Electric Kettle Selection – Maximize Flexibility & Keep Everyone Happy

Yellow Electric Tea Kettle

Our First Exposure to an Electric Kettle

Our recent posts have focused on the wide variety of options one could choose from in selecting the perfect teapot. In the midst of writing these posts we received a note from one of our readers (thanks Gerry) asking if we had any thoughts to share on electric kettles. So this week we are going to do just that.

Having evolved ourselves, over the years, from teapot on the stove to water boilers and electric kettles, its probably about time for this post. Our first experience with electric kettles came on a trip to France. During a stay at Les Quatre Puits (near Bordeaux), we found using an electric kettle to be so much faster and easier that we bought one right away on returning home and haven’t looked back since.

History of the Electric Kettle

Kettles have been around for thousands of years, though of course electric kettles are relatively new on the scene needing, well…. electricity. The late 1800’s saw the first electric kettle, though initial designs weren’t very efficient, nor safe, as they had no way to shut off when the water boiled or even if they boiled dry. It was Russell Hobbs which developed the first fully automatic electric kettle in 1955. The expertly named (we’re kidding) K1 proved safer and more convenient than boiling water on the stove. It was a radical new design, with a thermostat to automatically turn off the kettle upon boil, greatly reducing the chance of boiling the kettle dry and causing a fire.

Choosing an Electric Kettle

Electric kettles have come a long way since the 1950’s. They have several new safety options, are made from various materials, and some even have options to address various temperatures at which you might want to steep your tea. The following table outlines some of the common features, though a quick Amazon search for tea kettles yields well over 1,000 options so we’ve surely missed some.

Feature Our Take Comments

Primary Material Metal Preferred The jury on plastic may still be out in some minds and not in others. Seems better to be on the safe side and use something with the least amount of plastic possible. And while glass or porcelain are attractive its something else to worry about breaking.

Auto-Shutoff Mandatory This is both a safety and energy usage issue.

Boil-Dry Prevention Optional In theory this is a safety issue, but we can’t see how we would ever put an empty kettle or one with very low water on. The good news is most kettles come with this anyhow.

Cord Concealment Optional This is a safety issue, and in our house with children around this is mandatory for us. For other family situations this will be different. Similar to boil-dry prevention in that most come with this feature anyway.

Variable Temperature Strongly Desired We believe strongly that tea lovers should explore. That means not limiting yourself to one kind of tea. If you drink green, white, yellow, and some oolongs then you are going to need different water temperatures. Its either this, or get a thermometer and practice patience.

Concealed Heating Element Optional We’ve used both, and unless you are going to scrub the inside of your kettle, we aren’t sure this makes a difference. If you have hard water and have to descale appliances often, this might be an issue for you. However, if you have hard water, you would be better served looking at filtration systems.

Keep Warm Strongly Desired We can’t tell you how many times we got the water going, got distracted, and didn’t get back to the kettle right away. This is a must have if you have busy mornings.

Cordless Kettle Mandatory This is a no brainer. Having a kettle still attached to the wall is a safety issue and a major convenience/flexibility issue.

360° Swivel Optional We’ve used both, and frankly could care less either way.  The 360° swivel can be a bit of a pain to land the kettle on. The less expensive Aroma model we used for years, without a swivel base, was actually easier to land the kettle on.

Audible Beeps Strongly Desired Without the beep, we can’t go far and know the water is done. Though if your kettle has a keep warm option this is less of an issue.

Light-Up Buttons or Water Fill Level Optional For the most part this is a weak way to differentiate a product and something else to break.

In Kettle Tea Basket Optional This is more gimmick than practical for us. More parts, more things to break, and unless everyone in the house agrees to the same tea then one person gets the kettle and the other boils water another way or waits, cleans the unit, and prepares their own later.

Electric Kettles and Water Boilers

There is a wide variety of kettles up to and including full water boilers like the 4 Liter Zojirushi at left.

Just a quick note on plastic too. Most electric tea kettles today have some plastic, and while it may be BPA free that certainly doesn’t settle the debate of other chemicals leaching into the water from plastic. Like it or not, our take is that if you use a kettle there will be some contact with plastic though it may be quite small depending on model. We recently upgraded our kettle to Cuisinart CPK-17, which is primarily metal, though we’ve used an inexpensive plastic model for years. Both perform well, and neither give off flavors to the water produced. If you do end up with off flavors and you are sure its not your water then try boiling and discarding several post including a pot of white vinegar and water. If it still has off flavors then return it and don’t look back.

When it comes to our kettle upgrade, the big reason we switched to the Cuisinart CPK-17 was the ability to bring water to a specific temperature, and on-line reviews indicating it did indeed bring the water within 1-2 of the desired temp. We drink a wide variety of teas and that targeted temperature makes preparation easier.

One model that stands out is the Breville one-touch tea maker. This kettle is specifically focused on making tea and features an automated basket which is raised and lowered by the tea you are making. On the surface looks like a great solution, though it wasn’t right for us for several reasons. First, its expensive at 2 to 5 times the cost of most other kettles. Second, in our house we rarely agree on the type of tea we are going to drink on any given day so we need hot water and then we go our separate ways. If you make tea in the Breville they recommend washing the jug and basket before changing teas. That’s not going to work for us while heading off to work and juggling getting kids off to school. Finally, we are technology people (we even do some software programming), but feel that more tech equals more parts to break or things to go wrong.

All in all there are plenty of kettles at the low end of the price range. However, if you are open to exploration in the tea world then its well worth the upgrade to a model with variable temperature settings. There is such a thing as too many features, too gimmicky, and even impractical for families with multiple tea drinkers so take care before shelling out for the most expensive kettles. That said, if you want a simple, elegant kettle in touch with history, check out the beautifully simple Legacy Floral Kettle from Russell Hobbs.

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