Before I review any gadget, I need my cup o’ Joe. There’s nothing like a piping hot cup of coffee to get the creative juices flowing. So it’s particularly fitting that I have the opportunity to review the Contigo Randolph stainless steel travel mug. While most travel mugs are tumblers without handles, the Randolph mug has a handle which makes it easy to hold with gloves or mittens. Read on to see if you should grab one of your own.
What’s in the box?
The mug comes with an insert that provides directions on proper use and cleaning:
It is important to note that Contigo recommends washing the painted base by hand; it is safe to wash the plastic lid in the top rack of a dishwasher.
The empty container weighs about 11 ounces. It’s not too heavy, but its empty weight could cause you to believe that you have one more sip inside when, in fact, it’s empty. The handle feels sturdy. There is some noticeable movement if the handle is held tightly and torqued by pushing against the base of the mug. However, this is unlikely to happen on a day to day basis and will certainly not impact the performance of the mug while drinking.
The threads on the lid easily engage with the base and is securely attached after a little more than a quarter-turn. The threads are wide enough that there is no chance of cross threading the lid, and they operate smoothly enough so that it is intuitive when the lid is fully threaded and secure. Along the top of the threads, inside the lid, is a beveled gasket that seals against the inside lip of the base. The product insert doesn’t indicate that this gasket should be removed, but I’m unsure how well even a dishwasher can clean around it and behind it.
The exterior is a painted steel. I think the watermelon color usually appears as a lustrous translucent maroon painted on brushed steel finish. Only in bright direct light does it take on a watermelon hue. Notwithstanding, It seems to me to be a very gender neutral design. The base is labeled with “Contigo” in stylized white letters. The interior is a polished stainless steel. The weld seams left from laser welding are still visible along the inside. (Any gadget that requires laser beams as part of the manufacturing process has an extra cool factor, right?) The stainless steel base has a very weak response to an extremely strong magnet. While this normally be a sign of inferior stainless steel, some magnetism is acceptable given the amount of welding and forming required to make this item.
How well does it work?
The shape of the handle makes holding the mug very comfortable. The handle is thick enough that it doesn’t require extra squeezing effort to hold and it won’t slip in your hands when being held. The top underside of the handle rests comfortably on your index finger and makes the AUTOSEAL button at the top of the handle easy to reach. A sliding lock is also easy to engage or release with a push or tug of the thumb, but it locks in place so that accidental opening is unlikely. You can see the locked handle below:
The AUTOSEAL button is easy to press. When depressed for the first time after filling the mug you will hear a slight pop as pressure that has built up inside the mug is released through the vent. The lever on top of the lid opens the vent, mounted centrally under the lid, before it opens the pour valves. You can see the black vent at the center of the photo here and the black gasketed tab on the open handle that actuates it.
Drinking from this mug is different than from other Contigo models. First of all it has a handle, so there are two openings to drink from to accommodate left or right-handed drinkers. On the Contigo West Loop style lid, your upper lip seals against the top of the lid. It’s easy to drink from even while driving on a pot-hole filled New England road. On this model, drinking is more like from a traditional mug. There is a chance that liquid may be splashed or spilled from the gap between your mouth and the lid. Also hot liquid may hit your top lip, which is more sensitive to scalding, if you pour too quickly. This all may be me getting used to this type of mug after having used the west loop style for so long. One final consideration is that the pour spout only opens a little bit; anything larger than the gap pictured below will get stuck in the mug and may prevent sealing of the spout so that it leaks.
When you’re done with your drink it’s time to clean your mug. With a simple twist of the tab at the base and a flick of the thumb at the back of the AUTOSEAL lever, the lid opens up so that it may be cleaned according to the manufacturer’s directions.
There are a couple of springs and a gasket that contacts the liquid, but for the most part this is a very cleanable lid considering it has a spring closure. You can see above that they provided a drain hole in the handle so that dishwasher liquid will not accumulate inside it.
Does it live up to its claims?
Let’s make some coffee, eh? The first thing I notice is that this model, even though it claims to fit under most single serve makers, still requires that I remove the drip tray from my Keurig. If it were just a little shorter then it would fit with ease. However, If I try to fill the container with 16 oz. of coffee it fill to above the threading, which will cause the mug to spill when closed. It would be great if the mug was a little taller or a little shorter.
Ok, now for some science. Contigo claims that their technology can keep drinks hot for 4 hours. First, we need to determine what hot is. Brewed coffee is usually 195°F to 205°F, coffee from a hot plate is usually 180°F and when it is served into a cup it’s usually around 165°F. Clearly there will be some cooling after any amount of time in the mug. Let say that in order to be hot, it needs to be hotter than a steaming hot shower; that’s usually around 120°F.
I poured as much coffee into the mug as it holds. I opened the lid interior up as if it were to be cleaned and secured the lid to the base so that the two drinking holes are open. I inserted a meat thermometer into one of the drinking holes and angled it towards the center of the mug to take temperature readings. I took measurements for four hours; the data I collected is presented below:
It would seem that after 4 hours a hot drink that started at 175°F will be good enough for a steaming hot shower at 121°F, but won’t be that hot to drink. Still, even after 90 minutes the mug holds the contents at close to 150°F. Most people probably finish their drink after 90 minutes so the insulating capability is probably sufficient for most.
I didn’t test the claim that the mug will keep things cool for 12 hours. Instead, I used the data I gathered above to calculate the temperature using Newton’s Law of Cooling. For water that starts off at 32°F, the temperature of the water will be 42°F after 12 hours if kept in a 68°F environment. It seems that if you add some ice to the cup it will stay cool for a lot longer than that.
The Contigo Randolph stainless steel travel mug should be a useful tool for those that are on the go but still want a hot or cold beverage to go with them. The handle really does help to keep the mug in hand while wearing gloves. The AUTOSEAL function does work as claimed and prevented leaks and spills no matter how many times I tipped it. It would be great if the size were just a bit different (taller or shorter). Also if the lid had an internal insulating layer below the existing top layer it could keep liquids hot for much longer. Perhaps Contigo will make a part like this available as an add-on in the future.
The Contigo Randolph stainless steel travel mug is available from GoContigo for $22.99 and other online retailers. A replacement cover is also available from GoContigo for $6.00.