Mora Ceramics – Interview with Alix Tieben

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Travel coffee mugs are great for coffee lovers who are typically on the move, but need their daily fix when it comes to coffee.   

These types of mugs come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and materials, but are usually made from plastic or metal, due to the fact that these materials are relatively inexpensive to produce, and easy to create a vacuum seal around the lid to keep the coffee hotter longer.

One material that is sometimes used for to-go coffee mugs is ceramics, meaning specifically clay which has been hardened by heat and then glazed. 

mora ceramic travel mugs

With ceramic coffee mugs, the result is a beautiful and more eco-friendly type of mug that is appreciated for its earthy nature.

The problem with ceramic coffee mugs in general is that your typical ceramic coffee mug is not really designed for to-go purposes, either due to its shape, size, or fragility.  This is why ceramic coffee mugs are most often found in the home or office, and stay there for the duration of their use.

However, there is certainly a market for ceramic travel coffee mugs, as tricky as they can be to produce for the manufacturer.  The nature of ceramics when it comes to portability is partly why finding a good, dependable, and dare we say cute-looking ceramic travel mug is rare indeed.

These days, there are an increasing number of coffee lovers who are turned off by plastic and / or metal coffee mugs for one reason or another, and are seeking a great option for some of the best ceramic travel coffee mugs, hoping to find something that will take the place of their slightly gross-tasting, eco-unfriendly plastic / metallic travel mug.

We too are of that mindset, always looking for an excellent ceramic coffee mug that can be taken to-go.

mora ceramic mugs

Mora Ceramics

This is where we crossed paths with Alix Tieben of Mora Ceramics, a company that specializes in ceramic coffee mugs.  We wanted to ask Alix about how she managed to successfully solve the riddle of making a truly “to-go” travel mug for coffee, since we here at KYG have never found one that is truly up to the task. 

Mora Ceramics, according to their Facebook page, is “A family owned ceramics company designed to remind people to hit pause and practice self care. Mora is Latin for “slow down”, which lets face it, we all need to Mora every once in a while.”

Luckily, Alix gave us the time of day and we had a very interesting chat about coffee and ceramic coffee mugs.

Please enjoy our little chat!

KYG: Hi Alix!  When did you get into the coffee business?

AT: Oh gosh, I don’t know if I can call it the coffee business. I want sooo much to be a coffee guru, but I know I still have so much to learn. I would rather say I’m in the ceramics business. I’ve been into ceramics my whole life, I grew up having a kiln in my basement. But my husband and I just launched our brand in feb of this year.

KYG: Aha, I see.  Ok then, well when did it occur to you that ceramics and hot beverages went together in some way?

AT: When I was younger, I had a Starbucks stainless steel thermos. I loved that it kept my coffee hot for a long time, but after a while I realized it didn’t taste like the coffee I would drink at home. It had a metallic taste to it, and it made my coffee taste old. Then sometimes I would bring my ceramic coffee mug in the car, but I usually would end up spilling it because it didn’t fit in my car cup holder well. So I always wanted a to-go mug that was ceramic with a lid.

KYG: I guess you never came across such a mug over the years?

AT: No, I mean Starbucks has one, but it’s not very big – it’s only 12 oz, and sometimes you just want a big cup of coffee.

KYG: Right, so you did the classic thing where you saw a gap in the market and kind of went for it at some point?

AT: Exactly!

KYG: It is a pretty bold move to go from noticing something is missing from a market, and actually making it yourself, as in going into business regarding that thing.  How exactly did you make that leap?

AT: I did some research with my husband and we saw on Amazon that “ceramic travel mugs” was a small market that people are searching for. And my brother-in-law is a manager in quality control at a few ceramic factories, so it worked out really smoothly.  We just designed what we wanted, ordered the least amount that the MOQ asked for, took some pretty pictures, and tried it out. The result was the mugs sold faster than we could re-stock, especially due to Covid. So, we were sold out for some time, but at least we knew that they could sell more, and it gave us some confidence in our product.

KYG: That’s cool!  So about travel mugs in general.. what material would you say they’re usually made from?  Plastic?  Metal?  And this is due to these types of mugs being cheaper to make…

AT: Yes, both plastic and stainless steel. This is because of cost.  Also, steel retains heat more, so drinks stay hotter longer. Also steel and plastic can have very intricate molds, so they work good for a screw on seal proof lid.  With ceramic, on the other hand, you can use a mold, but due to the water that’s used in clay, it’s extremely hard to get consistent size in the clay. Clay shrinks once’s it’s dry, which makes it nearly impossible to make a seal proof lid. If such a mug was mass produced using ceramics with grooves for a seal proof lid, there 100% would be many, many defect mugs!

KYG: Right, so I guess with your ceramic mugs, you don’t claim to have such a lid because it isn’t possible? But yeah, I get what you’re saying – those materials are very mass-produce-able, where as ceramic by nature has to be fired and handled with more care just because of the material itself.

AT: Right exactly. If there was a way, we would be the first ones to make them, because we have spent months thinking of ways to get a seal proof lid… as of now it’s just not possible.

KYG: I also read that your mugs are “double walled”.  Can you explain that a little bit?

AT: Yes, indeed!  This is a very complex process for ceramics because we have to basically make two mugs (the outside lining and the inside lining), seal them together, make a tiny hole at the bottom so that the mug doesn’t explode during the firing process, fire them, then plug up the tiny hole.

mora ceramics

KYG: What does this result in, practically speaking?  Just a thicker mug?  Better heat containment?  Do tell…

AT: We need a double wall for insulation so that the coffee stays hot longer, and so that it doesn’t burn your hands when you hold it because we dont have a handle.

KYG: Right, gotcha.  Maybe this is a good time to lay it on the line with you.  Can you give me your argument for why ceramic travel coffee mugs are better than say metal, or plastic?  Considering there are a few things that metal and plastic can do that ceramic to-go cups can’t, which is they can 100% seal shut, they keep the liquid hotter longer, you can make all sorts of designs using them… Oh, and you can’t generally damage them as easily… Oh, and they’re cheaper to make and hence sell…

AT: Right, well first lets start with plastic. We all know that plastic and heat don’t mix well and that plastic can often contain harmful chemicals (like BPA) that leach into drinks and enter into the body. This can create serious health issues, possibly even leading to cancer and disease. Not to mention when plastic is thrown away, it takes thousands of years to decompose.

Next we have stainless steel. What many people don’t know is that stainless steel can actually get micro scratches on the surface over time. These micro scratches absorb the oils in your coffee, or milk, or whatever you’re drinking and hold on to them. Over a couple days. these oils turn sour, and effect the taste of your coffee, no matter how hard you wash them.

KYG: Right right, so we’re kinda zeroing in on taste here… Well let’s take someone who doesn’t care about anything except the taste of their coffee. You’re saying that ceramic is really the only material that won’t disrupt the taste in some way…

AT: Well, about plastic and taste, just think about hot plastic… when it gets hot the surface of the plastic gets soft and those particles easily leech into the hot coffee, giving you a “plastic” taste.

KYG: Right, so on both counts (metal and / or plastic), you are losing out when it comes to the taste which, for any true coffee lover, is basically going to be one of the main reasons, if not the main reason, to even drink coffee.

mora mugs

AT: Right… just think like drinking coffee out of a styrofoam cup… no true coffee lover is going to use that kind of cup because its disgusting, but actually any plastic mug does that, just to a lighter degree.  There are many kinds of plastics, all differing in softness I know this because my husband is a chemical engineer specializing in metals and plastics 😂

KYG: Ok, but with ceramics.. does it not have some chemical exterior itself?

AT: Yes, it has an exterior called glaze, but glaze is made out of all natural elements and minerals. Different minerals are what make up the colors.

KYG: I mean, don’t get me wrong, I do agree with you.. I never drink coffee out of anything plastic or metal, for that same reason.  It tastes weird.

AT: As well, the beauty of ceramics is that when they are fired, they are fired at such a high heat, especially if it is “high quality” ceramics, the glaze actually gets crystallized..that’s why it looks shiny.  There are three main types of ceramics – low heat, medium heat, and high heat. High heat is the most expensive, but also the best quality, which is what we use. Also, many companies use lead (which is also a natural element to be honest, just not good for us). Lead makes the glaze really pretty and shiny.

KYG: Uh oh.. lead?

AT: There is no USDA regulation on lead in “adult products” so many ceramicists use lead in their products but we dont.  But you should know that all of our products are lead free. So no lead.. natural glaze.. looks nicer, tastes better and crystalized as well.

KYG: So none of those micro cracks…

AT: Mm hmm.

KYG: I guess it’s getting pretty obvious these mugs are more for your coffee lovers of the world vs. the people who would drink it out of a hubcap.  Just considering how you get a more “true” taste from them.

AT: Hahah right!

KYG: Well, there sure are a lot of people who drink coffee for the taste.  You combine a good “vessel” for the coffee that doesn’t interfere with its taste, along with great coffee and that’s the ultimate combo, really.

AT: Yes, at the same time, there are some people who don’t ever taste the difference of drinking out of steel mugs or plastic mugs, but I feel like those are the kind of folks who buy gas station coffee and add tons of sugar…which is fair enough, not going to judge, but that’s not my style by far!

KYG: Well, I get that ceramic mugs give you better tasting coffee, assuming the coffee is well made to begin with, but what about the whole “travel” part of your mugs.  Are they really meant for travle, per se?

AT: Yes, well, they are to an extent, but at the same time, these mugs are not meant for throwing in your backpack, lets be honest here.

KYG: Yeah, you said the lid doesn’t seal 100%.. so imagine that I’m driving around in my black SUV with tinted windows.. blasting Mozart, and I’ve got one of your Mora mugs filled to the brim with hot coffee.  Am I going to get splashed if I perform a hairpin turn?

AT: What I myself found is that I love to make a nice big cup of coffee in the morning, and then I have to get in my car and go to the office, or run some errands, and I haven’t finished my coffee yet.  In other words, I wouldn’t purposely fill my mug up to the very top with scalding hot coffee…I just don’t think that’s a good idea even with tight seal.

mora mugs 2

Honestly, when I’m at home, I like to just use the mug without the lid.  But, when I have to leave the house and drive somewhere, it works like a dream to just pop the lid on, slide the mouth part shut, and put it in my cup holder. Our shape is designed to fit perfectly in a car cupholder. That was very important to my husband and I…so the bottom is very sturdy and bottom heavy so it fits very securely in the car…the lid is “splash resistant” so if you’re taking any fast corners or going over some bumpy gravel, it won’t splash out.

KYG: Yeah, that’s interesting, because some vehicles have these cup holders that aren’t really cup holders… Like, my old car had cup holders that you couldn’t put anything in without it flying right back out!  Strangely, it was shaped like a cup, so I always wondered how certain companies account for all the weird cup holders out there. It’s not like there’s a standard 1A cup holder that is specifically industry certified to be in every vehcile.

AT: In terms of the cup holder itself, that is the main reason why our mug doesn’t have handles, because the handle of a mug will block the opening of the cupholder and not allow the cup to sit all the way on the bottom. 

KYG: So, I guess you just kind of make your mugs to fit with “most” cup holders that are designed to hold any typical to-go cup.

AT: Right, most cars now have a standard size cupholder. It’s those old cars that are difficult..but my dad has an older chevy with a very difficult non flexible cupholder, and we used his to measure…I figured, if it can fit in his cupholder, it should fit in everyone else’s 😂

KYG: Yeah, that makes sense. I think the idea of a “travel” mug has two connotations… one is the sort of literal traveller concept, as in business people and backpackers, and another is the idea that you drive around with your mug in your cupholder concept.  Otherwise, it’s not any more of a “travel” item than anything else you can literally pick up and walk with. 

AT: Right..so our main issue is some people buy it without reading our description, throw it in their backpack, and then are mad at us when the bottom of their backpack is soaked with coffee. Then they leave us a bad review about the lid 😩 it works great as like a Starbucks paper cup replacement. 

KYG: Well, understandably, some people can be very literal when it comes to what companies say about their product. 

AT: Haha yeah, we’re currently working on being really specific with our description.

KYG: As you should!  Because, as you know, the customer is always right!  Well, anyway, Alix, I’m glad to hear your business is doing well, and I can see why, these are great mugs! 

AT: Thanks! 

KYG: Keep us posted and thanks for making the time to speak with me!

You can find Mora Ceramics products on Amazon here

And on Facebook here:

https://www.facebook.com/hitpausemoraceramics

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