I can hear my better half, Steve, now: “Do you really need a dedicated travel tea mug? Can’t you brew a cup of tea and then use any ol’ travel mug to take it on the go?”
Yeah, babe, you could. (And he probably knows what’s coming next.) But I like to have the right tool for the job, and there is good reason to be particular when it comes to a travel tea mug.
Sure, I could place loose tea leaves in a single-use paper steeper or basket steeper and use my favorite travel coffee mug for the job, but travel tea mugs are made with built-in tea steepers (ones that allow you to tightly close the lid while your tea steeps), which means no waste and a hotter finished brew. Plus, coffee mugs tend to take on coffee flavor over time. A dedicated travel tea mug helps keeps a serious tea drinker’s tea tasting pure and clean.
In my quest for the best travel mug to take my cuppa on the road, I sought out a leak-proof model that ranked high in the heat retention department. I also wanted a mug that was easy to grip and to drink from. And because it’s nice to have stylish gear, one that looked good, too. Here are my winning picks and how I tested:
We tested 12 tea steepers to find the one that makes the very best brew every time.
The Very Best Tea Infuser Travel Mug: The Tea Spot Everest Tea Tumbler
The Everest’s double-walled, vacuum-sealed stainless steel insulation kept 22 ounces of tea hot and fresh tasting, and its screw down BPA-free top was terrifically leak-proof. I fell hard for its rugged adventure-meets-urban-chic look, and had a hard time deciding which of its four stylish colors I liked best.
The Everest also won my vote for smart design and functionality with an innovative screw-top and sipping mechanism that stay connected to the mug while you drink (which means when you remove the part of the lid that allows you to drink your tea, it won’t go tumbling down a cliff, through a subway grate, or down between that impossibly narrow space between the seat of your car and your cup-holding console).
The stainless steel steeper basket on this model provided ample room for water and tea leaves to mingle as my tea steeped, and its small holes kept fine leaves from passing into my tea, making a clean and full-tasting brew. The easy to grip exterior is much like that of the popular Hydro Flask water bottle so, if you’re a Hydro Flask fan, you’ll likely love The Tea Spot Everest, too.
The Everest fit well in a tote bag and was also comfortable to carry on the outside of a backpack, using a carabiner clip. And, like all of the travel tea mugs I tested, it can be used for iced tea as well as plain or infused fruit (aka spa) water.
The Next Best (aka Runner Up) Travel Tea Infuser Mug: The Tea Spot Voyager Tea Tumbler
The Voyager, also by The Tea Spot, won my runner-up vote. At 16-ounces, it’s a smaller mug than the Everest but that’s where most of the differences end. This mug kept my tea hot and fresh for 6 hours, and is fitted with the same type of high quality stainless steel steeper basket as the Everest. Its smartly designed leak-proof lid has a comfortable, easy to drink from sip-cup style and doesn’t require removing to use—simply press down on a pop top to drink, then press it again to lock the top into spill-free mode. With its sleek metallic, glossy finish and no loop handle (for carabiner or finger hold), this model is stylistically more ‘urban’ than ‘adventure’, but also, according to highly-rated reviews for both products, a bit more vulnerable to scratches than the Everest. It’s easy to grip and carries well in a tote bag or pocket of a backpack or gym bag.
Other Brands I Tried:
Zojirushi travel mug with tea filter shocked me and my editor when this mug didn’t win over my other contenders. Though this darling brand of the product review world took the gold in our best travel coffee mug test and kept my tea even hotter than its competitors at 6 hours, it is designed with a problematic steeping mechanism. To use this mug, you place loose tea leaves inside and add hot water. A filter fitted at the top of the mug blocks the leaves from flowing out while you drink your tea, but, as any true tea drinker knows, for however long you travel with your tea, the tea continues steeping. So, whether we’re talking a few minutes post-ideal steep time or several hours, you’ll be drinking an over-steeped brew (not tasty!). (One reviewer on Amazon noted that tea leaves can be put into the strainer basket, steeped with the mug turned upside down, and then removed. But the basket is so small that, though this works with some tea leaf types, it allows neither ample space for leaves to mingle with water while steeping, nor enough room for large loose tea leaf varieties to steep.) The top, which is made up of multiple and functionally unclear parts (a pain to both wash and keep track of), must be entirely removed to drink the tea, which makes it awkward if not impossible to safely drink from on the go. Used as a canteen-style tea-steeping vessel (to pour tea from as soon as it’s steeped) or to keep tea that’s brewed in a bag or independently from and then transferred to the mug incredibly hot for over 6 hours, this is a great product, but as an on-the-go tea mug, it doesn’t cut the mustard.
The four remaining models I tested, the Uendure Glass Infuser Travel Mug, the Lotus Glass Tea Tumbler, the Pure Zen Tea Tumbler, and the Sacred Lotus Love Sacred Glass Tea Infuser Tumbler were constructed of glass and sell in the $25 to $28 range. None of them (even with easy-to-grip insulating neoprene sleeves complete with nifty loops for carrying) had heat retention capability that came anywhere close to that of my winning contenders, and, though they were sexy looking, they were too fragile for true on-the-go usage. (A note that came with one of the models warned that the glass “may break if you drop it, knock it, or bang it with a metal spoon”.) Their open top lids made for challenging drinking on the go. So, while these might be stylish for drinking at a desk (though you’ll have to watch your keyboard if the mug gets knocked over), they’re too fragile and not practical for real on the go use.
How I Tested
I brewed loose black tea in seven leading travel tea mugs. After brewing the tea, I removed the tea basket and took the temperature of each mug’s tea using a digital thermometer. I closed the lids tightly, then measured the temperature of each tea again after 1 hour, 4 hours, and 6 hours, recording the change in temperature at each interval.
In the breaks between temperature takes, I rolled my tightly closed filled travel tea mugs on the floor; turned them upside down, and gave them all a good shaking around to test for leaks. I took a look at how many parts came with each model and how easy they were to clean. I also considered sipping mechanism design, steeper basket quality (did the basket allow ample room for proper steeping), overall durability, and style.
The company Tea Spot makes the best tea infuser travel mugs—models that brew a great cup of tea and are easy to take on the go. Buy the Everest Tumbler for slightly larger capacity and a more rugged, outdoor-adventure-ready design. Buy the Voyager for a smaller travel tea mug that's perfect for urban commuters.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious