Zojirushi is a Japanese company producing the best industrial design that you’ve never heard of.
The company began in 1918 and after almost 100 years their product line is still very simple: rice cookers, bread machines, water heaters, and stainless steel vacuum mugs. All of these products are great, but the mugs are the thing that’s most special.
Years ago, I wrote off travel mugs as an entire product category: everything I bought broke, leaked, didn’t retain heat, or smelled funny after a few uses. I bought a nice travel mug from Starbucks, it leaked. I bought a novelty DSLR lens travel mug, it didn’t retain heat. I bought ten of the cheapest travel mugs from Target so that I could throw them out as they broke — they didn’t last a year combined.
Then, back in 2011, I heard Vinny Caravella and Ryan Davis talking a new thermos on the Giant Bombcast — the Zojirushi:
Zojirushi makes an incredible mug. It doesn’t leak. It doesn’t break. It never smells bad. And boy does it retain heat. After years of use, I’m still shocked to see my morning coffee come out steaming hot in the afternoon. It seems to violate the laws of thermodynamics; if I accidentally leave a drink in there overnight, it is still hot the next day. I recently took my Zojirushi to a ten-hour play at the House Theater and in the final act, my tea was still slightly too hot to drink.
So my SM-KHE has become a fixture in my life — my mug is almost always with me. When a new person joins our coworking space, we give them an SM-SA36 as a gift.
Zojirushi has also become a fixture on my LOST podcast with Patrick Klepek — and for the finale episode, we scored an interview with the Zojirushi corporation.
They sent us a care package, including a test model of an upcoming product: the SM-YAE48.
My understanding is that there’s only four of these in the U.S. right now, and that you’re reading the first public review of this new product. Like the other Zojirushi mugs, the SM-YAE is made of stainless steel, and coated with the same kind of glassy powder-coated texture you would find on a fancy appliance.
The unit they sent me for review is “lime green.” I usually stick to matte black or stainless steel mugs, but the color is well done here, with a nice match between the plastic cap and the steel mug. The interior is stainless steel, an improvement over the nonstick material that lines the interior of the SM/SA series.
The main change to the SM-YAE is the stout form factor — previous models had a distinctive slim design, but they didn’t fit in some car cupholders. To go with the wider profile, the SM-YAE sports a larger, more mouth-shaped aperture on top.
( A quick aside — it’s always seemed amazing to me that the slim/tall design of the SM/SA-series held 16oz of liquid. This is because the human mind is extremely bad at estimating volume by width of container; a lesson learned by anyone who has bet on how many beers you can pour into a frisbee, which turns out to be four).
To my eye, this mug represents Zojirushi’s attempt to cater to an American market — a market that wants a big cup for a big car, with a big mouth for efficient beverage guzzling. (The SM-YAE is much shorter than the SM-KHE and SM-SA due to the fact that the lid screws into the mug as opposed to over it, making this the first 16oz Zojirushi that can fit under one of those terrible Keurig machines).
While these are not the features I look for in a Zojirushi mug, I am excited for the “breakout” potential of this design — it’s the first Zojirushi product I’ve seen that looks American. Of course it’s also constructed to the ridiculous standards of the other Zojirushi products that I know and use, with a fit and finish that I don’t often see outside of Apple products.
Yeats said that a poem, when right, “comes with a click like a closing box.” That’s often what I think of when I idly click a Zojirushi open and closed, just enjoying the feeling of its construction and quality. I’m a sucker for a great button, great buttons are the poems of industrial design. This is among the finest I’ve used.
With the SM-YAE, all you need to do is hit that silver button and hear the characteristic click to know that this is something special.