Previously, I wrote about the Asobu Travel Mug as an excellent (if unintentional) travel gaiwan. Now, there’s a new leader in the not-a-gaiwan-but-almost-better-than-one category: the Klean Kanteen 8oz insulated tumbler.

This mug is a bit thicker than the Asobu, but in trademark Klean Kanteen fashion the quality is simply superb. Heat is retained perfectly: there are no hot spots around the lip or anywhere on the body. Compared to the flaky finish of the Asobu, the matte black of the Klean Kanteen is slick and feels like it’ll last for ages. The shape is a little odd on first glance but feels great in the hand, and the rounded lip is perfect to drink from.

Like the Asobu, the Klean Kanteen has a rubber-lined lid that can double as a strainer. For the most part, I use the sipping hole to strain: the lid snaps on very tightly and most loose-leaf teas expand enough to avoid going through the hole. (You might get a few stragglers, but the same thing happens with my regular gaiwan technique anyway.) If that doesn’t work, you can just pop the lid off and use the rubber seal as a makeshift strainer. As with the Asobu, the “lever” on the back of the lid can serve as a stopper while tilting it back. Admittedly, I did prefer the Asobu lid for its looser fit — the Klean Kanteen takes some strength to pop open! — but it’s a very minor ding on an otherwise excellent product. (Also, this might entirely be in the realm of personal preference. The Klean Kanteen lid looks and feels like it was precisely machined to fit the tumbler, which is a far cry from the ramshackle Asobu construction.)

The mug fits about 7.7 ounces of water when filled right up to the lid, though you’ll get less when factoring in the tea leaves. It’s the ideal size for a single-serving cup of tea and about twice as big as your typical gaiwan. (Of course, there’s no issue using it for smaller steepings.)

(As an aside: it took me way too long to realize this, but in addition to using a gram scale to measure out the exact amount of tea, you can also use it to measure the precise volume of water desired. This is because 1ml of water normally weighs 1g. Before, I used to eyeball the water; now, I just pour the water into the mug right after weighing the tea. This might seem super-finicky, but I’ve internalized Eco-Cha’s recommendation to use 9g of tea to 175ml of water for oolongs as a starting point, and it’s really nice to have reproducible results when comparing different steepings. The only question is whether to subtract the weight of the tea from the weight of the water, especially as the leaves expand. My hunch is yes.)

As I mentioned in the previous article, one of the major reasons to use an insulated mug as a “gaiwan” is for its heat retention properties. Very little heat escapes the mug while making tea, maintaining the water at a stable temperature for the entire duration of the brew. My understanding is that certain kinds of teaware are especially prized for this property, but it’s almost impossible to beat vacuum-insulated steel in this race!

Of course, it’s great that you can just throw this mug into your backpack or suitcase and not have to worry about it breaking or weighing you down. And since Klean Kanteen is such an entrenched brand, you can even find a number of accessories for it.

The Klean Kanteen 8oz insulated tumbler: highly recommended as a surrogate travel gaiwan!

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January 8, 2017