You’re sitting in traffic on your way to work. It’s a red light, but that’s fine because you have a travel mug full of coffee in your cup holder. You take a sip and…your coffee is already cold.
Whether it’s because you got distracted or your mug just doesn’t retain its heat, it is disheartening and, let’s be honest, kind of disgusting to take a sip of your favorite brew only to find cold coffee. After all, if you wanted cold coffee, you would’ve made cold brew or iced coffee, right? It sounds like it’s time to upgrade your travel mug and stop letting lukewarm java be a part of your daily routine!
At a Glance: Our Top 5 Picks for Travel Mugs
It’s Just a Mug. What’s the Big Deal?
When it comes to the perfect coffee carrying companion, you have to think about more than just the trendy brand or whether the cup has a handle. The primary purpose of a specially designed to-go mug is to keep your coffee hot — whether or not you can finish it before it gets cold without having to chug it.
Not only that, but you don’t want to waste perfectly good coffee, do you? Of course, you don’t! Besides, if the baristas down at your favorite coffee shop saw you dump half a cup of joe down the break room sink at your office, they probably wouldn’t let you back through the door. We shudder at that thought. So, maybe we were a bit extreme; no one’s going to ban you from the local Starbucks for wasting a few ounces of liquid, but it’s still something you want to avoid doing.
The point is, regardless of the brand name emblazoned on the cup, the pretty colors the product comes in, or the fact that it fits perfectly in your car’s cupholder, if your travel mug is failing in the heat retention department (or cold retention, if you prefer a cup of joe with a couple of ice cubes in it), it’s time to toss it and get something that works.
The Science of Keeping Your Coffee Hot
To understand the best way to keep your coffee at its optimal temperature for long periods, you first have to understand what makes your coffee cold. To do that, you’ll need to think back to high school physics — after all, using your coffee maker to get a good brew is as much science as it is art.
Conduction is when objects of different temperatures touch, like when the molecules in a hot coffee cup collide with the room temperature air molecules. The faster, hotter molecules transfer their energy to the slower, cooler molecules. That’s why the air just above your coffee feels warmer than the air away from your coffee. Pretty cool, huh? (No pun intended. Fine, maybe it was a little intended.)
Each time you pour cups of coffee, you expose the hot coffee molecules to the colder air molecules, not to mention the cooler molecules making up whatever vessel you pulled out of your kitchen cupboard to pour it into. The more exposure your coffee has, the more quickly it cools.
Bonus Heating Tip
All coffee experts should know you can fight conduction by heating the cup you pour your joe into. Give your travel mug or coffee cup a quick hot water rinse; this warms the sides of the container and reduces the amount of heat lost to conduction.
Quick Summary: Best Travel Mugs
|CORKCICLE STAINLESS STEEL COFFEE MUG||Check on Amazon →|
|HYDRO FLASK TRAVEL MUG||Check on Amazon →|
|YETI RAMBLER VACUUM INSULATED MUG||Check on Amazon →|
|ZOJIRUSHI STAINLESS STEEL TRAVEL MUG||Check on Amazon →|
|ELLO COLE VACUUM-INSULATED STAINLESS STEEL TRAVEL MUG||Check on Amazon →|
|CONTIGO SNAPSEAL BYRON TRAVEL MUG||Check on Amazon →|
|ELLO CAMPY VACUUM-INSULATED STAINLESS STEEL TRAVEL MUG||Check on Amazon →|
Just Stick it in a Vacuum
So, after our quick science lesson, you’ve probably still got one very important question: how do you actually keep your coffee warm for the duration of your commute?
Designing heat-retaining coffee cups, especially travel mugs, is a compelling problem; unless you’ve got a real hankering for cold brew, you want your favorite caffeinated beverage to be hot every time you take a sip.
That’s why vacuum insulation exists! It may sound like fluff, but the vacuum insulation found in many travel mugs results from some really neat science. Instead of relying on the conductivity of the mug’s material to retain heat, vacuum insulation removes a significant element of heat transfer by removing the air between its metal layers. So, a vacuum is a layer of molecule-free space between your coffee and the colder air around it.
These babies are your best bet for keeping coffee or any other liquid hot until the last drop.
Roasty Rankings: Our Pics for the Best Travel Coffee Mugs
We’re all in favor of a mug that can keep your drink warm for as long as possible. But if it’s not your style or in your budget, you can always check out travel containers that match your coffee-drinking speed. If you gulp more than you sip (we don’t judge), a less expensive insulated travel mug might be a better option for you.
But if you’re the kind of person who gets so wrapped up in something that you forget your coffee is there, or you have a long commute in the morning, you need a next-level travel mug.
Corkcicle Stainless Steel Coffee Mug
A common complaint among travel coffee mug users is size. If the cup is too big, it may be difficult for our small-handed coffee drinkers to wrap their hands around it. But if the cup is too small and you’ve got rather large hands, you’re looking at a rather uncomfortable morning coffee experience.
This 16-ounce mug from Corkcicle is a great fit for hands of all sizes, thanks to its flat sides and ergonomic handle. It also has a shatterproof plastic lid and a non-slip silicone bottom, both of which come in handy for keeping accidents and messes to a minimum. All of this, plus the fact that these mugs keep drinks hot for up to three hours, is what helped this stainless steel, BPA-free mug land a spot on our list of best travel mugs.
Hydro Flask Travel Mug
Plenty of people rely on Hydro Flask water bottles for keeping their drinks cold for hours, but did you know the brand makes products designed for hot drinks, too? The Hydro Flask travel mug keeps your precious joe at the perfect temperature for the duration of your morning commute, plus a few hours after, thanks to TempShield technology.
This thermos’s flexible strap makes it easy to carry around, the leak-proof lid keeps you and your car cupholder clean even on the bumpiest of roads, and it’s dishwasher-free for easy cleanup. For your peace of mind, there’s even a limited lifetime warranty in case you receive your reusable coffee cup in less-than-perfect condition. Plus, these bad boys come in a wide range of pretty colors, which makes your travel coffee experience just a bit more fun!
YETI Rambler Vacuum Insulated Mug
The YETI Rambler is marketed as the toughest camp mug out there, which is great news if you’re constantly on the go and expect your travel cup to get a lot of wear and tear. The Rambler mug is made of kitchen-grade stainless steel, so it’s both puncture- and rust-resistant. The Duracoat color won’t chip away, and the double-wall vacuum insulation keeps your favorite beverage hot or cold until it’s all gone.
This to-go tumbler has a Triple-Grip handle for easy carrying, and the no-sweat design means you won’t have to deal with wet, condensation-soaked fingers if you drink cold liquids. Oh, and one more thing: the 14-ounce Rambler can be tossed in the dishwasher once you’ve returned home after your daily commute.
Zojirushi Stainless Steel Travel Mug
Zojirushi’s stainless steel vacuum insulation does the difficult job of keeping your cold drinks chilled and your hot liquid steaming. If that wasn’t good enough, it also has a locking lid that prevents wasteful coffee spills. The flip lid also has a two-step release process, so you don’t get surprised by a splash of hot condensation to the face when you bring it to your lips to take a drink.
This mug and its slim design can keep your coffee hot for up to six hours after brewing. Its lid has a stopper that comes apart for a more thorough cleaning, and the interior is coated with nonstick material. Plus, it comes in seven beautiful colors!
Ello Cole Vacuum-Insulated Stainless Steel Travel Mug
The 16-ounce capacity Ello Cole travel mug is everything you hope for in a product of its kind: stylish, vacuum-insulated, and completely top-rack dishwasher-safe. There’s a lot more to love about Ello’s mug, including a built-in cork composite coaster base that gives it a rustic look, and on a more practical level, keeps the mug from sliding around whatever surface it’s on.
Ello’s Cole comes in four color combos, is BPA-free, and has a patented slider lid for leak-free drinking. But we’ve saved its best feature for last: it can keep your drink hot for up to five hours and cold for 10!
Contigo SnapSeal Byron Travel Mug
If a self-closing lid isn’t your style, Contigo’s SnapSeal Byron travel mug is another option. But as long as the lid is closed, you don’t have to worry about leaks. You just pop the top to drink and snap it shut when you’re done.
The Byron can keep your coffee hot for up to six hours; that’s almost the entire workday! It has a nice grip around its circumference, making it easy to manage the stainless steel mug with just one hand. It comes in two colors and plain stainless steel.
Ello Campy Vacuum-Insulated Travel Mug
Like the Ello Cole, the Campy blends style and science. This vacuum-insulated, stainless steel travel mug is reminiscent of a classic speckled campfire mug, except with more room for coffee and a soft grip on the handle provided by cork lining.
The leak-proof slider lid is top-rack dishwasher safe, but they recommend you stick with handwashing on the tumbler. It’s a little extra work but worth it for the vintage style that keeps your coffee hot for up to five hours.
What should you look for in a travel mug?
Keep these things in mind as you weigh your travel mug options; we want to ensure you get the best bang for your buck!
Most of the cups on the market designed to keep your beverages hot or cold for an extended period are plastic, stainless steel, ceramic, or glass. And because each of these materials has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, you’ll need to consider each of them carefully before you make a purchase.
Stainless steel is one of the more popular choices for buyers, especially if they’ll be sipping hot beverages all day long. They’re the most durable of our four options, and when combined with some sort of insulating material, they’ll create a vacuum that keeps your drink at the perfect temperature for longer. However, they tend to be more expensive, and some people think they impart a metallic flavor to your joe.
Next up is glass, and while these are usually the most aesthetically pleasing travel mugs, we don’t recommend them because they’re so delicate. Plus, they’re not the best on the insulation front.
Ceramic travel mugs are also popular on the market, primarily because they won’t alter the flavor of your drink at all. These are usually the clunkiest of travel mugs and just as delicate as glass, but they’re easy to clean. If you get one with double-walled insulation, your coffee will remain at the desired temperature for a decent amount of time.
Last, and in our opinion, least on the list of travel tumbler materials is plastic. Despite being affordable and relatively durable, plastic doesn’t insulate all that well. Plus, if you’re drinking something hot, there’s always the concern of tiny, not-so-good-for-you plastic particles melting into your cup.
Size and Shape
You should also consider the size and shape of your insulated coffee mug before you make a selection. You’ll want something big enough to hold a sufficient amount of your beverage of choice.
When it comes to shape, you need to choose something that can transport well. If you’ll be taking it with you on your daily commute, for example, choose a travel mug that fits snugly into an average-sized cup holder. If you’re going to take it on a hiking or camping trip, though, your tumbler must fit into your pack’s bottle holder.
If the cup you choose can’t keep your beloved coffee at the ideal temperature, whether piping hot or icy cold, then what’s the point? You’ll want one that’s adequately insulated. Otherwise, you’ll just be sipping unsatisfying and lukewarm joe for your whole commute!
Like stainless steel or aluminum, metal tends to be the best insulator for both hot and cold beverages. You’ll also want to be sure to look for one that’s double-walled or double-insulated, as this feature guarantees temperature retention while eliminating the chance of your cup getting too hot or cold to touch.
Nothing ruins a commute like spilling the contents of your insulated travel tumbler all over your lap when you take a sip! That’s why you should make sure to research the lid carefully. There are straw lids, flip-top lids, and more — just be sure that whichever you settle on is spill-proof!
How to Clean Your Travel Mug
Here’s the bad news about travel mugs: many of them aren’t entirely dishwasher-safe. So, how do you properly clean these things by hand?
After every use, you should use warm water, a bottle brush or sponge, and soap to scrub down all the bottle’s parts. Rinse the mug clean, and dry it with a microfiber cloth or paper towel.
If it’s time to give your tumbler a deeper clean, fill it with white vinegar and water, and let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes, then rinse it out. You can also scrub the cup’s nooks and crannies with a paste made of baking soda and water to make sure every inch of it is clean and free of mold or leftover coffee.
Keep Your Coffee Hotter Longer
Remember, the key to keeping your coffee piping hot while traveling is limiting exposure to cooler air. Invest in a vacuum-insulated mug, and keep the lid shut when you’re not sipping.
If your coffee is too hot, taking the lid off for a minute or three will do the trick (unless you’re looking at the LEXO since it cools your coffee for you). Just don’t forget to close it back up once you’ve hit your prime drinking temperature.
Add any of these mugs to your coffee travel kit, and never suffer through another road trip with lukewarm coffee.