What the best tea kettle does
- Heats water quickly. No matter what your tea preferences, nobody likes sitting around waiting for water to boil. The faster and more reliably your kettle gets the water hot, the better.
- Allows you to fine-tune the temperature settings. A rolling boil will give you good results when you brew black tea, but for more delicate teas lower temperatures will give better results. The best electric kettles or automatic tea brewers let you easily tweak the temperature settings to match the type of tea you're brewing.
- Signals when the water is hot. Stovetop kettles usually whistle to let you know the water has reached a boil; however, some do not. That means you have to keep a close eye on the process. An electric kettle should also signal you when the water's ready, whether it's with a beep or a whistle or, in a few cases, the loud click of the "on" lever flipping back into the off position.
- Shuts off automatically. Stovetop tea kettles can't do this, but most electric kettles can. This features reduces fire hazard and the risk of damage to the appliance by shutting down automatically once the water reaches the designated temperature, if the kettle overheats, or if it's in danger of boiling dry.
- Stays cool. Single-wall kettles can get scorching hot, and even double-wall kettles will get warm to the touch on the outside. But on the best kettles, the handle still stays cool enough to touch, even while the contents are at a rolling boil.
- Pours easily. A good tea kettle should feel stable and well-balanced in your hand, with a sturdy handle and a pour spout that easily controls the flow of water.
- Resists rust. The most common complaint we found about tea kettles is that they rusted, or had to be emptied and wiped dry after every use to avoid rust; reports of this were especially common among stovetop kettles. This is hard to avoid when water meets metal, but some tea kettles are better at staving off rust than others.
- Is built to last. Look for sturdy-feeling kettles with stout construction around the seams and weld points, or solid, one-piece construction that don't have seams to fail in the first place. This ensures that the kettle won't burst or leak, letting water flow out of the places where multiple pieces join. For stovetop kettles with C-shaped handles (that are only attached at one end), pay special attention to the construction of joint where the handle meets the kettle body.
- Has a large lid/top opening. This makes it easier to clean and dry the inside. Ideally, you should be able to easily fit your hand inside to clean any nooks and crannies and to thoroughly dry the interior, which helps keep it from rusting or taking on a stale or "off" taste.
Know before you go
How many people are you brewing for? If you're brewing tea for big groups, a large kettle comes in handy. But the more water you use, the longer it takes to heat. So, if you're only heating water for one or two people, a small kettle often offers faster boil times and, in the case of electric kettles, offers better temperature accuracy than running a larger kettle only half-full.
What kind of tea are you brewing? Water reaches a rolling boil at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which also happens to be the perfect brewing temperature for black tea. But correctly brewing more delicate types of tea -- especially green tea -- requires lower water temperatures. There's more to this than tea "etiquette"; brewing delicate teas in in too-hot water can create a bitter taste. If you frequently brew green and white teas, investing in an electric kettle with variable temperature control saves you the bothersome process of first boiling water, then waiting for it to cool to the correct temperature.
Do you live in the mountains? The higher your elevation, the lower the temperature at which water boils. If you're not careful, you could find yourself boiling a kettle dry and maybe damaging it in the process. Variable-temperature kettles come in especially handy in this situation because you can tweak them to account for not only tea type, but elevation as well.