Skip to content

Shopping Guide: How To Choose Your Perfect Mug This Winter Season

There is a mug made for every coffee, tea, and matcha drinker, so how do you choose the best one?

Bookmark article to read later

By House & Garden | May 6, 2024 | Shopping

As you can probably imagine in an office where the staff write about houses and homeware all day, mugs are a very hot topic at our sister publication, House & Garden UK. As anyone who works in a space with shared crockery will know, there are good mugs and there are bad mugs. In my experience, the day’s trajectory can usually be predicted by, and correlated with, whether or not I got my preferred mug that morning. A mug with a too small handle and too thick rim being placed in front of me at breakfast is as much of a bad omen to me as thunder and lighting was to the Ancient Greeks.

But what makes a perfect mug? Is it all about the ergonomics

How does it feel in your hand? Is it the material? Enamel, stoneware, bone china or, god forbid, glass. The handle size and shape? Perhaps it’s nothing more than a surface level, aesthetic judgement. Naturally, corporate freebies are a no go–that infamous Sports Direct mug should be thrown away immediately. Royal memorabilia can be done in a humorous tongue in cheek way and, according to The Telegraph, owning an Emma Bridgewater mug is symptomatic of being thoroughly middle-class. Of course, the contents of the mug can and should change the requirements. A cup of Yorkshire tea is no more suited to a stein-esque vessel than Champagne would be.

How to solve this pressing and urgent dilemma? The House & Garden editors weigh in.

Get Specific About Colour

A collection of mugs in neutral shades creates a consisitent colour palette. Image courtesy of Sætter.

I am particular about colour, but only with tea and not with coffee. Any mug with an interior or rim colour that strays too far from white or cream is somehow really unflattering to the colour of tea. A white, bone China or cream glazed earthenware complements the honestly lovely colour of a well brewed tea. With coffee, I'm relaxed about colour, even loving shades like brown English slipware or jolly primary colours.

The other pet peeve is the ‘unusually-handled mug in an office’ scenario. They are fun in theory, and at home it's fine: if I need more than two mugs at home than chances are we are not in a hurry, or I'll be using a tray. But if I'm in the office and I want to clamp three mugs together in a single-handed grip, with a jar of instant coffee under the other arm, an entirely regular, similarly-handled set of mugs with no funny business is the dream. ― Ruth Sleightholme, Style Director.

My favourite mugs are:

A smaller version of the classic, straight sided and heavy-bottomed Victorian tankard shape: John Julian's shape and colour is heaven.

A white, bone China or cream glazed earthenware complements the honestly lovely colour of a well brewed tea. Image courtesy of Sætter.

For a big frothy coffee at home in the morning, I'll always use my set of bone china cups and saucers. I have a set from an English imprint called 'Masons Ironstone' which is fairly abundant on Ebay: the design i love has lots of lovely colours mixed in with the predominantly blue and white pattern. But I also love Burleigh's Calico, which feels a bit more robust.

I'm afraid a certain brand of chic French white-glazed terracotta does not last five minutes in my hand, and can folks the heeby-geebies with its fragility.

Compatible Cups and Drinks

I’m a firm believer in the harmonious compatibility between hot drink, vessel and occasion- in fact, I could probably write an essay on the subject. When at home, my morning tea must be served in a pint sized mug. Specifically a weighty slipware mug by Hudson Pottery that I bought off the back of Ruth’s independent ceramicists shoot a couple of years ago. It’s the mug that if a guest picks out of the cupboard to drink from themselves, I wince. It is girthy enough to warm both hands at once, the handle is wide and strong, avoiding the wrist shake that you get when picking up one of those large, hefty mugs with a spindly finger loop that risks a) dropping and smashing the mug and b) spilling its contents. Breakfast in bed on a Sunday suits a large, elegant china breakfast cup and saucer like this one from Nina Campbell and for weekend walks with a flask of hot chai (or irish coffee) it’s a bright enamel RE one for me. ― Rémy Mishon, Assistant Decoration Editor

Clear glass cups for hot drinks have become a popular choice for contemporary homes and cafes. Image courtesy of HAY.

Have a Good Mix of High and Low

A mug's game? Some people turn their noses up to glass mugs but I have two - bought for about €3 from the co-op in Florence. (They're quite similar to these ones from Ikea). I particularly like them for tea (I know - sacrilege!) - maybe because the glass lets me gauge exactly when it has brewed to the perfect colour.

Now, I treated myself to a set of four of these when I was on a shoot in Totnes. They are made by the potter Cliff Harris and they have the perfect weight and a really pleasing irregularity. I find myself saving them 'for good' which is a shame because I get such pleasure whenever I use them. I might have to rethink that. ― David Nicholls, Deputy Editor

Mugs That Control Temperature

Another vote for John Julian, but this time for their rounded stoneware mug. I like to be able to drink my morning cup of tea straight away and find that this mug allows your tea to cool at a reasonable pace. The handle is wide enough to hook your fingers into, without pressing them up against a scalding hot surface.

The perfect mug should be a balance of several factors: it should hold enough of your drink, have a wide enough moth, and sturdy. Photography by Erik Lefvander.

It's also worth noting that I have a vehement dislike of glass mugs (sorry, David) and have been known to throw a hissy fit when presented with one in a café. I particularly dislike the tall latte glasses with a tiny handle at the bottom. It's practically begging you to tip it over and burn yourself. ― Arabella Bowes, Commerce Editor

How Your Mug Strikes the Right Balance

The perfect mug should be a balance of several factors: it should be able to hold enough tea to get you through two McVities Milk Chocolate Digestive biscuits (I believe the ideal volume to be 400ml); it should have a wide enough mouth that the tea cools down at an appropriate rate–narrow mugs keep it scalding for too long–but also it should be sturdy enough in its construction that liquid doesn't cool down too fast. Porcelain serves the purpose well. The handle should be generous and reasonably thick for optimal grip. I quite enjoy a mix and match approach to mugs, as long as they broadly coordinate - blue and white is the theme of my mug cupboard and I am rigid in maintaining it. I currently own one perfect mug: it is from the Royal Doulton 'Fable' line, now sadly discontinued, and if it ever breaks I shall be inconsolable. ― Virginia Clark, Digital Director

You can also choose a mix and match approach to mugs, as long as they broadly coordinate. Image courtesy of Reflections.

Mix and Match Nostalgic Mugs with Delicate Porcelains

Mugs for me have a nostalgic quality to them and my collection at home is as mismatched as they come, from a hand-painted pottery café number with my son's foot on it to a rather hideous – but greatly loved – St Petersburg souvenir. The latter is a great mug as it's lovely and thin but for me, a little too mean in its measure.

Your mug collection can be a mix and match situation where nostalgia meets elevated staples. Image courtesy of Poetry.

I need a good balance between a fairly thin china (though I can live without bone china) and a generous vessel, without getting into Sports Direct territory. An Emma Bridgewater number does this compromise well but by far the best mug I own is a Steve Harrison salt glazed beauty (the only issue is it's so precious and I'm so clumsy that I shy away from using it should the worst happen). Crail Pottery make excellent half-glazed, textural pieces that I love to drink loose leaf tea from but for a cuppa, a Cornishware striped mug may be basic but it always works. On the flip side, I hate anything with a stupid handle that you can't actually hold or carry without burning yourself but how fun is this glass guy for coffee? ― Charlotte McCaughan-Hawes, Digital Editor

Stay Away From Slogan Mugs

I like to hug a mug, especially on days when my hands are as cold as the temperature in my house, so I love a smooth-to-the-touch, curved shape. Value for money will always be a factor as I am notoriously accident prone. Beautifully handcrafted ceramics look great in the dresser, but it's invariably the precious items that I manage to chip.

I am not a big fan of slogan mugs (‘Dogs Are Better Than People’ – really?) ― Caroline Bullough, Chief Sub-Editor

If you enjoy indulgent hot chocolate drinks, a textural mug creates a cosy vessel to hold your hands while cocooning. Image courtesy of Poetry.

Thin and Dainty Bone China Works For All Drinks

For tea it has to be my Feldspar bone china mug, white with a cobalt blue handle. The china is thin and smooth-glazed with natural indentations on the sides of the mug, as if someone had gently picked it up while the clay was still soft. A thin lip is a must, I always think it makes drinks taste more refined. The handle is delicate, but not fragile and just the right size for my fingers. The other most important thing is capacity; it holds the perfect amount of tea: that's what I like about all of the Feldspar mugs and cups, they are just the right size for the drink they're intended for, whether it's a cappuccino, a flat white or an espresso. Needless to say I have a cup for each. ― Blanche Vaughan, Food Editor

For an elevated tea experience, your cup of choice must be bone china, straight-sided and have a decent-sized handle that can comfortably accommodate two fingers. Image courtesy of Dior.

The perfect mug for tea is not a matter of debate. It must be bone china, straight-sided and have a decent-sized handle that can comfortably accommodate two fingers. Too large and ungainly and your tea will be cold before you’ve drunk half; too small and you might as well camp out by the kettle for the endless refills you’ll be needing. 300ml strikes a good balance between the two. Coloured interiors are best avoided as they prevent accurate gauging of strength (or weakness in my case – weak not milky, let me be clear). Strangely, this correct breed of mug is not always easy to come by, so I tend to stick to a fairly classic Orla Kiely, but make sure you choose the right size. And then there’s the question of different mugs for different times of day, but we won’t go into that… ― Rose Washbourn, Sub-Editor

At the End of the Day, Your Drink Has to Stay Hot

I like to think of myself as a bit of a maverick when it comes to mugs. I don’t have any special requirements of shape or size, or design – my only unbreakable rule is that whatever I am drinking from it has to be hot. The feeling of cold bone china on my lips takes me back to one too many university parties when people ran out of normal glasses or plastic cups, and had to start mixing up gin and tonics in mugs requisitioned from the kitchen. Never again.

I think a good mug should have a memory attached to it. My personal favourite is a deeply ugly thing bought in the gift shop of Eilean Donan castle in Scotland because it reminds me of a holiday spent driving around the Highlands every time I drink from it. If not a memory, then perhaps a joke: my flatmate has a BBC Weather-branded mug that says “MUGGY” on it alongside a little black cloud symbol. Iconic. ― Thomas Barrie, former Acting Digital Features Editor

This story originally appeared on House & Garden UK.