A First World Problem

Prologue

I am a coffee drinker. I suspect many of you are as well. I also enjoy a cup of hot tea on occasion. However, I very rarely just sit down and drink a cup of one or the other for the sheer enjoyment of the experience. I will consume a hot cuppa with my breakfast but that’s usually just on the weekends as my weekday breakfast is a smoothie. I mostly drink coffee, and that most often while sitting at my desk, either at home (as I work away on one of my Macs) or at my day job (on a “DULL” Windows PC [gagging noise]).

Here’s my problem. I like my coffee hot. The hotter, the better. Just shy of burn-my-tongue hot. If it gets much cooler than that, I don’t enjoy it as much. When I’m sitting at the computer I’ll often get so engrossed in what I’m doing (Mac) or frustrated by the experience (Windows) that I forget to drink my coffee while it’s still hot from the pot. When I do pick up the cup to take a drink, it’s cooled down too much. What to do?

Well, at home I do have a Mr. Coffee mug-warming hot plate, so I can set my ceramic mug of hot coffee on it and the coffee stays hot until the last swallow. But I still had the problem at the day job. And there’s not much that’s worse than drinking cold coffee while using Windows.

Sometime in 2018 I became aware of a new product that would provide a solution to my day-job problem. Yes, I could have bought another hot plate, but being a gadget geek, the new Ember temperature-controlled Ceramic Mug intrigued me.

Ember had first launched a temperature-controlled travel mug in 2015. I saw both the Travel Mug and Ceramic Mug for sale at my local Starbucks. I found them on Amazon and put the Ceramic Mug on my wish list.

I did not buy it right away because I wanted to find out more, read some reviews, and, quite frankly, the retail price of $80 was beyond an impulse buy for me.

Then Jesus made it possible for me to get one. That is, I received enough Amazon gift cards for Christmas to make it possible for me to order one without spending my own dollars.

So, I’ve been using it at work to keep my coffee hot while I suffer through using Windows. There have been many reviews of the Ember Ceramic Mug all over the interwebs, so I’m not going to do another one here. This is just my story and my observations.

Ember Mug sitting on charging coaster on a desk.

My Ember Mug keeping coffee hot on my day job desk.

Act I

As I opened and unpacked my Ember mug I was impressed by the quality of the packaging and product. It reminded me of the experience of opening and setting up many of my Apple products. I later read at their website that Ember employs former Apple designers and engineers.

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There is minimal documentation on paper in the box. What’s there is printed on circular paper. The instructions are a single sheet and easy to follow. There even are stickers! The product itself consists of the temperature-controlled mug, a charging coaster, which I call a saucer, and a power supply/cord combo.

Act II

I inaugurated the use of my Ember Mug at the day job office. After all, I have Mr. Coffee to keep any ceramic mug heated at home. As I began to set it up I immediately ran into a snag, but not one with the Ember Mug. There was not an available electrical outlet under my desk. The closest outlet wasn’t close enough for the saucer (charging coaster) to be on my desk. So for the first week I set it up on a bookshelf a few feet away to the side of my desk. I could charge the mug on the shelf, but it wasn’t close enough to reach while sitting at my desk. This became a good testing scenario for determining how long the mug would keep a drink hot on a battery charge.

As it turns out, I was a little disappointed. The battery only lasted about 30 minutes in my first test. I was only about halfway through the cup of coffee (the Ember mug capacity is 10 ounces).

I thought, “that can’t be right”. The Ember website claims the Ceramic Mug battery will last approximately one hour. Either it wasn’t actually charged all the way, or I accidentally turned it off in the iOS app, or I received a lemon (and not the kind you put in your cup of Earl Gray, hot).

As I was using it at my day job, I didn’t have the liberty to give it the attention of testing, being caught up in all the glorious “fun” that is Windows 7. So the following week I got the electrical outlet issue resolved by adding another power strip under my desk so I could have the saucer (charging coaster) on my desk and proceeded to use the Ember Mug and even got some more “testing” accomplished.

For my next cup of coffee I made sure the mug’s battery was fully charged, filled it up, started the stopwatch on my iPhone, and proceeded to go back to work with the mug off of the saucer (charging coaster). Eventually, I got a notification on my Watch that the Ember Mug’s battery needed to be charged.

Apple Watch screen shot of Ember Mug recharge notification.

Time to recharge notification on my Apple Watch.

I checked the stopwatch and it had lasted 55 minutes and 30 seconds. When I checked the battery level in the iOS app, it was at 10%. It probably would have lasted at least an hour if I let it go until it was drained. I had almost finished my cup of joe and it was just as hot as when I started — problem solved.

Act III

I’ve been enjoying the benefits of a hot cup of coffee at my work desk ever since. While it’s great to have every sip be 135°F, the Ember Mug is not without some fiddleyness.

Apple Watch screen shot of Ember Mug perfect temperature notification.

The Apple Watch notification that the Ember Mug has reached coffee’s perfect temperature.

The care and feeding instructions are explicit about cleaning — do not immerse; hand wash only. That in and of itself is not unexpected. Common sense would prevent me from putting an electronic gadget in the dishwasher or a sink full of sudsy water. But there are further instructions warning against putting the mug back on the saucer if there is any moisture on the bottom of the mug. The bottom has a double ring of metal contacts that connect with a couple of prongs on the saucer — this is how it charges. Those rings are surrounded both in and out by a rubbery, non-slick material. The potential problem is that the material is either a bit porous or even when hand washing I was getting enough water on the bottom for it to gather a bit in the very small spaces between the rubber and the metal rings. It appeared dry to my eye but after I picked up the mug to get another cup of joe after it was sitting on the saucer for a while recharging, there was a ring of condensation on the saucer.

So I have developed a hand-washing routine that minimizes moisture exposure to the foot of the mug. If I think I’ve accidentally got water on the rubbery bottom, a short blast of compressed air around the metal contact rings forces the water out of the small crevices.

Lastly, I had to get used to trusting the device to manage itself. It must have some smarts built in because it knows when there is liquid in the mug and when it’s empty. It will automatically turn the heater on and off accordingly. At first I was using the iOS app to manually turn off the mug heater when I finished a cup of coffee. Then when I filled it up again with hot coffee I would have to remember to turn it back on. If I forgot, it would not keep the coffee hot. I forgot more than once and discovered it when taking a lukewarm sip. That taught me to just leave it alone once the heater was on and let the firmware manage the heater. Since then, I’ve never had anything but a hot sip, no matter how long the coffee has been in the mug.

Epilogue

I’m not sure I would have purchased this gadget with my own money, but I have surely enjoyed having it on my work desk at the day job. Having hot coffee in my mug no matter how long it sits has made using Windows just a little more tolerable.

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