Tea kettles do more than just boil water
A tea kettle's job description is pretty simple: All it really has to do is heat water quickly while keeping its handle cool enough that you can safely pick the kettle up to pour. With that said, tea and coffee drinkers can be just as strongly invested in their kettles as in what they're actually drinking, and some kettles have evolved to suit specialized uses such as pour-over coffee, or electric kettles that can be used without a stove.
Even your basic kettle can be used for more than just tea. College students, office workers and busy parents all appreciate a good kettle's ability to quickly, safely heat water for ramen noodles, instant oatmeal or hot cocoa.
Electric tea kettles offer a number of features
Electric kettles are especially handy for this sort of "cooking," because they don't require a stove at all. Just plug the kettle in, push the on button, and wait for the water to boil. Also sometimes called hot pots, the best electric kettles add not just convenience but safety, too, automatically shutting themselves off when they reach the desired temperature or if the water level gets too low -- before they boil dry. Some electric kettles even whistle to let you know the water is boiling, just like a stovetop kettle, or have variable temperature settings to help you hit the perfect brewing temperature for certain types of tea.
In general, delicate green teas will taste best when brewed between 150 and 175 degrees Fahrenheit; white teas at temps up to 185 degrees; oolong teas up to 195 degrees; French press coffee up to 200 degrees; and black tea and most herbal teas at 212 degrees -- a rolling boil.
Stovetop kettles still get the job done. If you'd rather not worry about whether an electrical outlet is nearby, stovetop tea kettles still offer the same quick, convenient brewing you'd expect. You'll find stovetop kettles made of everything from cast iron (avoid unless you're willing to wipe it dry after every single use) to steel, aluminum, tempered glass and, on the high end, copper. Because stovetop kettles can't shut off automatically, a good, loud whistle alerts you that the water has boiled; some kettles offer harmonic whistles to make this necessity a little more pleasant. And, of course, a stovetop kettle should still pour easily and stay cool enough to pick up without steaming or cooking your own hand, even when the contents are boiling.
Specialized kettles serve die-hard coffee and tea enthusiasts. Kettles aren't only good for tea; any enthusiast of pour-over coffee will tell you that a good pour-over kettle is a key part of the brewing process -- and some tea enthusiasts feel this sort of flow control lends itself to a better cup of tea, too. These gooseneck kettles have long, narrow necks that provide a constant, slow rate of flow, which in turn helps you saturate the coffee grounds without disturbing them -- a crucial element in achieving the perfect pour-over brew. Pour-over kettles may come in stovetop or electric models.
Automatic tea makers are usually fully automated. Finally, there's the tea machine. This electric gadget may be fully automated -- immersing the tea leaves in hot water and agitating them for you -- or acting as a coach, prompting you through the brew process for a perfect cup of tea. Program a fully automated tea machine's start timer, water temperature and brew time to wake up to a freshly brewed cup of any type of tea.
Despite the many specialized types of kettles that have evolved, we ultimately applied the same criteria to each one: The best models heat quickly, stay cool to the touch, and have a wide spout for easy, controlled pouring (except for gooseneck kettles). We evaluated kettles based on expert reviews from publications such as Cook's Illustrated, TheKitchn.com and TheSweetHome.com. That said, nobody is more passionate about a tea kettle than its user, so we also scoured through hundreds of enthusiastic user reviews from sites like Amazon.com and Walmart.com to find the very best kettles.
Elsewhere in this report:
Best Electric Kettles | Best Stovetop Tea Kettles | Best Automatic Tea Makers | Best Pour-over Kettles | Buying Guide | Our Sources