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Food & Wine How to elevate your morning coffee with the perfect mug

Even the most casual wine drinker would think twice about pouring pinot noir into a champagne flute, but many coffee and tea lovers slurp their morning brew out of poorly designed promo mugs.

And while this might sound like a matter of personal preference, experts agree that there is such a thing as the wrong cup, and it can make your hot drink a lot less enjoyable. Just as different types of wine glasses are designed to enhance different varietals, the right cup can improve your morning ritual, change the temperature of your beverage and, yes, even boost the flavour of your coffee or tea. With that in mind, I set out to find the best of the best drinking vessels for a morning (or afternoon or evening) cuppa.

The travel mug

Zojirushi SM-SD48, $49.99 through amazon.ca.

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Finding the ultimate travel mug is a relatively easy endeavour. Since they’re gadgets as much as drinking vessels, these mini-thermoses are the subject of geeky online enthusiasm, and the question of the best brand has been exhaustively scrutinized by forum dwellers, bloggers and tech sites. Most of them agree: Zojirushi is king.

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Consumer website The Wirecutter says that “after years of long-term testing,” the Japanese manufacturer’s SM series is top of the class. Its double-walled stainless-steel body keeps hot drinks extremely hot. I filled mine with boiling water and put it in the freezer overnight to test the insulation claims, and in the morning it was still almost too hot to drink. The double lock means you can chuck it in your backpack, but it pops open with one hand. It’s the height of cup technology.

The matte-black 16-ounce model I ordered from Amazon looks like the Batmobile, but there are options for those with more adventurous taste, including champagne-gold and lavender-pink.

Zojirushi SM-SD48, $49.99 through amazon.ca.

The coffee cup

Shirley Wong has been to hundreds of Vancouver coffee shops over the past five years for Vancouver Barista, the blog she runs with her husband, Mike. As a result, she has strong opinions about cups.

“There’s definitely a hipster trend towards handmade, handleless ceramic cups made by local artisans. Those are beautiful to photograph on Instagram but they’re not very practical,” she says.

Wong opts for “pretty and practical” porcelain cups, and is convinced she’s found the best in the world: the LINO by Los Angeles design firm notNeutral. She likes it so much that after using it at cafés, she bought the mug version for herself at home. It’s designed with a wide mouth, which allows a drinker’s nose to take in more of the coffee’s aroma, enhancing their perception of its flavour (a consideration which also applies to good teacups).

“They have a thicker base than the average cup so they retain heat in your drink longer. They’ve got a modern, stylish design with that signature swooping handle. It’s ergonomic, too. I love the softly rounded, thick rim of the lip, which gives this silky mouth feel.”

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NotNeutral LINO coffee mug, $21 through eightouncecoffee.ca.

I went to try the cup out for myself at Toronto’s Sorry Coffee and I’m inclined to agree. The aroma is strong, the lip is smooth and the handle, which is thick to grip but light where it rests on your finger, feels like a game changer.

“There’s no going back once you get a great cup,” Wong says. “You’ll never pull that insurance-company promo mug from your cupboard again.”

notNeutral LINO coffee mug, $21 through eightouncecoffee.ca.

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Just my cup of tea

When it comes to finding the best teacup, personal preference is important, but Marisha Golla, owner of the House of Tea in Toronto and a former tea taster at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Plantation Industries, says great teacups have certain key features.

Cups for green tea should be small because it should be enjoyed fresh: Smaller cups make for faster drinking. Cups for black tea should have ergonomic handles, walls that keep the tea hot and lips with good mouth feel, but the most important factor of all is the material.

“Plastic is a disaster,” Golla says. “Metal is really bad because it can interact with the chemical compounds in the tea. Clay I wouldn't use because it's porous. I can only recommend porcelain or well-done stoneware.”

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More porous materials such as clay, bamboo or poorly fired ceramics can actually leach flavour out of a hot beverage and introduce it back into later cups, along with earthy or woody notes. Price isn’t always the best indicator of quality, although fine porcelain does tend to cost more. One way to gauge whether a cup is well-made is to see whether it discolours, Golla says. A well-fired ceramic cup should hardly stain.

Rosenthal Gropius/Tac 2 teacup, $63 with saucer at William Ashley (williamashley.com).

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Golla recommends German porcelain-maker Rosenthal for an elevated tea-drinking experience. The Walter Gropius-designed TAC2, with its razor-thin lip and angular handle, might be the most beautiful cup I’ve ever seen.

Rosenthal Gropius/Tac 2 teacup, $63 with saucer at William Ashley.

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