When you’re on the go, a travel mug can be your best buddy—or your worst nightmare.
Published Sept. 15, 2020. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 22: Breakfast with a Kick
Whether it’s hot coffee for your commute, ice-cold water for your workout, or cool rosé for your leisurely picnic, travel mugs are ideal for keeping your favorite beverage at its proper temperature. It had been a while since we last tested these mugs, and we wanted to know if our former favorite, the Timolino Icon Vacuum Travel Tumbler, was still the best option available. So we bought eight models, priced from about $12 to about $33, including our previous winner. The market is glutted with travel mugs, so we narrowed our lineup using findings from previous testings. We decided to focus on insulated stainless-steel mugs, as we’ve found that they’re much better at retaining heat and cold than noninsulated plastic and ceramic mugs. Because most travel mugs are available in different sizes, we limited our lineup to models with capacities of about 16 ounces, the most common size, though we did include one popular model that came only in sizes of 20 ounces or more. We also chose models that could be operated with one hand, so you can safely drink from them while clutching a steering wheel or subway pole with the other hand. And we ruled out models with handles, as we’d found that these get in the way when the mugs are placed in car cup holders.
With our lineup solidified, we got to work, testing to see how well they retained heat and cold, how easy they were to open and close, and how durable they were—repeatedly dropping, washing, and opening and closing them. Finally, we sent additional copies home with users for a full month to see how they fared with more extensive use.
First and foremost, a good travel mug should keep your hot drinks hot and your cold drinks cold for a reasonable amount of time. Although opinions vary on the best temperature for hot coffee, we deemed coffee below 130 degrees Fahrenheit tepid and less pleasant to drink. Serving temperature aside, we also considered food safety. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service doesn’t recommend drinking coffee and many other beverages if they’ve been in the danger zone (from 40 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit) for more than 2 hours, as bacteria can grow to a critical level after that point.
To evaluate how long the mugs could keep hot drinks at an acceptable serving temperature and still safe to drink, we poured coffee directly from the coffee maker carafe (a starting temperature of 174 degrees) into the mugs and tracked their temperatures over a full day. Happily, all the travel mugs were able to keep the coffee hot and safe to drink for at least 3.5 hours—plenty of time to commute to wo...
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Miye is a senior editor for ATK Reviews. She covers booze, blades, and gadgets of questionable value.