A thermos to keep coffee fresh and hot
October 18, 2010 10:06 AM   Subscribe

I hate fast instant coffee. I will be traveling by car from Toronto to Montreal. There are lots of stops where one can get Tim Hortons or McDonald's instant coffee. Unfortunately/fortunately I don't like their coffee. I can make good coffee at home. What type of thermos can keep it fresh and warm for a good portion of my trip?
posted by alshain to Food & Drink (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This says it will keep warms warm and colds cold for 12hrs. Should be plenty for the 6hrs drive.
posted by Grither at 10:12 AM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

You want a real vacuum-bottle thermos, not just an insulated cup or mug. You can generally tell the difference because the vacuum ones will be heavy, have glass walls (if you look inside), and be significantly smaller on the inside than on the outside. They're generally not dishwasher safe. As long as they haven't been damaged and the vacuum lost, they work surprisingly well.

I think there are a few companies still making them, but ones actually produced by Thermos are probably the easiest to find. Any big-box store ought to have them, if you don't own one already. Just make sure it says "vacuum" and not just "insulated" somewhere on the label.

If you get a big one and then pour it out into a coffee cup or travel mug, it will probably be at least reasonably warm for most of your trip.

Probably best to fill the thing up and leave as little extra space in it as you can ... even if that means making more coffee than you're likely to drink, it'll keep it warm longer.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:15 AM on October 18, 2010

Though it won't be easy to drink from. I suggest perhaps keeping it tightly closed/sealed, and pouring it into a smaller cup during restroom/food breaks.
posted by Grither at 10:15 AM on October 18, 2010

Somewhat expensive for a single trip, but if you're finickety about coffee you might consider getting a handspresso. Of course, you still have to transport hot water, boil some, or find it somewhere else.

If you just want a thermos, then according to this test, The Thermos Work flask is best.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:20 AM on October 18, 2010

Ok last comment, I swear:
Also, if you really want to make sure it's hot, make sure you're not putting hot coffee into a cold thermos (as in, swish around hot water in there a couple times before putting your coffee in).

And the one I linked to was a vacuum thermos, by the way.
posted by Grither at 10:20 AM on October 18, 2010

Kadin is right that most good thermoses have a glass vacuum bottle around the liquid contents, but the Thermos Nissan containers are special because they hold a vacuum and are made entirely of stainless steel. They're pretty amazing really...if I pour boiling water into one in the morning, it will still be at 180 or so 12 hours later. Most of the heat actually leaks out the top of the container (which isn't vacuum insulated), so you could probably do even better if you wrap the top in cloth or even just keep the thing upside down. I have put mine in the dishwasher and even dropped it down stairs and it still works great.
posted by miyabo at 10:26 AM on October 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Awesome comments. Very helpful. Thanks!
posted by alshain at 10:26 AM on October 18, 2010

I have seen stainless steel vacuum thermoses (thermii) at Mountain Equipment Co-op recently, main floor, right hand side as you go in.

I used to use the Nissan version when I did a frequent Toronto to Boston drive. Worked amazingly well.
posted by SNACKeR at 10:27 AM on October 18, 2010

I use an insulated French press mug from Planetary Designs. Not a vacuum thermos, but it has an extra filter in the lid--which seems to make all the difference in the world when it comes to drinking straight from the press pot.

There's a little holder in the bottom of the mug for spare coffee grounds, and I've never had problems with getting McDonald's or the a random truck stop/gas station to give me hot water. Generally, I go with the latter though, since I can give them some business in the form of a fuel purchase.
posted by nita at 10:30 AM on October 18, 2010

Here curves for heat loss of Nissan thermos bottles over time. He recommends spcific models here. The take away seems to be that coffee drops 15C from the brew temperature (98C) in six hours in a good thermos, and as much as 40C for something less well insultated like a travel mug. So there do seem to be real differences.

Nissan thermoses should be fairly easy to find. Here's a discussion for where to find them in Toronto.
posted by bonehead at 10:31 AM on October 18, 2010

All Thermos and Thermos-type bottles are vacuum bottles. That one Grither linked to is an all-stainless-steel model. I don't know if glass liners insulate better than stainless, but I do know that a big bottle full of hot stuff will keep the stuff hot longer than a small bottle full of hot stuff. That probably accounts for the results of the test MuffinMan linked to. The top performer in that (very limited sample) test was significantly bigger than any of the others.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:33 AM on October 18, 2010

And actually, you don't need more than three hours. There are some excellent coffee places in Kingston, especially if you get off the highway and go down towards the waterfront. There are in most of the larger towns along the 401 (Fort Hope, Belleville, etc...), but I'm most familiar with the Kingston ones.
posted by bonehead at 10:34 AM on October 18, 2010

You can buy coffee packaged in tea bags and brew individual cups that way.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:45 AM on October 18, 2010

...you could probably do even better if you wrap the top in cloth or even just keep the thing upside down.

The reason that vacuum flasks lose or gain more heat at the top is that that is where the inside and outside of the vacuum space meet. A small inner bottle is welded at its opening to the opening in a larger outer bottle. The welding is done in a vacuum, so that's what's in the space between the inner and outer bottles - vacuum. Wrapping the top of the bottle might slow heat transfer a little, but turning the bottle upside down would have no effect.

It is a bad idea to put stainless flasks in the dishwasher. Any bump to the weld at the opening can cause a tiny vacuum leak. Once the vacuum is gone, the flask won't insulate any more.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:46 AM on October 18, 2010

Also Oxo makes a double-walled, not-vacuum-insulated stainless steel mug that I use at work every day. It keeps things hot for just 2 hours or so but is a convenient size and has a leak-proof sippy cap.
posted by miyabo at 10:47 AM on October 18, 2010

You can buy coffee packaged in tea bags and brew individual cups that way.

If you're talking about the Maxwell House ones, it's not possible to get a good cup of coffee from them. If there is some other brand that does make good coffee, I would be glad to know of it.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:50 AM on October 18, 2010

I used to take this mug to work every day. Filled it up at 7AM and my coffee was warm until about noon. It's a little hard to clean, but it's the best mug I have found.
Alternatively, if you have access to hot water along the way, you can use a french press designed for camping. I don't have any personal experience with these, but these are examples of what I am getting at. Hot water should be pretty easy to get at rest stops/gas stations.
posted by smalls at 11:02 AM on October 18, 2010

You could also brew a batch of cold press coffee and simply use some hot water from anywhere to reconstitute the coffee. But now that I just typed that I'm thinking you would still need something to transport the coffee concentrate in, so you may as well just get a thermos. I had a Zojorushi thermos that worked great for years until I left it in the woods. Just prep it with some hot water and it kept hot for a surprisingly long time.
posted by jade east at 11:27 AM on October 18, 2010

You don't actually want a thermos. Hear me out. You specify that you don't just want your coffee hot you also want it fresh, which you're not going to get from coffee that's been hot for more than about 30 minutes to an hour. It's going to be stale and no better than the gas station coffee. What you really want is a french press mug like this one from REI or this one from Planetary Design.

When you're getting ready for your trip, measure out grounds for a perfect cup in a couple of sandwich bags, so they're ready to pour in when you need a pick me up. When you need a fresh cup of coffee, go into the gas station, rinse out your mug, pour in your grounds and fill with boiling water. There's a spigot on the coffee machines which will dispense the hot water. Enjoy your amazingly hot, tasty and fresh coffee.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:54 AM on October 18, 2010 [5 favorites]

Starbucks' VIA instant coffee packs are surprisingly decent compared to most instant coffee on the market.
posted by thisjax at 12:33 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Kirth Gerson writes "All Thermos and Thermos-type bottles are vacuum bottles."

Not all Thermos™ bottles are vacuum insulated; they sell single wall models that don't look much different than the double wall models so you have to pay attention when you are shopping. A single wall stainless bottle is pretty useless for keeping things hot.
posted by Mitheral at 2:13 PM on October 18, 2010

If you need to drink a lot of hot coffee, I have one of these pots, and they keep water pretty darn hot for a long time--at least overnight. You could put in a bunch of boiling water, and brew yourself coffee as needed or premake coffee and pour yourself coffee as needed.

With cold water and ice, these things will still have ice clonking around after 12-15 hours.
posted by that girl at 6:19 PM on October 18, 2010

Whatever you decide to buy, be sure to pre-heat the container with HOT water before you add your coffee. It makes a big difference in how long the coffee stays hot.
posted by raisingsand at 7:00 PM on October 18, 2010

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