America's Test Kitchen Picks The Best Commuter Mugs

While watching TV yesterday and moaning about how lazy we are, we saw a review of commuter mugs (free registration required) on “America’s Test Kitchen”: “We ordered 11 mugs of different materials, shapes, and sipping structures and organized a battery of tests designed to define the ideal mug, which left us feeling a little like test drivers as we careened around corners trying to spill the coffee or dislodge the mugs.” (Yes, they like the royal “we” too!) See their testing criteria, as well as their top two picks, bottom rung losers, and oddball favorite after the jump.

ATK chose the following criteria to test their mugs: heat retention, spill-proofness, clean taste, handles (no handles = easier to grab while driving), sippability, visibility (whether or not it blocks your view of the road when you’re near the bottom of the drink), cleaning, the ability to fit into a wide range of mug holders, and stability.

Top Two Picks

con_thermos360.jpgThe Thermos Stainless Steel Travel Mug was the best of the bunch, particularly because of its radial symmetry that allows you to pick it up and sip from any direction without worrying about orientation (*snicker*). Because it took a while for excess liquid to drain back in, there was some risk of splashing on bumpy drives.

con_oxotravelmug.jpg Their other pick was the OXO Click LiquiSeal Travel Stainless Mug, which “is comfortable to hold and has excellent insulation” but had some small issues with liquid getting trapped in an inner layer and around the button. They don’t suggest the plastic version, however.

Oddball Favorite
They also liked the compact Nissan Dual Purpose Can Insulator/Travel Cup, although not as a travel mug: “It’s an unsatisfactory beverage cup–the lid doesn’t have any closure, and it leaked like a sieve–but it’s a good can insulator and holder. A soda can fit in snugly and stayed well chilled.” They demonstrated it on the show, and it looks like a stainless steel can cozy with a screw-on lid to completely cover your drink.

Bottom Rung Losers
At the very bottom of their “Do Not Want” list were two ceramic/stoneware mugs—they were poor insulators and didn’t have traps to contain any liquid overflow.

“Equipment Corner: Commuter Coffee Mugs” [America’s Test Kitchen] (Free registration required)

(Photo: The Infamous Gdub)


Edit Your Comment

  1. snoop-blog says:

    i’ve never been able to find one where the lid doesn’t leak.

    maybe a stupid question, but if it’s insulated to keep hot drinks hot, how well would they fare keeping cold drinks cold. not much for coffee, but i love my sodas!

  2. jamesdenver says:

    I bike to work and check out this (tedious looking) site every now and then


  3. Colleen says:

    REI has a thermos that you can shake up, throw around and do just about anything to and it won’t spill – the “vacuum” bottles on their site. not really good for in the car though.

  4. K-Bo says:

    @snoop-blog: Insulation keeps heat from transferring in either direction. I pour my soda into my travel coffee mug at work, and even without the lid it stays way colder than a normal cup.

  5. forgottenpassword says:

    i hate websites that make you register to read an article!

    Love that old RV in the pic (always wanted to have an RV).

    Never been a fan of coffee & typically dont carry a mug of anything in my vehicle because I have always had a problem with crappy travel mugs. Anymore, at most I will have a bottle of water handy. That’s just about it.

  6. SpenceMan01 says:

    @forgottenpassword: Use BugMeNot: [] . For this article, use to login.

  7. @forgottenpassword: Haven’t looked myself, but try []

  8. DrGirlfriend says:

    Something else you can do to boost the insulation in one of those cups is to fill it with either hot or cold water for a few minutes before filling it with whichever drink you want to put in there. So if you want to keep your soda cold, fill it with cold water and, much like a thermos, it will retain the temperature better.

  9. Mr. Gunn says:

    DrGirlfriend: Well, not really. Any insulator has a low heat capacity(or it wouldn’t be an insulator), so pre-chilling/heating has a minimal effect.

  10. snoop-blog says:

    i hate to say it, but i’m a fan of styrofoam cups. they just seem to keep my ice way longer.

  11. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    I was using a Zojirushi mug for a while. Just like their thermos, it’s double-walled and stainless steel. It kept my coffee or tea hot during my hour commutes. But my main gripes were its low capacity and its narrow base. The cup holder in my car was a little big, so if I made a sudden stop or a hard turn, the mug would tilt and coffee would splash out the sipper opening. Eventually, I stopped drinking coffee during my commutes. The coffee spilled into hard-to-clean spots, and my car started to stink after a while.

  12. redhelix says:

    I actually have that OXO Click Mug. It’s spectacular. I only drive for half of my commute; so when I get to the train station I close the thing and slip it into my inner jacket pocket, and drink it at my leisure for the rest of the ride in. It doesn’t leak and keeps my tea scalding hot for a good two hours.

  13. Dervish says:

    I wish they had included a Contigo mug in their study. I own their small thermos and I really like it.


    Also, I LOVE America’s Test Kitchen.

  14. redhelix says:

    @redhelix: Holy crap, I also have that Nissan mug. I guess I’m some kind of travel mug connoiseur. That thing is just insane. It’s not great for drinking, but I’ve worked entire shifts at my job leaving my tea in the car and come back out and that thing has kept it warm. For pure thermal retension, it’s unmatched.

  15. rlee says:

    I’ve been quite happy with the plastic version of the OXO for several months. No “gushing” or taste issues so far. The metal one may well have better insulation, but it’s been fine for my modest needs in that regard. Maybe I’ll give the steel a try as well.

  16. mikedt says:

    I use this mug by Nissan


    While not 100% liquid tight – if you turn it upside down a few drops will come out – but it’s spash proof, fits in just about any cup holder and the valve can be worked one handed while your eyes remain on the road. I think I’ve had mine for nearly a decade now.

  17. ClayS says:

    @Mr. Gunn:
    Actually she is correct. Vacuum mugs having a stainless steel liner, for example, benefit from pre-heating or pre-cooling before filling with your drink. There is enough thermal mass in the liner that it makes a significant difference.

  18. Narockstar says:

    I also have a Contigo mug that I bought at Target and I love it. I like to make my coffee at home, but don’t usually drink it until I get to work. I throw it in my purse or backpack and it has never leaked.

  19. MakGeek says:

    available at Target:

    Thermos 360

  20. UpsetPanda says:

    I wish they had a decent pick that had a handle. I’ve got small hands, and it’s not good to drop a thermos of hot magma coffee.

  21. mthrndr says:

    @rlee: I also have the Oxo Plastic Mug. It’s great for the price ($10). The liquid flows just fine, is very easy to clean, and there’s no ‘off’ taste. It sounds to me like the test kitchen is splitting hairs.

  22. whatdoyoucare says:

    Love, love, love my thermos travel mug! It is the only travel mug I will use.

  23. DrGirlfriend says:

    @Mr. Gunn: Well, it comes with this advice in the instructions of every insulated cup I’ve owned, and I have used to to positive effect, but I suppose your mileage may vary.

  24. Underpants Gnome says:

    Does anyone know if these models are dishwasher-safe? I was amazed last time I went shopping for mugs and saw that they all said “hand wash only”.

  25. Anonymous says:

    I’m all about my Thermos E5 16ouncer. Got it at target for 20 bucks, and it has the drink-from-any-side top that is convenient.

    Keeps my coffee scalding hot from 9 to 5 if I forget it in the car.

    I drive an E36, which has no cupholders (friggin Germans) so this thing’s been great because the handle keeps it from rolling around on the seat next to me.

  26. Joe_Bagadonuts says:

    Wife & I picked up a 2-pack of the OXO plastic mugs at BJ’s this weekend, first use this morning and it seemed A-OK, can’t see paying more for the stainless version, unless it like violates the laws of thermodynamics or something…

  27. firesign says:

    @s0crates82: no cupholders? seriously? even my hyundai elantra has cupholders forgoshsakes.

  28. Anonymous says:

    @firesign: Yeah, 1994 BMW 325i Sedan. No cupholders for the front seats.

    I guess in Germany they expect the driver to do only one thing… drive.

    Silly Europeans.


  29. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    I swear by the BUBBA 20oz travel mugs. I’ve never had them spill, and they both keep hot drinks hot, and cold drinks cold.


    @firesign – my Mom’s Jimmy has no cupholders either. Dang inconvenient if you ask me.

  30. ottergal says:

    Those silly Swedes apparently don’t need them either. There is one in my Saab, and it’s right by my right elbow. Where I’m likely to knock it over.

    I tend to only drink water from bottles/nalgenes in my car now because I’m tired of cleaning coffee out of my emergency brake. :)

  31. jarchie219 says:

    I’ll use any mug – as long as my nose doesn’t block the vent hole.

  32. ludwigk says:

    I have the OXO plastic mug that they don’t recommend, and I can tell you why they don’t: It doesn’t hold heat worth crap! The metal one has an evacuated inner compartment that provides (I’m assuming) excellent thermal insulation. The plastic version has a double wall construction that just doesn’t cut it.

    Since I live in northern california, where it doesn’t really get cold, and since I’m not that temperature sensitive about my tea in the morning, I don’t really mind drinking a lukewarm cup. But if you actually wanted a travel mug that worked, I would suggest the extra $10 for the metal variety.

  33. stuny says:

    What the heck is a cooking show doing reviewing travel mugs? Have they run out of recipes?

    Hey, ATK while you are testing the commuter mug, what’s the zero to 60 acceleration of the car? How about the repair history and resale value? Also, who should I vote for in 2008?

    In next week’s episode, they will finally put to rest, which is better Macs, PCs, or Farberware.

  34. quail says:

    @stuartny: America’s Test Kitchen is more than recipes. They test anything and everything related to cooking. Measuring cups, coffee grinders, knives, beer coolers, etc.

    My favorite commuter mug is an old Starbucks stainless steel model. The lid screws on the outside of the mug. This means that once the cup is filled, creamed, and sugared I don’t have to worry about putting on the lid just to create a mess as the lid screws down into the coffee. It’s only problem is that it’s not microwavable.

  35. BruinEric says:

    I need a car mug that has no handle, and where the freaking lid doesn’t dribble coffee on my shirt when I take a sip. That PLUS I want to put it in the dishwasher. And I want insulation to keep my drink fairly hot for a while.

    Impossible? Anyone?