This is the future, coffee lovers. We don't use film cameras anymore. We don't use screechy dial-up modems to connect to the internet. And we certainly don't tolerate cold coffee or cocoa — not when there are self-heating mugs capable of precise temperature control. Because, look, I want my last sip to be the same temperature as my first, even if I nurse that cup for an entire hour. And now that I've experienced exactly that, I can't go back to crummy ceramic mugs that let heat escape all willy-nilly. I can't. I won't! This is the future. And these are the best heated coffee mugs — and some of the best gifts — you can buy right now.
Let me start with the bad news: With only one real exception, these things are expensive. If you want perpetually hot coffee and tea, plan on spending at least $40 — but more likely closer to $100. So, yeah, break open the piggy bank or put this on your holiday wish-list.
That said, totally worth it. I've used one of these for years and consider it a prized possession. Once you get accustomed to always-perfect drinking temperature, it's really hard to give up. No more rushing to finish, no repeated trips to the microwave to reheat and then wait while it cools down enough to drink.
You might argue that a coffee mug warmer (you know, those $15 Mr. Coffee things) would accomplish the same goal for a fraction of the price, but most pale in comparison. Usually they're just on or off, with no option to set a temperature, and you have to stay tethered to that warmer if you want ongoing heat. A self-heating mug goes where you go.
How do heated coffee mugs work?
These cups have two features normal ceramic mugs don't: a heating element and a rechargeable battery, both embedded in the base. They're typically charged by placing the cup on a "coaster" (cute!) or heating plate that plugs into an AC outlet, though there is one product here that relies on an ordinary USB-C plug.
About that heating element: It's important to understand that these mugs don't turn cold drinks into hot ones — they're not electric kettles — but rather keep an already hot drink at temperature. (Think: coffee from the pot or tea from the kettle.) If you place it back on its charging coaster after each sip, you can keep that temp steady all day. I feel like that defeats the purpose, though, as stated above. So take note of each mug's rated battery life, which indicates how long it'll keep the heat flowing after it leaves the dock.
Depending on your set temperature, battery life can range from around 40-80 minutes. You might understandably balk at that if you typically drink multiple cups throughout the day, as the mug won't last you far beyond the first one. If you use a lid (which helps keeps the heat in, natch), these times can double or even triple. I don't love that option, as it robs coffee and espresso of its all-important aroma, but it might save you a trip back to the dock.
How I tested the mugs
I tested each mug by making it part of my morning routine: filled it with hot joe (from a pour-over carafe, if you're curious), set the temperature as closely as possible to around 140 degrees, then proceeded to sip it over the course of about 30 minutes. Sometimes I'd get pulled away, maybe to let the dog out or answer nature's call, and the consumption would stretch closer to an hour.
I'm glad to report that every mug here sailed through that simple test. After a quick rinse and dry (unsurprisingly, these things can't go in the dishwasher), it was back to the dock until I was ready for my next hot beverage.
The two heated travel mugs, from Ember and Muggo, were a bit different because they're, well, travel mugs. They're specifically designed to be used with lids, which you'd think would translate to better battery life (because there's almost no heat escaping through the top). Alas, the benefits there are pretty negligible, and in fact many insulated non-self-heating travel mugs can keep coffee warm for just as long — for a fraction of the price.
And speaking of price, if your budget simply won't accommodate any of the products in this story, you could at least try a mug warmer for your home office. This one sells for around $25 and lets you choose between three temperature settings.
Capacity: 12 ounces | Color options: Black, white, bronze | Temperature options: 3 presets | Rated battery life: Not specified | Charging method: Coaster | Lid included: Yes
Sold exclusively at Walmart, the IonMug costs just $40 — way less than other self-heating mugs I've found. So how does it compare to cups costing 2-3 times more? Surprisingly well, though it's not without issues.
You can get this in black, white or bronze; like other mugs, it comes with a coaster-style charging dock. Unlike other mugs (most of them, anyway), it has an actual numeric display embedded in the side. This shows the currently selected preset temperature — 135, 140 or 145 — which is cool but for one thing: The number flashes until the temp is actually reached, which I find distracting (especially on a dark morning).
It would be nice if this display could indicate battery status as well, but that's relegated to a colored LED that illuminates only when the mug is actually charging. And then the display shows "- -" instead of a number. Why not "CH" for "charging" or something? This isn't a dealbreaker by any means, just kind of a head-scratching implementation. I wish there was something to let you know the battery was running low.
Speaking of which, the Walmart product page indicates "up to 3 hours" of battery life, but the IonMug box plainly states "up to 2 hours." I asked Tzumi customer service to clarify and was told that "you can expect up to 3 hours at 135 [degrees] with the lid on." The company won't comment on heating times with the lid off.
Like a lot of mugs, this one has a power button embedded in the bottom. You press it repeatedly to toggle between standby and the three temperature presets. This isn't a big deal if you remember to set the temp before pouring in your beverage. If you forget, it's quite awkward to press that button with a full, hot cup.
So from a usability standpoint, the IonMug isn't great. But it works, and it's easy enough to adapt to its idiosyncrasies. My larger concern is with the smattering of Walmart customer reviews indicating reliability issues: Some mugs apparently stopped charging properly after a few weeks or months.
Thankfully, the IonMug comes with a 1-year warranty, and there's tech-support contact information listed in the instruction manual. With only a couple days of testing under my belt, I can't say for sure how this will fare long-term. For the moment, though, it's the self-heating mug bargain to beat.
The Nextmug stands alone: no Bluetooth, no app. To turn it on, you press a button. To cycle between the three available temperatures — warm (135 degrees), hot (140) and piping (145) — you press that button again. LEDs near the bottom show battery and temp status.
In a way I prefer this simplicity to the more complex mugs from Ember and Vsitoo, though I do find the power button a bit awkwardly placed (it's hard to see without lifting the mug a bit) and wish there were a few more temperature choices.
Curiously, although the Nextmug has a sensor that will shut down the heater if there's no liquid detected for 60 seconds, there's no auto-on sensor. The Ember has one: It starts heating the moment coffee or anything else hits the cup.
Battery life is pretty average: Nextmug promises up to 40 minutes of heating on the piping setting, 1.2 hours on hot and 1.4 hours on warm. However, the included plastic lid not only helps prevent spills, but also nearly doubles the battery life at each setting. Personally, I don't like covering my coffee with a lid, but the option is there if you want it.
After several days using the Nextmug, I found myself mostly satisfied with it. As noted, the power button is a little awkward to use because of where it's placed, but that's a minor nitpick. The key takeaway is that it keeps my cup of coffee hot while I'm drinking it, and it's $100 instead of $150.
On the flipside, Tzumi's IonMug also has three temperature presets and a battery-saving lid, and it's less than half the price. Meanwhile, Vsitoo's mug is more versatile and costs only $20 more. So while I like the Nextmug, I wish it had a lower price.
Capacity: 14 ounces | Color options: Black, white | Temperature options: 8 presets | Rated battery life: 1-8 hours | Charging method: Coaster | Lid included: Yes
Don't ask me how to pronounce "Vsitoo," because I have no answer. What I can tell you is how the company's S3 Pro mug compares to the Ember mug, with which it shares many similarities. For starters, there's a companion app available, one that connects via Bluetooth and lets you adjust temperature. It's also an attractive item, rivaling the Ember in form and finish. But this mug costs $30 less. Is it the ultimate Ember alternative?
Not quite, in part because it doesn't automatically turn on when liquid is detected (though it is smart enough to stop heating when your drink is gone). Thankfully, it's very easy to turn on manually; you just touch the illuminated power button, which resides beneath a row of little LEDs that indicate the current temperature selection. There are eight to choose from; you cycle between them by touching the button repeatedly. Each time a touch is registered, the mug vibrates subtly, a totally unnecessary but pretty cool design flourish.
The touch button serves another purpose, but it's kind of weird: When you pick up the mug, it will illuminate blue, orange or red to indicate the current temperature range of the coffee. (It will also flash red when the battery gets below 10%.) I don't find a lot of value in this information, though I guess it might help you avoid unpleasant surprises (like a drink that's hotter than you expected). Mostly it just seems confusing. Temperature range? And I need to remember what those ranges are based on the color?
I typically just ignored this. I also didn't use the Vsitoo app very much, instead relying on a few button presses to turn on the mug and set my preferred temp. There's one small oddity about that, though: the numbers above the LEDs are in Celsius. Like most Americans, I'm not well-acquainted with that. Fortunately, if you remember that the lowest one (30) works out to about 86 degrees Fahrenheit and the top (65) equals 149, you can pretty easily guess where to set it for your tea or coffee.
Alternately, the Vsitoo app lets you choose Fahrenheit as your preferred unit, the better to be precise about your temperature selection. Just one problem: The mug's eight presets extend to the app as well. So you can't, for example, set it to 143 degrees; your closest choices are 140 and 149. This is where the S3 Pro doesn't quite measure up to the Ember, which lets you set any temperature you want.
There's not much more to the app than that, though it does have a battery gauge displayed prominently on the main screen and four shortcuts for various beverages (warm water, coffee, tea and milk). You can add more of these presets if you like, though remember you're still constrained to the eight available temperatures.
You may have noticed that Vsitoo promises up to an eight-hour battery life, but keep in mind that would be possible only at the lowest temperature setting (86 Fahrenheit) and with the lid in place the entire time. If you skip the lid and crank it to, say, 140 for coffee or the like, you'll probably get more like 80 minutes. That's still better than Ember, though, and still $30 less out of your pocket. The S3 Pro isn't perfect, but it's a very good heated mug.
Capacity: 14 ounces (10-ounce available) | Color options: Black, white, red, gray | Temperature options: 120-145 degrees, set in app | Rated battery life: Up to 80 minutes | Charging method: Coaster | Lid included: No
Ember is the self-heating mug that made me fall in love with self-heating mugs. It was among the first, and it's arguably the best heated coffee mug — at least for anyone seeking ultra-precise temperature controls and total automation.
The 14-ounce Mug2 model, the one I tested, comes in your choice of four colors, including a dazzling red that benefits charity. There's also a slick metallic collection with four more choices (copper, gold, etc.), but those come at an even more premium price ($180). There are 10-ounce Ember mugs, too, all priced at $130-$150 (depending on color).
Regardless of size or style, the app-controlled mug links to your phone via Bluetooth; an eponymous app lets you dial the heat setting anywhere from 120 to 145 degrees Fahrenheit. You'll get an alert when it hits that ideal temperature, nice if you want to go do something else for a few minutes until your latte is juuuust right.
The app also lets you set a countdown timer for brewing tea and even choose a color for the mug's status LED, which glows soothingly while heating is in progress and turns red when battery power runs low. I wish actual battery-remaining percentage was more prominently displayed in the app; as it stands, you have to delve into settings to find it.
Here's what I love most about the Ember: I don't have to turn it on. Once I pour a liquid in, it immediately starts heating. When the drink is gone, it turns off. It's a minor thing, but I love not having to futz with a power button or temperature settings. I don't really even have to use the app after the first time; once I've set my preferred temp, it's "locked in" until I change it.
My only real complaint is that Ember doesn't provide a lid, which would keep the coffee hot a lot longer and let me hop in the car with it if I need to. This is still my favorite heated mug; a lid would help make it a perfect one.
Capacity: 12 ounces | Color options: Black | Temperature options: 120-145 degrees | Rated battery life: Up to 3 hours | Charging method: Dock | Lid included: Yes
If you like the idea of Ember's app-powered mug but want a to-go version, look no further. The Ember travel mug is designed with cars and cup-holders in mind, with a tapered bottom and spill-proof lid. However, there's no easy way to charge it on the road, and the price tag may bring tears to your eyes.
Make no mistake, it's a premium product. If Apple made a self-heating travel mug, it would likely be this one. Like the non-travel version, it automatically detects liquid and turns on (or off) accordingly, charges via a coaster-style dock and pairs with your phone for app-based controls. But here there's an embedded alphanumeric display that shows temperature, battery status and more, along with touch controls for manually adjusting the temperature — no app required.
This is really cool; the display is effectively invisible until you touch the Ember logo, at which point it lights up. Touch repeatedly to cycle through the four options, one of them being plus/minus buttons that appear above the display. When you tap those, there's actually an audible click so you know your tap has registered. (How does this thing have a speaker in it?)
Another cool touch: Within the app you can give the mug a name, and it'll scroll ticker-style across the display.
The lid screws onto the mug and seals tight to prevent leaks. When you want to drink, you press the spring-loaded center to open a 360-degree gap. That means you can sip without having to find the little hole that's common in a lot of travel coffee mugs. Here the coffee arrives at your lips from any side.
That's practical, but it takes a little practice to manage the flow of coffee when you're drinking — especially as you get near the bottom and have to tilt the mug higher. (There was some... dribbling.) I'm also a little turned off at having to touch the pop-top, especially if an errant sip leaves a little coffee pooled in there. Now I just dipped a finger in it.
My real complaint, though, is with the charging dock. If I'm taking a road trip, I can't recharge the Ember while driving, nor at a hotel unless I've packed the dock. Muggo's travel mug (below) solves this with a simple USB-C charging port (though that's not without issues as well). For $200, a self-heating travel mug should be smarter about travel.
Indeed, because I haven't won the lottery lately, it's unlikely I'd ever spend $200 on even the best coffee mug, regardless of what it can do. (Believe me, I struggle to justify Ember's $150 standard mug as well.) I suspect that most folks seeking hot travel coffee in the car will be just as happy with a $20-$30 insulated tumbler.
Capacity: 12 ounces | Color options: Black | Temperature options: 95-160 degrees | Rated battery life: Up to 3 hours | Charging method: USB-C | Lid included: Yes
On paper, the Muggo travel mug looks like a winner, offering some great features at an affordable price. At $90 it's less than half the price of Ember's tumbler, and because it relies on a USB-C charger to its built-in battery instead of a dock, it's much easier to recharge while traveling. Unfortunately, the Muggo suffers from a couple issues that keep it out of "best" contention.
It's a handsome mug, no question, but the glossy finish shows fingerprints aplenty, unlike the matte Ember. To turn it on (or off), you touch the plus/minus buttons for two seconds. Those buttons also raise and lower temperature, anywhere from 95 on up to 160 degrees. An embedded display shows your selected temp, while a stack of LEDs indicates battery remaining. So far, so good.
The "360" lid works just like Ember's, but has a much flimsier-feeling spring mechanism. The real problem is that it doesn't let coffee flow smoothly; I found it came out too little or too much, depending on how far I tilted the mug. It's something you can get used to, but the last thing I want is an accidental gush of hot coffee.
I also found that unless I popped the lid up (i.e. closed) after each sip, the Muggo wouldn't maintain my set temperature. If I left it open, the temp would drop a degree or two after a few minutes. By closing it, the temp would eventually creep back up, but to me this is a design failure; most of the other mugs in this group can maintain temperature even without a lid, let alone one that's letting only a little heat escape.
Here's my main problem with the Muggo, a potentially serious one: The USB-C charging port is exposed. If you're not extremely careful while rinsing the mug, water could easily drip inside. This might explain some of the user reviews complaining that the mug stopped charging after a few weeks; just a little water inside that port could easily cause a short-circuit. Muggo needs to seriously consider adding a port cover in the next iteration.
That said, I should also note that a lot of the Amazon reviews reference a previous version of the Muggo, one that relied on a dock and removable battery base. Needless to say, those reviews don't apply here.
If there's a Muggo 3 in the works, then, it needs a better lid, more powerful heating element and protected charging port. As it stands, I can't recommend it.