Bethany Jean Clement went on a quest to find the perfect kettle for her afternoon tea (don’t judge!). Turns out there are a lot of options — and you can spend a lot of money — to boil water.
I DRINK COFFEE in the morning, like a good American should, but somehow I picked up the habit of a cup of tea in the afternoon. Feel free to make fun of me for it; others do. But an afternoon cup of coffee can jangle one’s nerves, while a cup of tea — there’s no way to put it that doesn’t sound like a bad tagline — both soothes and refreshes. It’s like a shot of tequila versus a nice aperitif. Speaking of which, a cup of mint tea before bed is a pleasant, albeit horrifyingly boring, alternative to a nightcap.
So, to my infinitesimally small problem: My tea kettle was perfect, and I took it for granted, and now it’s gone.
The kettle came from my aunt’s basement. She was helping me get set up for my brand-new post-college world — the rest of my life before me like a patient etherized upon a table, my preparation for surgery upon it consisting of an English degree. Did I want a tea kettle? It sounded like a good thing to have, sitting stovetop in your very own apartment, in case of an English person or a hippie. Why not?
It was a ’70s-looking, vaguely Scandinavian affair: a white enamel bell with a curved blond wood handle and the whistle located in the lid instead of the spout (in retrospect, ingenious). The whistle, when the kettle first started to boil, sounded a little like clucking hens. It provided years of faithful service — first very infrequently, then nearly daily. And then, overnight, it rusted.
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According to the Internet, there is no way to rehabilitate a rusted kettle. Also according to the Internet, you can get a kettle shaped like a duck, a kettle designed by a famous architect and/or an electric smartkettle that will heat your water to a precise temperature (and for which you can probably download apps). You can spend $495 for a cast-iron kettle from “retail experience” Nalata Nalata that, per its description, is sentient. (“I am a cast-iron kettle. I have a pretty steady demeanor. My take on life is to just go with the flow and never let anything boil over me.”)
Obsessively researching kettles made me realize what was so perfect about the one my aunt gave me: no plastic parts (an aesthetic and durability concern), a whistle (a not-setting-place-on-fire-by-accident consideration), said whistle positioned where you needn’t flip it up to pour (a not-putting-hand-near-very-hot-metal-while-possibly-sleepy requirement) and a stay-cool handle (some necessitate a hotpad, which seems absurd/potentially hazardous).
The good people at Mrs. Cook’s — an independently owned kitchen store that’s been in Seattle’s University Village for almost four decades — will let you pester them about your extremely specific kettle specifications ad nauseam, and they have a selection of high-quality kettles that will meet most people’s needs handily. They’ll even test kettles with you in the shop, so you can hear the whistles and feel the pour. Here, I learned that if you have an enamel kettle, you should not keep water in it between uses, for this will eventually lead to rust, which means I inadvertently sped my old kettle’s demise. Sigh.
Finally, I found a kettle online that meets all my qualifications. It’s from a British company called Simplex, founded in 1903. It comes in chrome or copper, it’s got a wood handle and the whistle doesn’t demand manipulation. William and Kate were given one for their wedding. The suggested price is $199.95.
Until I become the kind of person who spends $200 on a tea kettle, I’m using one that came from the basement of QFC. It was made in China, cost $29.99 and features a chintzy plastic handle. So far, it boils water just fine.