Travel mugs are personal things. Even if we're not traveling much right now, they go where we go during Coffee Hours. They are also surprisingly finicky. Notably, most of them are not dishwasher-safe, or are what you might call “dishwasher averse.” It's a weird statement on our priorities and interests when some mugs have apps and built-in USB-charging heaters, yet we're supposed to wash most of the travel mugs on the market by hand.
So I was excited when a media rep for the all-things-kitchen brand Oxo mentioned in passing that the company’s new travel mug was entirely dishwasher safe. So new and peculiar was the idea to both the rep and me, that they ended up needing to confirm with their product team that both the plastic lid and the vacuum-sealed bottom could go into the machine.
For years, I've used a Vessel Drinkware travel mug I bought at Seattle's Empire Coffee and Records. The paint eventually flaked, and I ended up chipping it all off entirely to reveal a stainless steel mug that still manages to look pretty sharp. Barring any misfortunes, it has another couple of years left in it. The downside is that the top is fussy to clean, and neither the top nor bottom can go into the dishwasher.
While I am used to handwashing the mug, I'd rather not be. As a result, it spends an impressive amount of time in the purgatory pile above the dishwasher and just to the left of the sink, the spot where my wife Elisabeth and I put stuff we're too lazy to clean right away.
Insulated stainless steel travel mugs that are dishwasher-safe are surprisingly rare birds. Tops often can't handle a wash cycle because the extreme heat inside the machine can warp and soften the plastic. Double-walled bottoms might lose their coats of paint or have their temperature-preserving abilities compromised.Hot Stuff
The brand-new Oxo Good Grips Thermal Mug with SimplyClean Lid, which comes in 16- and 20-ounce sizes, was impressive straight away, with a firm build and a lid that disassembles into four parts—three interlocking discs and a gasket—all of which slide easily onto the top-shelf silverware rack in my dishwasher. It kept my coffee hot, seemed reasonably spill-proof, and looked pretty good. To be thorough, I ordered a bunch of its top-rated competitors, creating a hybrid list from the favorites of our friends at America's Test Kitchen and The Wirecutter.
What surprised me most was how much this “travel mug” category needs to be cleaved in two. In the “adventure” camp would be the folks who want screaming hot liquid for the entirety of their 12-mile hike. They may also wish to throw their mug into a bag, roll that bag down the hill, and not worry about the fuzzy fleece they packed getting leaked on. The other group would be the "hey dude, I just like my coffee to be hot when I get downtown" commuters. There might be some limited jostling on the train. The Oxo seems to fall in this latter camp.
Perhaps it says something depressing about my lifestyle, but the “adventure” style models and their bottle-like shape weren't my thing. These tend to look like thermoses with flip-top lids and they hold heat incredibly well—to the point that you might scald your lips hours after you fill it. They also have locking, tightly sealed lids that don't leak. They're also typically hand-wash only, and their flip-open lids with their clasps and buttons are a pain to clean.
That said, I'm a big fan of Zojirushi's well-made products, and the mugs I looked at—the SM-SE and the SM-KHE—are no exception. Like the travel-mug cousins of Hermione Granger's magical bottomless bag, the compact Zojis seem to be able to hold a surprising amount of liquid compared to the competition. One caveat with the brand is that there are a slew of different models available, especially on Amazon, so try to find versions where the clasp is below the lip of the spout for greater drinking pleasure (opt for the SE, not the KHE in this case).