum-insulated stainless steel.

Occasionally, travel mugs come with a stainless steel exterior and a ceramic or glass interior. This option tends to be better for those with sharp palates—people who can taste (and care about) a change in flavor when drinking coffee directly out of a stainless steel container.

As such, it would seem easy to assume that coffee experts would never use or recommend a container with an unlined stainless steel lining, but that would be wrong. The problem with glass or ceramic interiors is that they can still break easily—one wrong drop or bump and your minor investment is in bits on the floor.

This was a common problem among the ones we researched in this category, and few people are happy after spending money on something that breaks. Besides, a growing number of stainless-steel-lined mugs (including our pick) now come with electro-polished interiors, which makes the steel less likely to hold on to strange odors and flavors. That’s why our experts recommended sticking with stainless steel for its durability and insulating capabilities—and if you feel you can taste a metallic flavor, try pouring the coffee out into an open-air mug before drinking it.

…our experts recommended sticking with stainless steel for its durability and insulating capabilities—and if you feel you can taste a metallic flavor, try pouring the coffee out into an open-air mug before drinking it.
Some people actually prefer stainless steel interiors. According to Tested editor in chief Will Smith, who performed his own extensive tests on insulated travel mugs, a container with a stainless steel interior is easier to clean and remove the coffee taste from if you want to use the mug for anything else (water, tea, etc.).

Regardless of palate sophistication (or lack thereof), our experts and research agreed that a vacuum-sealed travel mug made entirely out of stainless steel (save for the lid) was the best choice for most uses. It retains heat the best out of all the available materials and is the least breakable, which is a double win.

Despite limiting our focus to all-stainless models, there were still hundreds of options to consider. So, we turned to a number of publications to see what they liked the best and which criteria they used. The three best guides on the subject are the previously mentioned ones by Tested and Cook’s Illustrated, plus another one from Good Housekeeping, which all took a slightly different angle to evaluating travel mugs. We also considered the most highly rated ones from Amazon. From there, we focused on models that were highly ranked for heat retention and ease of use, taking extra care to select ones that would be easier to clean as well.

In the end, we were faced with six travel mugs to test ourselves: the Zojirushi Stainless Mug, Zojirushi Tuff Mug, Thermos Nissan Backpack Bottle, Thermos Vacuum Insulated Travel Mug, Contigo Autoseal West Loop, and the OXO GoodGrips LiquiSeal Travel Mug. Then we took the updated version of the Zojirushi Stainless Mug for a spin as well.

How we tested

According to Carguilo, and supported by the findings at Cook’s Illustrated, coffee (and black tea) is typically brewed at about 200°F and the best temperature to drink is at roughly 145-155°F. There’s some debate over the technical ideal when it comes to the temperature for coffee drinking, but we used Carguilo’s guidance to perform our tests. Subjectively, when it came to drinking temperature, 155°F came off as a little too hot for our liking (but was still drinkable), while coffee seemed quite pleasantly hot down to about 140°F. Anything below that started to feel lukewarm.

Our tests themselves were very similar to those performed by Tested: I poured freshly brewed coffee into each of the mugs and measured their temperature using a candy thermometer. Then I measured the temperature in each of the bottles every hour for 8 hours.

To measure leaks, I poured hot, green water (thanks food coloring!) into each of the mugs and set them on their sides in a messenger bag overnight, and I performed the same tests again while setting them completely upside-down on a white towel overnight. None of the mugs leaked by any discernible amount.

I also dropped them all several times with no major explosions or breaks, though stainless steel has a tendency to dent if you drop it too much over time.

Another important criterion that’s not easy to measure objectively is one-handed ease of use. If you’re going to be using it while driving or biking (not that we recommend it), you’ll definitely need at least one hand free and probably both eyes. A good mug should be easy to both open and close, as well as lock and unlock, with one hand without having to look down at it.

The locking mechanism is another crucial part of the mug because if you’re carrying it in the same bag as your computer, the last thing you want is for it to spill everywhere when you hit a pothole or bump in the road. Not all the models we tested had this function, but among the ones that did, some were definitely better designed than others.

As far as cleaning goes, none of the mugs we tested were recommended for dishwasher use because dishwashers introduce heat and water pressure to the vacuum seal, which can degrade the bottle’s ability to retain heat over time. Really it’s a question of which mug is easiest to clean by hand; bodies are not a huge problem, but the ability to disassemble the lid matters.

Our pick

The new Zojirushi Stainless mug is lighter and more compact than its predecessor, but it still offers one-handed usability and a foolproof locking mechanism that will keep your valuables safe. It’s available in a 20 oz. version that can double as a water bottle, as well as 12 or 16 oz. versions.
Zojirushi’s newest iteration of their Stainless Mug is far and away the best travel mug for keeping drinks hot for long periods of time. It’s the new and slightly improved version of last year’s pick, and it features similarly astounding thermal retention abilities paired with a redesigned lid that’s smaller, lighter, and more comfortable to drink out of. And it comes in a larger 20-oz. size too. We tested the new against the old over the course of several weeks and have no doubt that this is the best travel mug you can get.

The old Zojirushi Stainless Mug (left) beside the new version (right).

The old Zojirushi Stainless Mug (left) beside the new version (right).

Like the original Stainless Mug (our previous pick), the new version has sturdy leakproof seals and a simple locking mechanism that I can trust if I want to throw it into a bag, and it’s easy to use one-handed. It didn’t leak, it didn’t spill, it’s pretty tough, it can take a bit of a beating, and it has an attractive design that’s minimalist, yet eye-catching in its simplicity. While the new mug hasn’t been available for long enough to accrue a significant amount of user or professional reviews, the old version had the best overall Amazon reviews of any travel mug out there and came recommended by several trustworthy publications.

In the 2013 version of this guide, among the six mugs/bottles that met our testing criteria, the original Zojirushi Stainless Mug won the number one spot by a landslide when it came to retaining heat: The temperature of the boiled water we poured into it only dropped by about 37°F over a period of 8 hours, which was a full 26°F better than the second place Thermos mug.

…you’re getting drinkably hot 150+°F coffee 8 hours after brewing.
When we ran the same test again this year with 200°F water, we found that the old Zojirushi lost 43°F whereas the new one lost 49°F. While that’s not quite as good as last year’s model, that still means you’re getting drinkably hot 150+°F coffee 8 hours after brewing. Which is to say that the new mug isn’t quite as good at insulating as the old one, but it’s still way above and beyond what you’d consider to be “good enough.” Besides, heat retention alone isn’t enough to be the best.

While the older version of the Stainless Mug provided marginally better heat retention than the new version, it weighs 1.6 ounces more (about the weight of two AA batteries). While this might not sound like much, ounces add up to pounds, and for someone commuting with their travel mug in a bag along with their laptop, lunch, and perhaps a change of clothes for the gym, heft matters. After consulting with a number of our editorial staff on the issue, we decided that the new Zojirushi Stainless Mug’s lighter weight was worth trading off a few degrees of heat retention for.

The old lid design (left) beside the new, more compact lid design of the Zojirushi (right).

The old lid design (left) beside the new, more compact lid design of the Zojirushi (right).

…the size of the lid latch has been reduced, making for a more comfortable drinking experience.
In addition to the lighter weight, the latest version of the mug features a new, more compact lid design which, when popped open, obscures less of your view when you tip it to your mouth to drink. As with the old version of the Stainless Mug, the lid can lock and unlock by pressing a button, allowing you to drink from it easily without looking. But in the new version of the Stainless Mug, the size of the lid latch has been reduced, making for a more comfortable drinking experience. No longer will you find yourself jamming your lower lip into the locking mechanism.

Unlike most of the competition (save for the Thermos Nissan), the Stainless Mug also has a secondary locking mechanism that allows you to keep the seals extra secure when needed. But the secondary lock isn’t necessary if you’re actively drinking from it; it’s easy to feel for the button and pop it open, take a sip, and pop it closed to put back into a cup holder.

The latch on the new Zojirushi is smaller and won't press into your lip.

The latch on the new Zojirushi is smaller and won’t press into your lip.

The sliding lock (the secondary locking mechanism) is meant to prevent accidents from happening should you throw it in a bag with your gadgets. Just flip a switch and you’re guaranteed that there’s no way it will pop open when you don’t want it to. I would feel very comfortable putting it into a bag and letting it roll around on its side or upside down without any consequences. The Thermos Nissan has a similar mechanism, but it requires you to manually click a metal loop onto the latch. While it isn’t “difficult,” it isn’t as convenient as just flipping a switch on the Zojirushi.

The Zojirushi is easy to disassemble for cleaning.

The Zojirushi is easy to disassemble for cleaning.

…unlike some of its competitors like the Contigo, the plastic lid can be completely disassembled for cleaning…
It’s also easy to clean with a quick rinse using some soap and sometimes a bottle brush when necessary. What’s more, its stainless steel interior is electro-polished to help prevent odors and stains—it looks like a nonstick coating, but it’s not, although it performs a similar function. And, unlike some of its competitors like the Contigo, the plastic lid can be completely disassembled for cleaning out any smells or gunk that might get lodged in hard-to-reach places. Finally, Zojirushi is generally good about replacing parts that take a bad trip through the dishwasher, according to Smith.

It’s also durable. It did show a few scuffs when doing drop tests, but not any worse than the other options. None of them broke, though, so it’s really a six-way tie in terms of durability. Oh, and if you do happen to drop it, the Zojirushi Stainless Mug’s vacuum insulation is protected by a five-year limited warranty.

Unlike most of the other companies that we looked at, Zojirushi offers their travel mugs in a number of sizes. In addition to the 12 oz. and 16 oz. sizes that the last generation version of the Stainless Mug was available in, the new iteration of the hardware can also be had in a 20 oz. capacity. That’s enough for it to pull double duty as a day-to-day water bottle as well.

After the latest update to this guide was published we were contacted by a reader who was concerned about the fact that the latest iteration of the Zojirushi Stainless Mug uses a non-stick flourine (which amounts to fluoropolymers of the sort used in Teflon coating to help repel stains and odors from the interior of the mug. This is contradictory to what we were told by Zojirushi’s PR on several occasions while researching the guide.

A lot has been written about the potential dangers of eating or drinking from vessels containing non-stick coatings. Some outlets, like Cancer.org  feel that as they have the potential to leech chemicals, those who use them could suffer long-term health problems (a stance supported unofficially by the EPA.) Others look to the fact that so long as a non-stick coating like Teflon is not overheated (the chemical bonds in Teflon start breaking down between 400 and 500 degrees Fahrenheit ) it’s a safe technology to use, provided you use it properly.

If you believe the latter is the case, like we do, then the SM-SA48 Stainless Mug is for you. If drinking from a mug with a non-stick coating makes you uncomfortable, then consider going with our runner-up, the Zojirushi SM-KHE48AG Stainless Mug. While it’s heavier and less compact than our main pick, it proved to be a slightly better insulator, and doesn’t come with a non-stick coating.

Who else likes it?

An older version of the Zojirushi Stainless Mug was Tested’s choice for Best Thermal Mug, and Smith told us he continues to use a newer version of the mug today. In Tested’s tests, the Zojirushi didn’t retain heat quite as well as heavier-duty bottles that come with separate cup tops, but those are generally bulkier and require you to keep track of more parts—not quite so good for the everyday commuter.

Good Housekeeping also named the Zojirushi an “outstanding performer at keeping drinks hot or cold,” and said it was easy to open and that it won’t obscure your line of sight when drinking.

When it comes to Amazon reviews, it’s pretty hard to argue against the Zojirushi Stainless Mug. At the time this was written, the previous version of the mug had earned a 4.5 average from a total of 1,077  reviews. Of those 1,077 reviewers, 915 had awarded the mug a five-star rating. More than this, the hardware had only earned 23 one-star reviews as of this writing, two of those concerning the fact that the bottles are made in Thailand.

It’s hard to find one single review that encapsulates the overall feeling about this mug, but this one is pretty close: “[A]fter making some very hot tea that I planned to take with me the next day, I filled up my [mug], sealed it, and placed it in the fridge for over twelve hours. Got up the next morning, took my shower, went to have a small sip of my delicious tea and damn near burned my tongue. You just can’t beat that!” While the new version of the mug hasn’t been around for long enough to produce as many reviews (there were only two for it on Amazon at the time this piece was written), we feel safe, based on the stellar editorial and user reviews the last two generations of  Zojirushi Stainless Mug has received, in recommending it to you.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Our only major complaint about the Zojirushi is that it’s actually a bit too good at insulating sometimes. I find that if I make a very fresh pot of coffee and pour it directly into the travel mug, it ends up staying mouth-burningly hot for hours. I’ve learned to let it cool a little before closing the lid—a piece of advice echoed among many other Zojirushi owners. Alternatively, you could add an ice cube before heading out the door.

Another small complaint is that it’s a bit skinnier than your typical travel mug, which means it doesn’t fit super snugly into cupholders or bike water bottle cages. But if that’s a priority, we have an alternative pick below.

On a similar note, the Stainless Mug has a notably narrow opening for liquid to come out of. This is good for preventing burns from potentially scalding coffee or tea, but makes it less than ideal for use as a day-to-day water bottle or for people who like to really gulp down beverages. You could always take the lid off entirely, but that kind of defeats the whole purpose of the mug’s ease of one-handed use.

Finally, at more than $30, the Zojirushi is on the higher end of the price range, but it’s worth the handful of extra dollars over the competition because of the container’s superior construction and performance. After all, the entire point of a travel mug/bottle is to keep your drinks hot and not spill them everywhere, so it’s worth the extra cost to make sure you’re carrying a high-quality product.

Long-term test notes

After consistent use for almost a year, our previous pick still retains heat just as well as the day we got it. Although not advisable for double-walled stainless steel (see our “Care and maintenance” section below), it has survived several accidental trips through the dishwasher without any noticeable decrease in performance. It has traveled around in many bags and purses along with other gadgets without leaks.

This is a truly solid mug and we have no qualms continuing to recommend it as our runner-up or the new version as our main pick.

A runner-up

Also Great
*At the time of publishing, the price was $30.
The old Zojirushi Stainless Mug is a great runner-up if the new vesion is unavailable (or becomes wildly expensive). It’s heavier and less compact than our main pick, but it’s also a slightly better insulator.
If you can’t find the latest version of the Zojirushi Stainless Mug, get the old one, our previous pick for this guide. It costs about the same as the updated Stainless Mug hardware and will keep your drinks a few degrees hotter over the long-term. However, it weighs a little more, has a bulkier lid that’s not as pleasurable to drink from as the new version’s, and doesn’t come in a 20-ounce size like the new one does. We still happily recommend it, but only as a second-place pick if you can’t get the top pick.

Better for cupholders

Also Great
The OXO is a bit wider than the Zojirushi, which means it fits more snugly in a car or bike holder, if that’s important for you. A simple button open and closes the seal for minimal fumbling.
Here’s the one area where we think something other than the Zojirushi Stainless Mug might be better. The Zojirushi is fairly tall and thin, so it rattled around a bit when placed into a standard car’s cup holder. It did not tip over completely, even when I purposely knocked it around a bit, but it wasn’t very secure and made me nervous while driving around.

That’s why, if you’re someone who spends a good amount of time in your car and you like to drink your freshly brewed coffee while driving to work, something like the stainless steel OXO Good Grips LiquiSeal Travel Mug is a better choice. This $20 mug is more geared toward the person who is actively drinking from the container, meaning it’s designed to fit your hand and your car’s cup holder a little better.

The OXO doesn’t retain heat nearly as well as much of its competition—somewhere between 1 and 2 hours after brewing coffee at 200°F, the liquid temperature falls into lukewarm state, so you’ll definitely want to drink it within the first 1.5 hours after pouring.

3_oxo_travel_mug

[In the OXO] coffee will be at a drinkable temperature while you’re driving, it will fit into your cup holder securely, and it’s easy to use while your eyes are on the road.
But if you like to drink while driving in the car to work, this could be the perfect solution. Coffee will be at a drinkable temperature while you’re driving, it will fit into your cup holder securely, and it’s easy to use while your eyes are on the road. It has a top-oriented push button that opens and closes the seal, so you can pop it open to take a sip and then pop it closed so it doesn’t spill everywhere in the event of a fender bender. I would not trust this mug on its own inside of my messenger bag or briefcase, but for active, in-car use, the OXO gets our vote.

Care and maintenance

As mentioned earlier, none of the mugs we tested were recommended for dishwasher use. Dishwashers introduce heat and water pressure to the vacuum seal, which can potentially degrade the bottle’s ability to retain heat over time. So it’s a question of which mug is easiest to clean by hand.

Also Great
The OXO bottle cleaning set has a skinny straw brush and a looped detail cleaning brush, which are all you need to keep your travel mug squeaky clean.
The best way to do that is with a bottle brush and some baking soda and vinegar. After a couple hours of research, we found that the best bottle cleaning set out there is the $13 OXO Good Grips Bottle Cleaning set.

It comes with a large bottle brush, a skinny straw brush, and a looped detail cleaning brush, all kept together by a handy ring so you won’t lose any of the parts. The set is dishwasher safe, and after 96 separate reviews it doesn’t have a single one-star review on Amazon, so it’s a pretty good bet for anyone looking to get gunk out of their hard-to-clean items. We bought a couple sets to confirm their quality and they are as good as we thought they would be.

4_cleaning_brushThe competition offers similar products for a similar price point—the OXO set is $12.99—but there are downfalls. A $9.99 set from Contigo generally serves the same purpose, but some users think the bristles are too soft and that the entire set is difficult to store, especially since it isn’t held together by anything. There is another bottle brush kit for just more than $14 from Camelback, but it doesn’t come with a detail brush and users generally feel the quality isn’t as high as the brushes from OXO.

What about cold drinks?

Although we didn’t place much emphasis on keeping cold liquids cold—check out our water bottle review for what’s best for that—we did find that the Zojirushi Stainless Mug retained cold better than all six of the other mugs in our lineup.

Over a period of 8 hours, it only allowed our icy cold 33°F water to rise by four degrees, while the others in our lineup allowed the temperature to rise considerably more during that time. So if you’re looking for a dual-use container that can preserve both hot and cold well, the Zojirushi Stainless Mug can hold its own—especially now that it’s available in a larger 20-oz. capacity. Just be aware that its aforementioned narrow opening is less than ideal when you’re trying to quench an undying thirst after cresting a tall hill while hiking.

The competition

As we mentioned earlier, there’s plenty of competition out there—it’s all over the map and extremely similar at the same time. And truth be told, most will do a halfway decent job of keeping your coffee warm. Like smartphones making phone calls, insulated travel mugs can (mostly) perform their basic function, but the devil is always in the details.

We also considered the Zojirushi Tuff Mug, which is very similar to the Zojirushi Stainless Mug in its design and functionality. The Tuff Mug performed exceptionally well in our heat retention tests (it was basically tied with the last generation Stainless Mug) but got the boot because of usability issues. The Tuff Mug mysteriously has a completely removable top lid and a difficult-to-understand drinking mechanism; we gave it to several very technical friends to mess with and no one could figure out how to make the liquid come out upon first blush. Separate parts mean more things to lose when you’re out and about, and confusing usage means murder for someone trying to keep their eyes on the road. You also can’t completely disassemble the top, meaning it might harbor smells or gunk later on.

The container that was the most like the Zojirushi Stainless Mug was the Thermos Nissan Stainless Steel Backpack Bottle. The design is almost exactly the same: a double-walled, stainless steel bottle with a screw-on top that has a button you can push to pop it open and a separate locking mechanism for throwing into a bag. It did a pretty good job of keeping our coffee hot, too—it came in third place after the three Zojirushis and was the only other bottle in our lineup that kept coffee at barely-above lukewarm temperature after 8 hours. The main reason it lost out to the Zojirushi is that the secondary locking mechanism, which is just a metal loop that fits over the front of the lid, can be finicky for those who have ham hands (such as myself) or anyone who might be fiddling with it while driving. Plus, the Nissan is only about $5 less than our top pick, so why go with second best?

We also tested a Thermos Vacuum Insulated Travel Mug (with tea hook), arguably the only container we tested that is actually shaped like a traditional mug. While we liked the look of it, the heat retention was just so-so—it was only able to keep coffee at or above optimal drinking temperature for about 4 hours—and we found the tea hook to be unnecessary. (There are people who use these containers for tea, and most of the time, they just plop the tea bag into the bottle without any problem.) The Thermos Mug has a push-button interface just like the OXO discussed above: There’s a button on the top that you press in when you want to drink and press again to seal it back up again. Again, it can be confusing to determine whether the button is in the up or down position just by looking at it, meaning you may find yourself pressing it over and over again to figure out whether it’s open or closed. When there are better options out there, no thanks.

And finally, we tested the 16-oz. version of the Contigo Autoseal West Loop. Like the OXO, the Contigo is clearly designed more as an active drinking vessel than something you’ll throw in a bag to drink later at work. It’s wider, so it fits more securely in a cup holder, and it has a one-button interface so you can easily take a sip without having to look at it. The downside here was that it had about the same level of heat retention as the OXO (which is to say not very much). The Contigo was only able to keep our coffee above lukewarm for between 1 and 2 hours, which might be fine if you make your coffee at home and drink it while driving to work, but it’s not particularly versatile for other situations. In this case, we just happened to like the OXO’s drinking button better than the Contigo’s, though in reality, the two could almost be used interchangeably.

There were several others that we considered but didn’t place into our final tests. For example, there’s the Contigo Extreme Mug, which Good Housekeeping says can obscure your view when drinking—bad for drivers—and can be uncomfortable to sip from.

Bodum also makes a combination French press and travel mug that sounds appealing because you can literally brew your coffee inside the mug as you take it with you. In reality, though, it’s not much different from brewing the coffee first and pouring it into the mug (in fact, it might be worse because the Bodum will keep your coffee grounds in contact with the hot water for much longer, therefore changing the flavor and making it more acidic). Additionally, as those familiar with French presses know, it could leave you with coffee ground bits floating around in your coffee.

We got some requests to look at the Hydroflask, so we did. It’s not as good as the other options, let alone our pick. It only maintains heat at a drinkable level for a handful of hours (4 or less) and the drinking lid can’t be locked so it’s at risk of flipping open, potentially spilling everywhere. I would definitely not risk putting it in my bag, and I would be very careful about even dropping it or knocking it over.

Wrapping it up

If you want a reliable travel mug/bottle that you can either drink from directly or pour into a separate mug, the Zojirushi Stainless Mug is the top of the tops. It retains heat for an obscenely long time, allowing you to brew your favorite coffee at home and take it with you to work, school, or on road trips without having to reheat it all day. And it definitely won’t leak in your bag and ruin your gadgets.

Footnotes:

1. “Coffee’s enemy is oxygen, so the longer it sits around (hot or not), the more stale the flavor will be,” Carguilo said via e-mail. She went on to say that these mugs keep the coffee hot for so long that by the time it gets to proper drinking temperature, the coffee has lost most of its natural flavor. Buchanan, on the other hand, argued that all to-go containers are poor drinking vessels because “taste is 90 percent smell, and if you’re brewing nice coffee, you want to taste it.”

However, Carguilo and Buchanan also both agreed that good coffee, when kept hot in a travel mug for several hours, is still better than buying Starbucks/McDonald’s/Dunkin coffee on the road. So while a travel mug might not be the most ideal for coffee drinkers with delicate palates, it’s still a useful device for when you know you’re going to be traveling. Jump back.

2. The contents of the Contigo mug lost 95.1 degrees Fahrenheit of heat in an 8-hour period whereas the new Zojirushi mug only lost 49 degrees Fahrenheit. Jump back.

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Sources

  1. Travel Mugs, Cook's Illustrated, October 1, 2011
  2. The Good Housekeeping Research Institute, Thermal Coffee Mugs Tested, Good Housekeeping
  3. Ana Hurka-Robles, Tested: Six Insulated Bottles to Keep Your Coffee Hot, Tested, June 7, 2011
  4. Will Smith, Our Favorite Tech of 2011: Zojirushi 17-oz Thermal Mug, Tested, December 28, 2011
  5. The Best Thermal Coffee Mugs, Good Housekeeping
  • Kevin Dern

    I’ve had one of these for a couple months now and it’s definitely the best coffee mug I’ve ever owned. Great recommendation.

  • http://michael.flanagan.ie/ Michael Flanagan

    I have the Contigo and I’m a big fan of it – it’s comfortable to hold, stylish, and I like the button release – but you’re absolutely right about heat loss. It happens to suit my use case just fine, but really you’re limited to around two or three hours of hot-drink time.

  • Doug Au

    I have at one time or another owned all of the reviewed mugs except for the nissan travel mug (I don’t like the handle). While the Zojirushi and the Nissan bottles are very good at retaining heat and are indeed leakproof, they are not very tough. I dropped the Zojirushi early on in it’s lifecycle and it remained wobbly for the rest of the year that I owned it. However, the tragic flaw in all of the reviewed mugs is that their opening (with the lids removed) do not fit an aeropress which is my preferred method of coffee making. My current mug is the Stanley One-Handed Vacuum Mug . It retains heat reasonably well (much better than the Contigo and the OXO, but not as good as the Zojirushi and Nissan Thermos), has an opening that just fits an aeropress, fits in both a bike bottle cage (there’s a version made specifically for bike cages), and is much more durable than all of the reviewed mugs. It does have two flaws. The sippy lid is not well designed so that if you do not drink all of the liquid, it can drip into another area of the lid and you will spill on yourself on your next sip. And the button mechanism is entirely plastic and can break if you drop the bottle one too many times. Still, it’s now my go-to mug as the lid can be easily disassembled for cleaning and works perfectly with an aeropress.

  • Eric Arnold

    I recently purchased your top Zojirushi choice. I have one big complaint. Look at your photo with the lid popped open. The metal latch stands tall enough that I cannot drink out of it comfortably without poking my chin. Your chin may vary. It is otherwise quite a work of art, with a gorgeous metal-flake finish, and seems well-made.

    • apd

      Completely agree – it’s impossible to take a drink without the latch getting in the way! Terrible design (excellent heat retention, though).

  • David Joyce

    Surprised that you didn’t consider the Klean Kanteen Insulated since it’s The Sweethome’s pick for best water bottle.

  • http://brendonconnelly.com/ Bren

    Good picks, though for a less complicated (and easily replaceable) lid setup, maybe consider Hydro Flask. $10 cheaper too. HF makes good stuff.

  • http://aldoblog.com/ Michael Alderete

    The mug you point to at Amazon is model number SM-KHE36NL, and comes in three colors. There’s several other model numbers, including the SM-KB48TM, which comes in a Dark Cocoa color I like a little better.

    I’m not familiar enough with Zojirushi’s model numbering scheme to figure out if they are only different by color. They certainly look the same, but the description on the second (http://www.amazon.com/Zojirushi-SM-KB48TM-Stainless-16-Ounce-0-48-Liter/dp/B00B1KVCEQ/) is much shorter, so it’s hard to tell.

    Any chance of getting some clarification on what model numbers correspond to the same mug, just different colors or sizes?

  • http://aldoblog.com/ Michael Alderete

    Well, I just answered my own question. I found Zojirushi’s product comparison page for this category, and compared the two: http://www.zojirushi.com/user/scripts/user/prod_comp_select.php?prod_category_id=5

    It seems the difference between the two models is having a “Nonstick Coated” interior vs. a “SteelSlick™ Finish” interior.

    Not sure what that adds up to in practical terms, but the items are different enough that I’ll stick with the recommended version. Smoke Blue it is!

  • Oliver Hulland

    I’m a big fan of Zojirushi products, and this looks like a winner. With that in mind, I’m also a committed fan of the Contigo. That could be because you can get a pair of ‘em for $20 at Costco (which is a steal!), and because I actually like it when my coffee mug allows beverages to cool to a drinkable temperature*.

    I like my thermoses (Thermos-Nissan FTW!) to keep things scalding, but that’s because I can pour them out into another vessel. With my Contigo, which as Jacqui points out is better for active drinking, I like that it slows cooling but only enough that I can safely drink my coffee when I get to class post-commute. Also, the Contigo I just bought is an updated model that features a nifty and well designed locking function.

    With that out of the way this Zojirushi is a great recommendation. Now I just need to convince myself that I don’t need another insulated mug.

    • http://www.lazyprogrammers.com Eugene Kim

      My wife bought us the Contigo from Costco. The button press to drink was a little wonky at first but you get used to it. The thing I don’t like is that heat retention is not very good, and the mouth piece is really hard to clean on the inside. We have a tiny Zojirushi that my mother-in-law bought us for our baby, and even that keeps drinks piping hot.

  • ctchrisf

    I’m split on this and the Kleen Kanteen 20oz wide mouth insulated bottle
    http://amzn.com/B004DB1KB0

    Kinda leaning 20 OZ.

  • elijahnicolas

    I’ve enjoyed my Contigo 20oz Autoseal Westloop for over a year and can’t complain about it at all. I like the method of drinking from it and admit it’s almost addicting as you have to push every time you tilt your head back. Keeps drinks warm and when I top it off w/ ice and a can of root beer, it’s soooo sooo good!

  • James Darden

    I saw the review Cook’s Illustrated did on their show and they eliminated any travel mug with a flip top because of the potential to obstruct your view. For that reason they went with the Tassimo Travel Mug. But that wasn’t part of your test.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Yes but it flips all the way down, so it’s at the same level as the top, thus leaving no ‘view obstruction’

  • Morwen

    So…how does one use the drinking feature on the Tuff Mug? Due to the latch prominence on the recommended model, and as someone who can be relied upon to dump half their drink down their front I’d be interested in the screw top version but I can’t find any English reviews that explain how it works. (Most just say you have to drink directly from the mug and are puzzled by the design.)

  • Patrick Ryan

    Does the Finum Brewing Basket fit into this mug? ?

  • Joe Mac

    The Zoirushi looks pretty good, but when I researched Travel coffee mugs, I eliminated any mug that didn’t hold at least 20 ounces. The best mug I found was made by Stanley, the Stanley Classic (http://www.shopstanley-pmi.com/product/41027) which comes in 16 or 20 ounce. I liked it better than my old Contigo because of the simplicity of the lid design. It breaks down into 3 pieces that can be easily cleaned. The Contigo was great, but after a year the lid started picking up odors since it couldn’t be easily cleaned. I take my coffee serious brewing with a Chemex. The Stanley is the best travel mug I’ve seen.

  • Snowflake7208

    I’m surprised you didn’t test the Thermos Stainless King. I have 3 Stainless King’s, and the two of the model you tested (there was a sale), and I find the SK to be far superior. First, there is a simple open-close finger lever, clearly labeled. Second, it keeps drinks hot or cold like nothing I’ve ever seen. True story, made coffee, went to a long night shift, left mug in car for 12 hours in 35-40 temps, left work, drank coffee. Admittedly, I am a Marine, so I live on bad coffee, but this was still 110-120 degrees. Totally drinkable. One additional point, it’s outstanding insulating properties means that it stinks as a hand warmer. Just saying. I will certainly be on the lookout for the Zojirushi though. Always looking for the upgrade.

  • ericasullivan

    I owned two Thermos Nissan backpack bottles, and the demise of both involved the cap. I dropped the first bottle on the way back from my office kitchen — on a rug, even — and the hinge broke. I dropped the second one in the snow and the whole front assembly chipped off. To add insult to injury, Thermos doesn’t sell replacement parts (WTF?!). So, twice, I ended up with a perfectly serviceable stainless steel canister but no lid. Argh!

    Thanks to this review, and because the Thermos had accustomed me to coffee that stayed too hot to drink until I got to the office anyway, I bought a Zojirushi Tuff Mug (the kind with a screw top, rather than a sippy-lid). It has a plastic ring around the rim so that you can comfortably drink directly from the mug without burning your mouth on metal. It just arrived yesterday and I’m already in love. A note to the reviewers: you can’t drink through the lid; it comes apart for cleaning purposes, rather than drinking purposes. I had no problem disassembling it, either.

    I also found out that Zojirushi sells replacement parts, and for incredibly reasonable prices to boot. I’m never going back to Thermos!

  • http://www.samlroth.com/ SamLRoth

    I got this mug for my girlfriend, but I end up using it: it’s actually too hot for her to drink. I make coffee in the morning and pour it straight into travel mugs. The first time she burnt her tongue trying to drink it on her commute. The next day she burnt her tongue trying to drink it at work. The third time she burnt her tongue drinking it after lunch, many hours later. So I got her a crappier one and I get to keep my coffee hot. Win-win-except-for-the-burnt-tongue

  • http://www.samlroth.com/ SamLRoth

    P.S Wearing winter gloves i dropped it and the lid hinge broke. Replacement lid was on the zojirushi site for like… 6 bucks.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Is that a win in your book? Sounds pretty cheap (PS thanks for the feedback!)

      • http://www.samlroth.com/ SamLRoth

        honestly more like a throw, since my hands were so slick, onto a steel sidewalk grate. I suppose if the hinge had been made out of metal or something, or covered like a Thermos brand, but I don’t fault the thing for breaking. User error, right?

        • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

          Haha. Right! At least you didn’t have to buy a new one. I think that’s the best takeaway here.

  • http://capndesign.com Matt Jacobs

    I’d have trouble recommending the OXO mug. The spout on the lid is really hard to clean and does not disassemble. After using my mug for a year, I had to throw it out because I couldn’t get it clean (and I’m totally not a neat freak; it was gross). I couldn’t even sterilize it since the mug is not dishwasher safe.

    That being said, the review is right; it’s excellent for sipping while you’re in the car. If anyone has some solid tips on cleaning the lid, I’d probably buy it again.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Did you see the cleaning kit we mention in the guide?

      • http://capndesign.com Matt Jacobs

        Yeah, I did, but only after I had tossed the Oxo mug. I think the skinny pipe cleaner would work on the visible parts of the spout, but I don’t think you’d be able to get far enough inside. Like most humans, I rarely rinse out my mug immediately after use, so coffee gunk built up inside.

        The breaking point was when we got fruit flies in our apartment (summer!) and I saw them hanging out around the spout. I’d be able to clean the Zojirushi thoroughly, but ended up throwing out the Oxo.

        Another thing I didn’t note in my original comment is that I regularly got leaks in my bag toward the end of its life. That made the decision to move on a lot easier.

    • http://nothing2fancy.com kubi

      I wash mine in the dishwasher. Yeah, you’re not supposed to, but I figure that a clean mug that lasts 4 years is better than a nasty one that lasts 8. (mine is going on 4 years old)

  • Brian Boccia

    Wish I’d known you were doing this. I just got a 16oz Klean Kanteen stainless steel, vacuum insulated travel mug and their pint cup lid. For over an hour after pouring myself a cup of coffee, it was still as hot as it was in the pot itself. Today I took nearly two hours to get around to finishing the coffee, but even the last few sips were still pleasantly hot. Best part is that despite the coffee being at that perfect, nearly-too-hot temperature, the outside of the cup stays perfectly room temperature.

    The lid isn’t 100% spill-proof, but even on the bumpiest parts of my commute with a nearly full cup, not a single drop escaped. The shape of the lid and the lip of the cup itself makes it so there’s nothing to catch any liquid, so you get every last drop of coffee out of it. It also means there’s pretty much no corners or crevices that are hard to clean out.

    Please give it a good look when you get around to re-reviewing/updating this pick.

    • https://twitter.com/mhzhao Michael Zhao

      It’s not in contention because it’s not usable with one hand (unless you get the sippy lid, which greatly reduces its insulating abilities). However, it’s our pick for best insulated water bottle in our forthcoming water bottle guide refresh (also by Seamus).

  • G Close

    I have the old one (Zojirushi SM-KHE48AG Stainless Mug) and it’s wonderful for keeping ice cold water cold. One of my favorite products, ever. Even on a hot day, still has ice at 4 pm. Amazing performance. I’ve seen some complaints the lid hinge is fragile. If you’re tough on things, you might want to consider this. Otherwise, totally amazing. Note: impossible to clean without a proper brush.

  • eaadams

    I would like some pics of the Zojirushi Stainless Mug in the car cup holder. Every car cup holder is a little different. I have a mug I bought at Pete’s coffee and it has a )( shape. Impossible to get out of cupholder. I feel like something like this would greatly benefit from a scale drawing showing the different sizes. Hard to buy online.

  • Mike Colley

    It sure would be nice if these came with the option of a handle on them.

    • http://thewirecutter.com/ tony kaye

      Handles make it easy for carrying, bot not so much for traveling. However, I will forward this along as it might be a good option for some!

  • Raivyn

    Picked up a Zojirushi based on your review – completely agree it is the best travel mug I have ever used!
    Would love for you to review lunch boxes/bento boxes for those of us who brown bag it to work or pack lunch for kids. Zojirushi makes the Mr/Ms. Bento, and US manufacturers have come up with items like Planetbox and Laptop Lunches. Would love your insight as to which would be most useful in particular situations. My Rubbermaid containers are so blah!
    Thanks for your review!

  • JoeyBill

    If you’re going for cold, HydroFlask is pretty tip-top. (Does hot too, but I wouldn’t drink coffee from it.)

  • bastjan

    What about the new Genuine Thermos Brand

  • FarmEcol

    I have the Zojirushi and while I like it, it is not the most convenient mug to drink directly from…the top seems to get in the way.

    I picked up an “Avex Highland autoseal” and like it better for everyday use. I think you folks should review it. Incidentally, it is also priced better than the Zojirushi.

    • https://twitter.com/mhzhao Michael Zhao

      That’s the same thing as the Contigo. It’s alright, but it gets gunked up over time, doesn’t lock, and isn’t as good at insulating. Overall, not too impressive.

      • FarmEcol

        I have used the Avex for a long time and it has not ‘gunked up’ on me. And yes, the Avex does lock. You just have to rinse it out every once in a while…like any other travel mug.

        The top of the Zojirushi is just plain poor design. The top is in your field of view when you are drinking out of it! Not too impressive when you are driving, biking, etc…

        Like I said, I like the Avex better for ‘everyday use’ ( i.e. – coffee in the morning, etc.. ). If I need to keep something warm longer, I go with the Zojirushi.

  • Praj

    I bought a Zojirushi based on this review. However, I wish I’d researched a bit deeper.

    While the product is referred to as a “stainless” mug and the specs say it’s stainless steel, what’s not clearly mentioned is that it has a nonstick liner on the inside.

    What’s the point of a stainless steel mug if it has a nonstick liner? Why do I need a liner if it’s stainless steel?

    (Zojirushi has a version of the older design with a “Slicksteel” stainless steel interior, but that’s not the one linked to in this article.)

    • https://twitter.com/mhzhao Michael Zhao

      We asked Zojirushi who informed us that it’s not actually a nonstick liner, it’s electropolished. Basically, just steel, but super polished so it looks different. We noted this in the guide.

      • forc6996

        Would you be able to post that exchange? After looking at the description on their website and noting the non-stick coating on my existing Zojirushi mug, I’m inclined to believe the “non-stick” coating that is described for this newest model is some sort of teflon-like material whereas the “SlickSteel” of the older model is the electropolished steel you mention in your article and in your above comment. Seems like they moved away from SlickSteel for this particular variant.

        • Seamus Bellamy

          Hi forc6996, I had the same worries when I was putting this piece together, given the website’s language and how different the interior of the new iteration of the mug looked from the one we looked at last year. I was told by Zojirushi that the interior of the new mug is achieved through polishing, not a coating. But, to be sure, I circled back on Friday and asked that the company reconfirm this. This morning I received an email, which stated:

          “It is just further polishing, not a coating.”

          • forc6996

            Hi Seamus,

            I contacted the company myself, and here is what they said:

            “Thank you for your inquiry.

            Zojirushi SlickSteel(tm) Finish is an alternative to our nonstick coating.

            They are non-coated on the inside and instead use an electrically charged polishing process to treat and finish the interior.

            Zojirushi SlickSteel(tm) Finish is an alternative to our fluorine nonstick coated products that can be offered to consumers because some customers prefers no-nonstick coating.

            Sincerely,

            Chico”

            So it appears that the further polishing applies only to SlickSteel interiors (the older model of the mug) while the newer model reviewed above has a fluorine non-stick coating. I’m curious to know what you might have heard about this non-stick coating and whether there is any concern for leeching into the beverages, etc.

          • Seamus Bellamy

            Thanks for this, forc6996. This is absolutely contrary to what I have been told by Zojirushi PR on several occasions. I’ll be investigating this further and then investigate this guide appropriately.

          • https://twitter.com/mhzhao Michael Zhao

            After a significant bit of effort, I was able to scratch off little bit of the surface and can confirm that it is a coating. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’ve edited the piece accordingly.

  • influenza

    Hi. I would like to but glass travel mug. Glass bcs i have many ss interior and coffee taste like something what i cant drink lol. So how to find good glass travel mug or anything what doesnt change tcoffee taste ?

  • Eric Arnold

    Bought this based on both your recommendation and owning the older model in a smaller size. I agree your top choice really fixed my big complaint about the older model, the latch poking my chin when I drink. I already managed to drop it, filled with cold water, from at least 3 feet onto concrete and have it roll about twenty feet downhill. Very minor scuffing to the black finish and no real damage. Definitely worth its premium.

  • http://agilepainrelief.com/notesfromatooluser/ Mark Levison

    So if I wanted a mug I could drink out and not just keep the coffee hot which should I choose? The Zojirushi – looks great if you don’t want to drink the coffee.

    If it helps most of the time I brew aeropress and drink it within 2hrs. However aeropress starts off at cooler temp than boiling.

    • https://twitter.com/mhzhao Michael Zhao

      You can drink out of it.

    • Nate Dew

      It’s worth noting that the Aeropress will not fit in my last-generation Zoji mug. The Aeropress funnel is the exact same diameter as the rim of the mug with the top removed. You would have to use a regular cup or something and pour it into the mug after brewing.

      • http://agilepainrelief.com/notesfromatooluser/ Mark Levison

        Nate – thanks. That kills it for me. My aeropress is more important than the mug itself. Damn.

        Any other great mugs – ones that fit an aeropress :-)

        - Mark

  • Robert King

    Regarding the non-stick: I too bought two of the older models based on
    the recommendations of this site (and am extremely happy with them).
    Bought a blue one and a brown one, both from Amazon, simultaneously. The
    blue one arrived with a white, apparently non-stick coating inside. The
    Brown one was plain silver inside with no coating. They had different
    sets of documentation inside too, one only in Japanese, the other in
    multiple language. Could it be Amazon is getting different
    configurations from different suppliers, designed for different markets,
    and could this explain the confusion on the part of their rep?

  • Jason Clark

    “after the latest update to this guide was published we were contacted by a reader who was concerned about the fact that the latest iteration of the Zojirushi Stainless Mug uses a non-stick flourine (which amounts to fluoropolymers of the sort used in Teflon coating to help repel stains and odors from the interior of the mug. This is contradictory to what we were told by Zojirushi’s PR on several occasions while researching the guide.”

    You state that it has a non-stick flourine finish as fact… based on what? Visual inspection? Did you have it analyzed by a lab? I don’t distrust your reporting, but when you state that a company’s PR department lied to you, I’d expect some corroboration. That fact, more than the coating, would be enough to make me choose another brand. Did you contact the company afterward for a statement? Was it an intentional change made after the statements made by PR, or do they continue to deny?