Skip to content

How to Choose the Best Coffee Travel Mug

blue tumbler on rocks by bridge during daytime

Insulated, Stainless Steel, Leak Proof, Spill Proof Mugs Explained

Travel mugs deliver sips of hot coffee or tea (or iced drinks) during long commutes. They are also useful at home and in the office. The right mug can mean the difference between enjoying hot coffee, sipping cold coffee, and wearing coffee to work.

Popular sizes are 12, 14, 16 and 20 ounces. 24 ounce mugs are available but are rare. Popular brands include Thermos, Trudeau, Brugo and Nissan. Prices average between 20 and 30 dollars.

How to Choose a Good Travel Mug

man in blue jacket pouring coffee in cup outdoors

Compared to normal mugs, a travel mug

  • Has a cover to make it spill-resistant.
  • Can fit into a car cup-holder (2 1/2 inch diameter base, maximum height depends on the car).
  • Is insulated to keep drinks hot or cold for hours.

Compared to hot water flasks, a travel mug

  • Can be used using only one hand.
  • Is like a child’s “sippy cup”, designed to allow spill-free drinking when driving a car or walking.
  • Should be spill-resistant but not necessarily leak-proof (can’t always be tossed into a bag).
  • Is easily cleaned even after holding sugary, creamy drinks (no nooks and crevices).

Travel Mug Covers and Sipping Mechanisms

Simple covers are cheap and easy to clean. But they are thin, allowing heat to escape and keeping coffee hot for fewer hours. Screw-on covers are harder to accidentally knock off compared to slip-on covers.

The simplest covers only have a fixed hole through which coffee can be sipped (like disposable coffee cups from fast food restaurants). Coffee will gurgle out through the hole if the mug is accidentally tipped over, but the addict’s caffeine-enhanced superhuman reflexes can save at least some of the precious liquid. Too bad about the pants, though.

A hinged flip-up cover for the hole is an improvement. Coffee still leaks out but much more slowly. Disadvantages are

  • having to remember to close the cover.
  • getting a drop of coffee on the nose from the underside of the open cover (the dreaded “coffee nose”).

Slightly more advanced is a spring-loaded sliding cover for the hole. This is combined with a trigger handle. Squeezing the handle opens the cover. Releasing the handle automatically closes the cover.

More complicated covers are leak-proof and the mug can be tossed into a bag. However the complex internal channel in the cover is difficult to clean, almost impossible if milk or creamer is used.

Many have a one-handed opening mechanism.

  • Some click open and click close when a button on the cover is pushed.
  • Other buttons are auto-close: needing continuous finger pressure to keep open.

One ingenious design uses the easy-to-clean simplicity and leak-proof design of a standard flask screw-down cover. A raised 1 or 2 inch lip surrounds the cover. Twisting the cover half-open allows the coffee to drain out, only to be caught by the lip, where it can be drunk like from a cup. They are no uncleanable internal channels in the cover. The only disadvantage is that two hands are need to open and close the mug.

Vacuum, Stainless Steel, Plastic and Ceramic Travel Mugs

The best heat-retention comes from vacuum mugs (4 to 8 hours). These are almost always stainless steel. However not all stainless steel mugs are vacuum mugs. Some aren’t even entirely stainless steel, having a plastic inner wall.

Many designs have a fixed plastic collar on top of the stainless steel body. The cover screws down on to the collar. Unfortunately the inside seam between the body and the collar becomes a dirt trap, especially for milk drinks. No-collar mugs are more hygienic.

A wide mouth makes it easy to insert ice cubes, and to clean the mug; but increases heat loss through the cover.

Plastic mugs should be double-walled for better insulation (1 to 4 hours). However the plastic can crack, causing water to leak in between the walls and grow mold. Some plastic mugs also give off an unpleasant smell.

Ceramic travel mugs are rare but do exist. Some are double-walled for better insulation. Many are microwave-safe. They are fragile but are the most taste-neutral. They come with stretchy slip-on silicone covers.

The Best Travel Coffee Mug

Owning a good travel mug is almost as important choosing the right coffee (bean, roast, grind, brewing method). And about as subjective and complicated to decide.

Finding the best coffee mug requires understanding how it will be used, prioritizing features, and deciding on which design trade-offs can be tolerated.

  • If one-hand operation is not required, a standard flask screw-down cover with raised lip mug is leak-proof and easy to clean.
  • For one-handed spill-resistant use, a spring-loaded sliding cover mug is easy to clean.
  • One-handed leak-proof mugs are available but are difficult to clean, suitable only if there is no milk in the drink.

Ready to find your coffee mug? Check out these articles

Best Coffee Thermoses

Best French Press Travel Mugs And Tumblers

Best Coffee Thermos For Work: Very ...
Best Coffee Thermos For Work: Very Useful For Daily Activity (2021)