By November 23, 2007

DrFaulken’s insulated coffee mug shootout

My review about the ThinkGeek caffeine molecule insulated mug got me to thinking. Sure, I slammed the mug because it was thin and didn’t seem to be that great at keeping things warm, but was that assessment because of bias against the build quality?

I liberated a thermometer from work for a few days and tested all the mugs I had. It was time to crown a king among my insulated mugs.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/3811-2/IMG_7330.JPG
A short note about the methodology:

  1. I pre-heated each contestant with tap water as hot as it would go — 110F. I let the mug pre-heat for two minutes.
  2. My Upton Tea Imports multi-temperature kettle heated water up to a toasty 200F.
  3. I recorded the temperature of each participant at ten, twenty, thirty, and sixty minute intervals.

Here are your gladiators!
ThinkGeek caffeine molecule mug:
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/3822-2/IMG_7335.JPG
You already know all about this guy. Thinly-walled, I expected this mug to cave compared to other travel mugs.

Brugo Crazy-Sip-Mug:
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/3816-2/IMG_7332.JPG
This mug’s claim to fame is a separate chamber in the top that allows some of the coffee to cool off so you can drink it without waiting for the whole tumbler to cool off. Unfortunately it was gimmicky, and the inside of the mug is plastic. I didn’t expect it to fare very well, either.

Ye Randome Plastick Mug:
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/3824-2/IMG_7336.JPG
The best thing about this mug was that the lid screws on nice and tight. It’s also plastic-clad. I am not sure what brand it is, or where it was purchased from, or how much it cost.

Ceramic mug:
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/3814-2/IMG_7331.JPG
Yep, this is your typical coffee mug. I wanted a low-range contestant, and this bad boy fit the bill.

Generic stainless steel mug:
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/3820-2/IMG_7334.JPG
This was the mug I used before I bought the ThinkGeek one. It seems heavier and better constructed than its caffeine molecule counterpart, but the lid sucks and would shut on me mid-sip. I expected this guy to win.

Starbucks stainless steel solo French press mug:
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/3818-2/IMG_7333.JPG
I am going to review this fairly soon, so I don’t want to say too much about it. It’s a sixteen ounce stainless steel mug with a plastic plunger and filter inside. It allows you to make enough French press for your average human being. I would put its heft and build quality in between the Generic mug and the ThinkGeek one.

Thermos airpot:
http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/3826-2/IMG_7337.JPG
I love this thing. It was $15 at Target, is glass lined, and keeps things hot for about four hours. Not very portable, but I wanted something to benchmark the rest of the mugs against.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/3830-2/thermos_shootout_graph.gif

I expected the glass-lined Thermos airpot to be the champion in this test, and I wasn’t disappointed. After an initial twenty degree drop, the airpot only lost two degrees during the entire test hour. Also as expected, the ceramic mug fared the worst, its final measurement a chilly ninety degrees. The way the rest of the contestants stacked up was a bit of a surprise.

I previously thought that stainless steel mugs always trumped plastic ones. The Brugo, which I was so disappointed with I didn’t even bother to write a review on, turned out to be pretty damn efficient. It tied for second place in overall heat retention over an hour. On the other hand, the generic plastic mug was second to last, only better than the straight up ceramic mug.

The biggest surprise of the test was that my much-aligned ThinkGeek mug turned out to be the top portable performer. It suffered the least initial drop in temperature, and kept its contents ten degrees warmer than the next closest mug after an hour. My “heavy duty” stainless steel mug that I picked to win the shootout finished fourth at 130F. The Starbucks mug was very strange: it was better than the Brugo until the thirty minute mark, then the Brugo was on top by a few degrees, then they both tied with a final temp of 138F.

This test really opened my eyes, and brought about a lot of surprise and disappointment. How should one judge a good insulated mug before you buy it? Heft? Nope, the thinner, flimsier-feeling ThinkGeek mug was the top performer. Material? Nope — a plastic-clad mug bested one stainless steel mug and tied another. The only thing I can say for sure is that a glass-cored vessel is going to out perform everything, but good luck not only finding a glass-core mug, but not keeping it from shattering during normal use.

I’ve adjusted my review of the ThinkGeek mug, and have upgraded it to a holiday gift recommended item. Who would have thought?

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7 Comments on "DrFaulken’s insulated coffee mug shootout"

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  1. Configures says:

    Hey, that’s pretty neat! It just goes to show what benchmark tests are for. I think your testing at different intervals was a smart idea, and I like your chart.

    Do you almost always pre-warm your mugs? That would probably not be my normal practice, but I know I am not as much of a coffee devotee as you are.

    (currently drinking coffee made by one of my sisters @ 6:30 am)

  2. Configures says:

    Huh, time stamp weirdness. It’s 6:44 am here, honest!

  3. drfaulken says:

    Thanks for the kudos. :) I have always pre-heated my mugs when I had the chance. After this test I am heating them with the 200F water from the Upton kettle. When I make French press coffee at home, I even pre-heat the press carafe with hot water, too!

  4. Linda says:

    Is that the Thermos airpot or airport? You mention it both ways.

  5. drfaulken says:

    Hi Linda, thanks for the catch. I fixed the one instance of “airport.” It was mentioned as “airpot” in the rest of the article, I just glossed over my mistake. Thanks!

  6. drfaulken says:

    Linda, here’s a direct link to the product on Target.com — search for “Thermos” in case the link changes in the future:

    Thermos 2Qt airpot

  7. krash says:

    Just wondering if any one knows of a good insulated travel mug that is microwavable.

    I know microwaving coffee is against the god beans, but I am a really slow drinker and can nurse a cup, some times for days.
    KRASH

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