If you’re back on the go (as most of us are) — heading out on your morning commute or running errands with coffee in hand — you need a thermos. Not only is it a solid step toward a lower-waste lifestyle, but experts like Natalie Slavutsky, formerly of Brooklyn Diamond Coffee, say that your brew will actually taste better out of ceramic, glass, or stainless steel than paper or plastic. Plus, reusable mugs and tumblers actually keep your coffee hot or cold for longer. If you’re still not persuaded to make a change, note that “many cafés reward customers who bring in reusable drinkware with a discount for helping them move towards being more sustainable,” says Allie Caran, director of education at Partner’s Coffee.
Whether you’re an iced-coffee-all-year-round person or someone who delights in latte art as you get your caffeine kick, there’s a travel mug out there for you. Here are the best vessels to bring into your local coffee shop, according to baristas, roasters, coffee entrepreneurs, and one environmentally minded Strategist editor.
More than any other brand, KeepCup kept coming up in our conversations. These small glass cups were originally designed by two former baristas in Melbourne, Australia, making it easier for people like Joanna Lareau, barista at Blue Bottle Coffee to do their jobs. “I like KeepCups because they’re made for baristas to pour into so they’re the easiest for us to make latte art in,” says Lareau. She also notes that, because of their small size, KeepCups are easier to use when making cortados or cappuccinos. “Some reusable cups are so big they don’t fit into the espresso machine,” she says. Ryan Fisher, Director of Operations and Roaster at GoodBoyBob Coffee in Santa Monica, California, likes KeepCups because they’re stylish, and the glass gets his coffee to the exact temperature he likes quickly.
Nearly all of the baristas we talked to say that their biggest pet peeve is customers bringing in less-than-clean reusable cups. So finding one that’s simple to rinse out will both make your barista happy and keep your lattes tasting fresh. According to Samya Said, barista training manager for Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea, KeepCups are just as good as any rival mugs in this category. Plus they’re made with an inner slope, which she says “allows baristas to pour amazing art every time.”
Two of the coffee experts we spoke to gave this stainless-steel insulated mug with a lid top billing. Em Orendorff, a manager at Intelligentsia Coffee and member of the board of directors at Glitter Cat Barista, prefers the MiiR Camp Cup because, as they explain, “it’s shaped just like the mugs we use in the café (short and wide with a great handle) so it’s a breeze for baristas to make your drink in it, as well as easy to clean and to drink out of.” Caleb Chauncey, a barista at East Pole Coffee Co. in Atlanta, likes that its insulated interior keeps drinks warm or cold for long periods of time — and it keeps a consistent temperature on the outside too. “It won’t burn your hand if you have a hot beverage inside and it won’t sweat when you have a cold one,” he says. Like Orendorff, Chauncey also called out the mug’s handle as something most travel mugs don’t include and says he’s partial to the matte black finish.
Haley Boyd, a designer and sustainability enthusiast, has tried more than her fair share of reusable coffee cups over the last few years. She likes this simply shaped option from Japanese brand Kinto best, mostly because of the design. “This cup is my favorite. It’s attractive and comes in a solid color without a huge logo, which is surprisingly hard to find,” she says. Noah McKeown, general manager at Go Get Em Tiger in Los Angeles, uses his Kinto To-Go Tumbler nearly every day. “I like the small-hole sip lid,” he says. “It never spills, but you still get a lot of the coffee aromatics out of it.”
If you’re hoping to keep your coffee hot all day long, Kinto also makes an attractive tumbler. Chris and Lindsay Grodski of S&S Cornershop in Springs, New York, love these simple Japanese tumblers. “These travel tumblers keep your drinks hot or cold for hours,” says Grodski, who appreciates how easy they are to clean and use again. “Our customers love these, and so do we,” she says.
“We’ve definitely seen a movement to eliminate single-use drinkware grow in the coffee industry, particularly in the past year,” says Caran. According to her, if you’re using a mug for coffee, glass or stainless steel is best, because it won’t absorb strong flavors or aromas. “At Partners, we really like the glass mugs made by Joco, an Australian brand that makes a beautiful and functional line of products that are entirely plastic-free,” Caran says.
Fisher says he’s been seeing more and more customers with Frank Green travel mugs. Though they’re made of a special thermoplastic that’s BPA-free and dishwasher-safe (as opposed to ceramic, glass, or stainless steel), Fisher says these tumblers “keep drinks either hot or cold for hours.” He prefers when customers use reusable mugs, cups, or tumblers that are similarly shaped to standard paper cups or ceramics mugs, as that’s what he is used to pouring into. This 12-ounce tumbler fits easily in your hand or your car’s cupholder, and according to Fisher, has “a totally spill-proof lid.”
For a thermal mug, Caran loves the minimal and functional design of this tumbler from Miir. “It’s super-sleek, retains heat (and cold) really well, and never leaks,” she says. It’s also a favorite of Will Pratt, founder and owner of Tandem Coffee Roasters in Portland, Maine. (That’s probably why he works with Miir to make custom Tandem-branded tumblers for the shop.) “The fact that it’s stainless steel means you can throw it in the dishwasher, and it actually gets clean,” he says. “Coffee has sticky oils that leave residue, and there’s nothing worse than a mug that holds that flavor over time.”
Resident coffee snob and Strategist editor Maxine Builder is a fan of Hydro Flask. She particularly loves the model with a Flex Sip lid. “It’s a lot easier to manipulate on the go and actually keeps the hot coffee in there,” she says. The other advantage of this lid is the addition of a hook, which means I can carry it with one finger while I walk my dog in the morning.” Best of all, if you already own a Hydro Flask, you can buy the new lid separately and just replace your old one.
Vivienne Weidmann, formerly of Blue Bottle, reminds us how important good lid design can be with her pick for the best travel tumbler. “What I like about the design of this lid in particular is that the mouth piece is big enough for me to sip the coffee without burning myself and there’s no space for milk or coffee or whatever I’m drinking to dry up and collect in.”
As a former espresso slinger at Marlow & Sons in Brooklyn, Derek Van Heule of Sticks Coffee Roasting in Mariposa, California, has had a while to refine his tumbler tastes. His go-to is the Yeti Rambler. “It fits into my car cupholder — a lot of travel mugs don’t — and it keeps my coffee hot for a long time. I like that it’s simply designed and durable,” he says.
For something that won’t break the bank (or upset you too much if you lose it) Casey Roberts, formerly of Everyman Espresso, is a fan of this snap-top thermos that doesn’t spill or leak. “The Contigo brand is good, especially if you’re looking for something that travels well in a bag.”
Coffee director Gina Gerfao of Blue State Coffee knows it’s important to encourage people if you want to make real change. “Part of our mission is to minimize our environmental impact through sustainable practice