Thursday, December 4, 2014

Travel Mug

Where I talk about coffee to go and the alternatives to plastic travel mugs.

As I read about Plastic, the dangers and how to avoid it in one's life, I see people writing about the alternatives: Stainless steel and glass.

To me stainless steel, though wonderful for cooking, is not the most ecologically friendly alternative.  It lasts a good long time, hard to break, makes excellent cooking pots... however, it has it's draw backs.  Food tastes weird when stored in it, it takes a lot of energy to produce/recycle, and it originally draws from an nonrenewable resources.  Even if we recycle every last scrap of stainless steal, from thumbtack to tractor, there are still is a limited amount of it on the planet, and each time we recycle a pot or a pin, a little bit of the metal would have been lost in the wear and tear.  On top of that, if you use a metal implement in a stainless steal cooking pot, it scratches the surface and removes the virtually non-stick quality a new stainless steel pot has.

More importantly, stainless steel is aesthetically non-pleasing.  Sure, a stainless steel bowl will bounce not break when tossed aside by an angry child, but it is missing that certain something that encourages an arthritic hand to carefully comfort a mug of hot broth to both warm the hands, and sooth the soul.

I have a few stainless steel travel mugs that have been given to me over the years.  Plastic top, but otherwise lovely.  They keep the coffee molten hot for literally hours.  The vacuum insulation makes it so that I can put my piping hot cuppa in the mug in the morning, and it will be almost cool enough to drink that evening.  None of that pesky heat transfer to warm my frozen digits, or that earthy texture that I associate with coffee.

Stainless steel has it's uses, 'though I adore it most for cooking pots and tiffins, not travel mugs.

Glass is the other material the plastic-free communities crow about with great gusto.  They call it less energy intensive alternative to stainless steel.  Which it may be.  Glass has been around for a few thousand years or so, and can be stunning when made by artizan hands.  That's seldom done anymore, but when it is - amazing.

The biggest disadvantage with glass is it breaks.  More than that it shatters into dangerous splinters, or it can unless special (do I hear energy intensive) processes are applied to the manufacturing process.  This takes the art of making glass and transforms it into an industrial science.  But don't get me wrong, I wouldn't be without it!

I adore glass, be it mason jars or milk jugs.  Glass makes the best storage sense and (except for special no-break glass that my local recycling centre won't touch) can be infinitely recycled.

But for a travel mug?  There's the breakable issue, which is fine.  Everything breaks eventually.  Glass travel mugs last a darn sight longer than plastic ones.  Besides, beautiful glass cozies made of cork or knitting gladden the eyes.

The biggest problem with glass is that it transfers the heat too quickly.  Pour the coffee into the glass cup, put my coat on, the travel cup is already too hot to hold comfortably.  By the time I can hold it again, the contents are cold!  There is no inbetween period where I can nurse my brew, cradle it in my hands....

Thankfully there is another plastic free alternative.  One that...

a) is from natural materials
b)  is from local materials (just about anywhere in the world)
c) is traditional
d) is renewable (and to a small degree recyclable)
e) is at it's best when created by artisans!

This plastic free material is called clay!  I'm talking pottery.

Right now I am in love with pottery beyond all shadow of a doubt.  If pottery was a bloke, and had enough money to scrounge together a small gold ring and some land, I would jump the broom with it (that's old fashioned talk for marry it).  As it is, a lifelong common law partnership with pottery is not unlikely.

Pottery, ceramics, clay, earthenware, what have you.  It's all just heated mud and mud can be found almost anywhere.  Pottery has this extreme comforting quality that glass and metal can't imagine.  And that's what I love most about it.

A potter chooses which mud to use, shapes it to their will or whim, drys it, bakes it, lavishes lovely colours upon it, bakes it again... amazing!

Sure, pottery also has the potential to break when wielded by angry children, but it doesn't shatter into dangerous shards like glass can.  When the pottery finally looses it's battle with gravity, it has nearly a hundred uses on the farm for growing food.  It can sometimes be recycled into some other kinds of future clay.  It's amazing.

Like glass and metal, cooking with pottery is easy when you know how.  It's actually quite nurturing and is my go to pot for comfort food.

When it comes to travel mugs, I think this it makes the most beautiful alternative.

This mug is created by Ann Coleman at Yunomi Studio, an artizan with great skill and infinite patients for the clay curious individuals who flock to her studio (aka, she doesn't get annoyed when I constantly pester her with questions).

The coffee is poured into the centre hole which is then plugged with a plastic-free stopper (a cork).  You then drink the coffee through the vampire-bite holes on either side.  It comes out just the right speed, thanks to the holes on the opposite side stops a vacuum from forming inside the mug which prevents the coffee from coming out at a consistent rate (like my stainless steel mugs).  Cleaning is a bit tricky, but a quick rinse after each use keeps it happy.  A bottle brush can be employed for more stubborn mess.

I tried to get Ann to write a few words about what inspired her to create such gorgeous functionality, but all she said was "I don't like drinking from plastic".

The beauty of this mug goes far beyond it's function and elegant appearance.  It's in the texture, the balance and heft of it when filled with liquid, What's more, it keeps the coffee warm for just the right amount of  time, the heat slowly oozing out into the clay and to the hands that embrace it.

Clay makes the perfect Transition material because it is everywhere.  In an over simplified point of view, all you need is mud, fire and the will to transform the world.

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