Last Updated 1/14/24. Originally published 8/10/21.
“Designed in the USA, Made in China”
After scouring through hundreds of product listings on dozens of Web sites, I’ve concluded that coffee mugs is one of those categories where it’s almost impossible to find something not made in China. Over and over you see brands that started in the United States, but even if they felt strongly about keeping manufacturing anywhere but China, the unfortunate truth is that China is hard to beat from a manufacturing cost perspective, given the combination of cheap labor, abundant natural resources, and a CCP that is pulling the strings by ensuring that it’s monopolizing control of one industry after another.
Worse, if you try to search for “coffee mug made in USA” on Amazon or Google, you’ll find lots of companies that rank merely because their product listing has the word “usa” in it, even if the sentence reads “designed in the USA, made in China”. Brands that supposedly have non-China roots like Sweese and Le Creuset have long offshored their production to China. You’ll also see lots of products where mug designs are imprinted in the US, but the mugs themselves come from China.
And yet if you look hard enough, you’ll find lots of great coffee mugs, whether ceramic or insulated travel mugs, that are still not made in China. Of course, you don’t have the time to go through hundreds of listings and dozens of Web sites, but I do. And so here’s my list of the best.
Best Coffee Mugs Not Made in China
I’d originally featured the American Mug and Stein Company as my #1 pick. This company was the last pottery company remaining in East Liverpool, Ohio, which at the turn of the 20th century considered the ceramics capital of the United States, if not the world. Its apparent demise is yet another death knell in the story of American manufacturing at the hands of China.
There was another pottery company operating out of East Liverpool called the Homer Laughlin China Company, which ultimately moved to Newell, West Virginia and renamed themselves The Fiesta Tableware Company. They are still in business today, and they still make dinnerware out of Newell, which I featured in my write-up about best dinnerware not made in China.
I’m not sure how it escaped my attention when I first wrote this list, but Fiesta doesn’t just make great dinnerware, they make fantastic mugs in many colors and styles. I personally love the Java Mug for coffee, which is reminiscent of the mug you find at a diner. They also make tea cups, stackable mugs, and tapered mugs, all in the USA.
I originally linked to listings on Amazon, but I notice that third party sellers are price gouging. You can go to a retailer like Macy’s, Kohl’s, or directly to Fiesta to get them at the proper price.
As I wrote in my latest update to my article about best dinnerware, Wirecutter’s most recent article on “best dinnerware” mentioned three US-based ceramics makers: Heath Ceramics, East Fork, and Bennington Potters.
All three of these companies are great, but it’s East Fork’s mugs that stand out, in particular the product the call “The Mug”.
They have a whole page on their site talking about how the artisans at East Fork perfected the production and design of The Mug over 10 years from 2009 to 2019. It starts with iron-rich clay from North Carolina (not China), which gets pressed into a plaster mold and then dried and trimmed by hand. The handles are made in a separate die. The handle is attached to the mug by hand. The bottom of the mug is stamped, dried over a few days, and then brought to the kiln to fire. The mug is glazed and fired again.
You can get The Mug in different glaze colors and sizes. It makes a fantastic gift and like other products not made in China, it has a “soul” that you don’t feel when you drink out of a mass produced piece of junk made by a machine run by someone working in slave conditions.
Clay In Motion is a family-owned pottery studio based out of Milton Freewater, Oregon.
They’re lead free and microwave and dishwasher safe. The design is brilliant in that as long as your beverage is warm, your mug will retain the heat as well (you’ll want to let it cool down just a little if the drink is close to boiling).
They also sell more traditional coffee mugs too, all made out of Oregon.
If you’re looking to go upscale with your coffee mugs, especially if you’ve purchased one of those expensive expresso machines, these are the among best glass mugs you can buy.
They’re handmade in Spain by expert glassmakers. They’re beautiful to look at, especially when you look through the crystal clear class to see the beautiful deep sheen of freshly-brewed coffee. The handle is comfortable to hold and doesn’t reflect the heat of the hot coffee. It’s also top-rack dishwasher safe. It’s a classy way to start the morning.
Here’s a set of glass coffee mugs made in the USA by Anchor Hocking. Anchor Hocking began in 1905 in Lancaster, Ohio and to this day continues to manufacture all their products in the USA. These days they’re part of Oneida, whom we know shut down its flatware operations in the US and makes all their products out of China these days. But Anchor Hocking appears to have avoided this fate, at least for now (sadly, the other big glass maker in the USA, Pyrex” is shipping more and more of their manufacturing to China).
Keep an eye on Amazon reviews, as the same corporate executives who killed Oneida are in charge and so you may see some manufacturing go to China on a product-by-product basis. Buy their products that are marked Made in the USA on their product listing page, and if you get one made in China, send it back at their expense.
You can also try this set from Libbey; the Amazon product page says that it’s made in the USA, but the reality is that Libbey manufactures from all over the world, including China. If you do want to buy a Libbey product, it’s best to go to a brick-and-mortar store to verify in person (looking at the outer box) where it’s made.
Tervis is a Florida-based drinkware company that has defied the trend and continues to manufacture its insulated tumbler cups here in the USA. Their stainless steel line unfortunately comes from China, but their BPA-free double-wall insulated plastic tumblers are all still made in the USA. Tervis actually invented the technology of using the natural insulating properties of air to create a permanently sealed, double-wall tumbler that keeps hot drinks hotter, cold drinks colder, and hands protected.
Sadly, you see lots of knock-offs on Amazon with the usual fake brand names (Maars, Boston Warehouse, TUMZAK, Zephyr Canyon) all from China companies who are ripping off Tervis’ idea, and unsuspecting consumers are falling for the fake reviews and leaving their own reviews. You’re going to want to make sure you reward a company that has remained loyal to its city of Venice, Florida, where all of its clear drinkware is still produced.
Deneen Pottery is a company out of St. Paul, Minnesota that produces beautiful, handcrafted, glazed pottery mugs for companies and organizations.
If you’ve visited a National Park, you’ve probably seen their work; they produce souvenir mugs that you can buy at National Park gift shops. They also serve Bed and Breakfasts, Colleges, Museums, Restaurants, and others who need high quality customized products (and don’t want to bend a knee to China). The mugs get rave reviews for their solid construction, their sturdy weight, their beauty and how comfortable they are to hold.
While companies can usually only buy these mugs in bulk, you can order individual mugs from their online store. There’s also an Amazon brand called Uncommon Clay that says that they’re handmade in the USA and are highly rated as well; they look similar to Deneen mugs, so I’m assuming that Uncommon Clay is sourcing their mugs from Deneen.
If you’re looking for an alternative to a YETI insulated mug, this Zojirushi stainless steel mug is in my opinion superior to YETI in practically every way. It’s easier to hold, it keeps your hot beverages hotter and your cold beverages colder for longer, it has a wide mouth opening so it’s easier to drink from without spillage, and it’s durable.
This is our thermos of choice in our house; my wife still uses the one she bought many years ago when these were made in Japan. These days they’re made in Thailand, but still superior to anything you can get elsewhere, including and especially
Anyone can buy a mass produced piece of junk out of China, but not everyone can get their hands on a piece of art that’s handcrafted by artisans in places like Nepal and Vietnam.
While most retailers and brands are trying their best to exploit workers by mass-producing schlock working in slave-like conditions, Ten Thousand Villages is a wonderful site that’s helping to connect artisans in developing countries with shoppers. They have a fantastic collection of mugs for coffee and tea; here you can see a cat-inspired mug from Nepal and a handpainted mug out of the traditional ceramic village of Bat Trang, Vietnam.
The selection may vary from time to time, but be sure to check them out to see what they have in stock.
UNICEF also has a nice selection of mugs by local craftspeople in developing countries, although their prices a marked up a bit to pay the local artisans but also fund their own charitable work. Check them out too.
10. Aspen Mugs
These are part of Crate and Barrel’s “Aspen” Dinnerware collection. They’re made out of porcelain and manufactured in Indonesia. These are the mugs I drink my coffee out of every morning. They’re great for casual use and formal use alike, and clean up great in the dishwasher.
OUT OF BUSINESS – American Mug
My #1 pick on this blog post used to be mugs from a company called American Mug. Sadly, since I first wrote this post in 2021, they appear to have gone out of business. Their Web site now goes to a blank page and their Facebook page hasn’t been updated since 2012. Adding insult to injury, the Amazon listing I’d been linking to has been hijacked by a Chinese manufacturer who is producing knockoffs (I’ve removed the link).
American Mug and Stein made news by being one of the only pottery companies left in the United States. Starbucks contracted with them in 2012 to make their ceramic mugs, but quietly pulled their contract in 2020, as did other accounts like the Smithsonian who were contracting with them. These organizations used COVID as their excuse, the gift from China that keeps on giving.
And just like that, the only remaining pottery company in the United States is no more.
East Liverpool, Ohio was once considered the “Pottery Capitol of the World”, thanks to the abundance of rich clay in the region and the ability to transport by river. The region is also home to Fiesta dinnerware, one of the brands we touted as the best dinnerware not made in China. Alas, the once-booming ceramic mug industry was decimated. After the recession in 2009 only two pottery companies remained in business. And by 2016 it was down to one, the American Mug and Stein company. But in 2012, in a move I wish more USA-based companies would emulate, Starbucks came in. They didn’t just talk the talk or issue a few press releases, they placed an order for 20,000 ceramic mugs–the single largest order in the company’s history. That kept American Mug and Stein going. They’re perhaps best known for their Indivisible mugs (sold out, but you can still find used versions on eBay). To this day, Starbucks continues to sell Made in the USA mugs from American Mug and Stein in their Pikes Place store in Seattle. You can buy mugs produced in East Liverpool, Ohio yourself. An Amazon store called American Mug Pottery sells products made by American Mug and Stein, including their square-handled coffee mugs and my favorite, their round-handled coffee mugs.
Do you know of other coffee mugs not made in China worthy of mention here? Let us know in the comments!