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Travel Mugs

Published October 2011
Update: June 2014
We tested a new version of the Zojirushi mug and still recommend it. Our updated review appears in the chart below.

How we tested

Enjoying your own coffee or tea on the way to work beats spending $4 for a latte in a paper cup, but not if the vessel it’s in offers no better heat retention and proves harder to sip from. After surveying the vast travel mug market, we narrowed our choices to seven, ruling out plastic and ceramic for lousy insulation, mega-mugs that hold 24 or more ounces (for the rare monster commute), and anything that requires complete lid removal (you’re in transit, after all). Prices ranged from $15 to $39.

A travel mug is supposed to keep your coffee hot. Although experts disagree about the perfect drinking temperature, we find that coffee below 140 degrees is lukewarm, not hot. We filled the mugs with freshly brewed coffee at exactly 155 degrees. Then we threaded thermometer probes into the mugs so we could read their contents’ temperatures over four hours without opening them. We knew from previous tests that ceramic travel mugs don’t retain heat for longer than 30 minutes, plastic for about an hour. With only double-wall stainless steel mugs in this lineup, we were surprised that one lost heat just as quickly as any plastic mug.

Most of our mugs kept coffee above 140 degrees for just over an hour. A few mugs retained heat remarkably well: After three hours, one mug had “cooled’’ to only 152 degrees. Another mug stayed between 145 and 150 degrees for more than two hours. We let colleagues test-drive these two mugs for a few weeks; users reported that with one model they had to wait a long time before the contents were cool enough to drink. The other model maintained an optimal temperature the longest, staying above 140 degrees for two hours.

We demand that our travel mug be rugged, with a snug-fitting lid that won’t leak or drip, so we turned full mugs over and shook them. The good news is that all were leak-proof, but only when they were filled properly (overfilling disrupted the seal). One mug had no fill line; on the first try we overfilled it, and it leaked.

Mugs with complicated gaskets in their lids presented another problem: The gaskets trapped liquid, so when we closed the lids and began sipping, coffee dribbled out. Mugs that were hard to close all the way had us rechecking them before we put them in our bag, fearing a leaky mess.

When we filled the mugs with coffee for a car ride, we cottoned quickly to those we could open single-handedly, since that let us keep both eyes on the road. Mugs with handles didn’t fit in all car cup holders, and using them distracted us from driving. One sleek, slightly curved tumbler uses a sturdy snap-open lid that proved simple to operate. Plus, the lid didn’t partially obstruct our view—the chief flaw of another mug (though that’s not a concern for commuters who don’t drive).

When you’re drinking a hot beverage from a lidded mug, you need the flow of liquid to be predictable and manageable—neither a torrent nor a trickle. The single half-inch opening on our favorite mug was neither stingy nor overly generous. Mugs with 360-degree openings let coffee rush out from too many exits.

We’d love to blast our mug clean in the dishwasher, but we’ll take anything we can attack with hot, soapy water and a sponge. Narrow openings had us struggling to squeeze in a sponge. Mugs with wide bodies and uncomplicated lids that didn’t trap odors, such as our winning model, made cleanup a breeze. As a bonus, both the carafe and its lid are top-rack dishwasher-safe.

Many hot drinks later, we had a winner. This mug offered adequate heat retention; straightforward, comfortable handling; a lid that’s easy to sip from and doesn’t leak; and a design that cleans up nicely, with no hidden nooks and crannies.

 

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*