Speed and convenience are just the start of the advantages an electric kettle offers. These countertop appliances also reduce the risk of fire by shutting off automatically when the water boils, or before the kettle boils dry. Some can also be programmed to hit the specific temperatures at which each type of tea brews best, then hold that temperature for a while in case you want a second cup. Finally, because an electric kettle's base stays cool, even when the water inside is boiling, you can take it with you to the table without concerns about marring the surface.
Of the kettles we evaluated, the Cuisinart PerfecTemp CPK-17 (Est. $80) takes top honors for offering just the right blend of value and features: You get six preset temperature settings for different tea types (and, for coffee lovers, a French press setting), a pleasant beep to indicate your water is ready, and a 30-minute hold temperature feature. Both the temperature settings and the hold temp feature prove to be very accurate in hands-on testing from TheSweethome.com, although the boil-temp accuracy did fade a little at lower temperatures.
Still, the Cuisinart CPK-17 was fast, accurate and reliable enough to take home the top honor in that test. Those same features make it a favorite with users, who also appreciate the push-button in the handle that opens the lid. Most users also get the same clean, easy pour reported by testers with TheSweethome.com. Users also like that the CPK-17's lid opening is large enough to easily reach inside for cleaning, and they say a small, backlit viewing window makes it easy to check water level inside the kettle.
The Cuisinart CPK-17's few plastic components are all BPA-free, and it comes with a three-year warranty -- markedly better than most competition in this price range, although users aren't thrilled about having to pay shipping both ways for repairs. Finally, although we did find a few complaints about rust and leaks, the Cuisinart CPK-17 shows far fewer complaints than the competition in its price range. In fact, we saw several users complaining that the lettering wears off the buttons after a few years. Although that's a legitimate complaint, much of the competition wouldn't last long enough for that to be a problem.
The Breville BKE820XL Variable-Temperature Kettle (Est. $120) is another standout performer in this category. It ranks third in a speed-boil test from a tough independent consumer laboratory, also drawing praise for its five clearly marked temperature settings (including a French press option for coffee lovers) and a 20-minute "hold temperature" feature.
That said, if anything is going to go wrong with this kettle, it's that much-loved variable temperature feature. The most common frustration users express is that the kettle keeps on boiling past the set temperature, defeating the point of a variable temperature setting in the first place and raising concerns about whether its auto-shutoff feature will work consistently.
Praise for the Breville hot pot far outweighs those concerns, however. Experts and users particularly like its handsome stainless steel construction, simple and easy to read controls, and one-handed operation that lets you both open the lid and hold/pour with the same hand. A clear window with easy-to-read measurement markings on both sides and a base that swivels 360 degrees make this a great choice for lefties, and the lid opening is big enough to make it easy to clean the inside of the kettle. All plastic that contacts the water is BPA-free, but we also found some fairly recent complaints about durability problems with the plastic lid -- something we'll be keeping an eye on for our next report.
If finding a solid, no-frills electric kettle at a good price is your highest priority, we like the Hamilton Beach 40865 (Est. $30). This kettle has just one real "frill" -- blue lights that illuminate the interior of the handsome, glass-bodied carafe when the water is heating, then turn off once the kettle is ready -- and just one temperature setting: Boil. Users say it heats quickly, and they enjoy the light-up feature. They wish the lid opened a little wider for easier cleaning, though.
One of the nation's foremost test kitchens also singles out the Hamilton Beach 40865's lid as a weak point, noting that if it isn't closed firmly after each use, the auto shutoff feature won't work. Still, that didn't keep this kettle from earning a Recommended nod. We also found a few complaints about durability, primarily unexpected leaks and some rust -- which are common to any kettle in this category -- although, considering the price, the Hamilton Beach 40865 does pretty darn well.