Paper cups at the water cooler are passé, Styrofoam is politically incorrect, and glasses from home don’t fit in those nifty cup holders most cars come with these days.

Since the advent of the insulated container most know as the Thermos, manufacturers and marketers have worked diligently to hone the art of the portable drink container, providing a thirsty public with everything from insulated, stainless steel coffee mugs to the hotly contested koozie, or insulated can/bottle holder (more on that later).

The idea of the “portable potable” came to being in the form of an insulated flask invented in 1892 by Sir James Dewar, a scientist at Oxford University. The “vacuum flask” was first manufactured for commercial use in 1904, when two German glass blowers formed Thermos GmbH. They held a contest to name the “vacuum flask” and a resident of Munich submitted “Thermos,” which came from the Greek word “therme” meaning “heat.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

Nowadays, it’s not enough that a cup has a lid to prevent spillage: It also must keep a drink cold, or hot, and it doesn’t hurt if it reflects the owner’s personality, either.

It also has to be just the right size, according to James “Buffalo” Gaffney, a driver for KiBois Transport.

“My insulated cup holds 100 ounces,” said Gaffney, who, by the way, stands 7 feet and weighs 380 pounds. “I don’t have to refill it, and it stays cold.”

Gaffney also doesn’t worry about leaving his mug lying around.

“I just leave it sitting out at work,” he said. “If anyone goes to touch it, one of the secretaries always tells them ‘Hey, that’s Buff’s cup,’ and they leave it alone.”

What once used to be filled with soda now holds water for Gaffney.

“I drink about 500 ounces of water a day,” he said. “I’ve managed to lose 120 pounds since I cut pop out of my diet. I haven’t been this skinny since high school.”

David Smith carries an insulated mug as well.

“Have you ever taken a big drink of really strong coffee that’s completely cold?” asked Smith. “There’s nothing worse than that. This mug I carry keeps coffee just right.”

Most coffee drinkers would agree plastic isn’t great at keeping their beverage of choice steamy, but insulated stainless steel is the way to go. Not only that, but most stainless drink holders are shaped to fit snugly in the cup holder in the car, to avoid nasty scorching incidents.

For fans of bottles and cans (no ice!), insulated holders, or koozies, are the beverage protectors of choice. Figuring out what to call them is another matter entirely.

In June, a legal fight began in federal court over what to call darn thing. Norwood Promotional Products, based in Indianapolis, says it owns the name “koozie,” contending that North Carolina Internet entrepreneurs Robert and Julie Liddle can’t call their business Kustom Koozies.

Norwood claims koozie dates back to a Texas businessman, who in 1979 invented the foam beverage holder. In 1989, Norwood bought the man’s company, but let the trademark registration lapse. Now the Liddles have asked a federal judge to decide once and for all whether it’s “Koozie” - trademarked - or just “koozie.”

A search of the Internet revealed many different names for the koozie, including “beer huggies,” “cush cups,” “cozies,” “beer huggers,” “coolies,” “coldy-holdys” and several not fit for print.

Fans of the koozie have a myriad of choices these days. EZ-Mart sells koozies shaped like little T-shirts for cans or bottles.

“We don’t sell many of them, though,” said Cameron Kessinger. “They’re a little pricey at $3.99.”

Donna’s Flowers and Gifts carries bejeweled koozies, animal-print koozies with feathers and monogrammed koozies in three different sizes: Wine-bottle size, 16-ounce bottle size and one small enough for cans.

Some tout cute words and phrases like “high maintenance” and “diva” along with sequins and feathers.

Jennifer Wright, clerk at Donna’s, believes koozies perform a valuable function.

“Considering people drink their beverage fairly fast, I don’t think they’re designed to keep them cold, particularly,” said Wright.

“But they do prevent moisture from getting on your hands or dripping into your cup holder in your car, which makes it really nasty.”

Wright has purchased a number of the monogrammed koozies.

“They’re really popular,” said Wright. “I was going to a concert with a bunch of girlfriends one time, and bought one for each of them with their initial on it for our ‘girl’s night out.’”


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