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The only travel coffee mug you’ll ever need

You’ve read the articles. You have your itinerary. Whether it’s a museum, play space, art class, neighborhood exploration day, bookstore, street fest, kid-friendly brunch, or any other plethora of activities Chicago offers for its littlest residents, you’re ready to go. You have your diaper/kid entertainment tote at the ready. You’ve mapped your best and most efficient route, and … you forgot to drink your coffee. 

Quick, what do you do? Stop by a coffee shop on the way out? Hope the destination in question has coffee? Can you manage to wait that long? Be honest. You can’t. So you reach for your portable mug. 

And it’s at this step, this portable-coffee-mug-reaching step, this is where I’m here to tell you that you don’t even know how much I am about to change your life. Your portable coffee (or tea, or whatever) mug is wrong. I’m not even sorry to say it. Unless you have this one item in which to tote your hot beverages, you are missing out. 

Friends, parents, countrymen allow me to introduce you to the ultimate in portable hot liquid carrying: The Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug

In my (vast, vast, vast) experience, there are three main conditions I look for in a portable coffee mug:

Does it keep my coffee hot, and hot for an extended period of time? 

Is it spill-proof? 

Can I easily carry it in various situations (backpack side pocket, car cup holder, etc.)? 

In the past, I considered a mug “good” if I could answer “yes” to two of those questions. Typically, most mugs only met one, if I was lucky.  Until now. 

Zojirushi has a cult following for their incredible smart (“fuzzy logic” is actually the culinary term) rice cookers, and I am here to tell you that as a proud owner of both their rice cooker and coffee mug, their rice cooker is great, but their mug is as close to true-life Harry Potter magic as I’ve ever come across. There is not a millimeter of this coffee mug that isn’t designed with precision. And it’s not just me waxing poetic about it. The New York Times, Lifehacker, Business Insider and quite literally anyone who has one will talk about this mug to the point of you trying to figure out how to politely — but firmly — asking them to stop. 

But, indulge me in explaining why people so willingly have joined the Cult of the Magical Mug. 

Remember, the first (and most) important feature of a good travel coffee mug: the “keeping coffee/tea warm” thing. Frankly, I have not found the limit of when liquids will actually cool down in this mug. I have left this mug in my car in 20-degree weather for six hours and my coffee was still piping hot. If anything, it’s actually the one complaint I have about this coffee mug: it almost keeps the liquid too hot. I have put coffee in it at 7 a.m. only to have it be literally the exact same temperature at 5 p.m. that evening. The trick is to put the liquid in at the temperature you want to drink it, because that is the exact temperature it will stay. Forever, apparently. So parents, no more will you have to microwave your coffee. You can pour your coffee in the mug in the morning and carry it around with you wherever you need to go (even if it’s from the kitchen to the living room) until it’s time to switch to wine. Boom. 

So moving on. Second criteria: spill- and leak-proof. The lid is unlike any I’ve seen on a traveling mug, the main difference with the Zojirushi mug being that the lid actually works at keeping liquid inside the container. The exterior portion of the lid has a click mechanism that also vacuum-seals the interior portion of the mug. This would be enough as it is completely leak-proof at this point, but the clever folks at Zojirushi also realized their mugs would be in the hands of humans, and those humans might be looking after smaller humans, who can easily grab hold of items such as traveling coffee mugs and throw/drop them. That’s why this mug also has a secondary locking feature to make extra sure the lid can’t pop open. I’ve never had an incident without the locking feature in place, but it’s nice to have and easy to operate with one hand. When drinking from the lid you get the sense that it was designed for actual human mouths, which means I have never once had even a drop or dribble while sipping. 

Finally, ease of carrying. Despite being able to keep liquid at molten-lava temperatures the exterior of the mug never gets hot and stays remarkably cool. It’s also slim and straight, which means it fits into all cup holders (car, stroller, backpack, purse side pockets, etc.) without any problems. I have baristas at coffee shops fill it all the time, and sometimes get a tiny discount because, you know, the environment and all. 

Now, in the spirit of fairness, there are a few downsides. First, it’s hand-wash only. However, I put my Zojirushi mug in the class of my Le Creuset cookware: this is a rare breed of food item that is hands-down worth the hand wash. Second, like I said, it keeps my coffee too hot if I’m not careful. I know some people literally have to put their coffee in the freezer with the top off for a little while just to cool it down a little bit before re-sealing. Finally, cost. It runs about $25, but again, this thing will last you forever and you’ll want to use it every single day. A fair trade, in my opinion.

“All right already, you’ve convinced me! Where do I buy this thing already?” 

Good question. The mug can be found at Target, Amazon, Best Buy, Wayfair, Crate & Barrel and more. Feel free to go with whichever retailer you feel is the: most ethical, has the best price, more local, place you have a gift card to, where you have coupons for, or the first one you clicked. 

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