If you’re looking for a high-end, temperature-variable kettle for brewing myriad teas, you’ll want to grab the Cuisinart CPK-17 for just over $90. It has a winning combination of speed, accuracy and ease of use.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an occasional tea drinker, a neophyte hoping to learn more, or deep enough into it that you organize your tea collection by growth altitude—a tea kettle is a crucial appliance. If you have the Queen on your money, you probably already own a kettle for brewing your daily cuppa or two, but there’s a whole world out there beyond basic stovetop and electric kettles and we recommend a variable-temperature kettle to get your tea tasting as pleasant as possible.
Why you should listen to me
I’m a lifelong tea addict, who has a tea cupboard overflowing with more types than I could ever drink…but I just keep buying more of the stuff. I’m also a frequent contributor for The Wirecutter and The Sweethome, having reviewed everything from cameras to scanners, ice cream scoops to sous-vide cookers. And I generally knock back at least a full pot of tea a day—sometimes more like three.
But why not just use boiling water?
Tea is a bit more complex than most people think. All true tea comes from just one plant: Camellia sinensis. The leaves of this plant are heated and dried at specific points in order to produce white, green, oolong and black teas. The so called “herbal teas” and drinks like rooibos and yerba mate are not actually tea, but better described as “infusions” (or sometimes tisanes).
So if you’re wanting to drink more tea—maybe you’re trying to cut the coffee, maybe you just like the stuff—then a variable-temperature tea kettle is your best choice.
To help narrow down a rather crowded field, I talked to a number of experts about what they look for in a kettle. Experts like Tony Gebely of World of Tea, Michelle Rabin of T Ching, and famed tea expert Bruce Richardson. With their help, I identified a handful of core features: speed (you don’t want to wait forever for the thing to boil), accuracy (if it says 190° and it’s actually hitting 200°, that kind of defeats the purpose), a wide variety of temperatures, ease of use, price and ease of cleaning.
Using a dedicated kettle is also a hair more efficient than just boiling the water—at least on paper. But the difference is so tiny that it’s within a margin of error, so we wouldn’t worry about it. You won’t notice it on your power bill one way or the other..
What makes a good kettle?
A great tea kettle should be able to be set to a number of different temperatures for the different types of tea that you’re going to brew. It should also be accurate at hitting those temperatures, because there’s no point in aiming for 200°F and hitting 212°F instead. It also needs to be fast, so you’re not waiting forever for your water to come to temperature. You want to avoid completely plastic kettles, as they can give your water a bad taste and you want to be sure that any plastic is BPA-free. It should also be easy to use, have a handle that doesn’t get too hot and have a large mouth for easy cleaning.
Temperature control is a big reason why it’s worth spending a little extra on one. See this electrical engineer’s attempt to reverse-engineer a kettle and how he figured out that spending more than $90 on one is worth it.
Narrowing the field
There is a shortage of good roundups of temperature-variable kettles available. A few have been done in the UK, but the different voltage of their system means that kettles are much slower on this side of the ditch. Cook’s Illustrated did a roundup in 2010, but missed a number of the more popular units, and some of their recommendations aren’t available anymore; Good Housekeeping looked at two dozen units, but didn’t pick any above others; and WIRED did a good little roundup, but only touched on three temperature-variable units.
We ended up with a short list of around a dozen temperature-variable units, which we narrowed down to five for in-depth testing based on published reviews, popularity, professional recommendations and hitting the marks for what makes a good kettle. We also tested two basic boiler kettles, for people who don’t want any of the fancy stuff, again based on models that are widely used and popular.
For the temperature-variable kettles, we wanted to test for a number of things. Using a liter of water, we measured how long the kettle took to come to a boil; how hot the water still was after 30 minutes of sitting with the power off; and how accurate its internal thermometer is for non-boiling temperatures. For the simple electric kettles we just measured time to boil.
For its speed, accuracy and ease of use, we recommend the Cuisinart CPK-17. While it might not be a leader in every category, it ranked highly in all of them, lacks any appreciable drawbacks, and lands at the right price of $90.
The Cuisinart is extremely simple to operate. It has six temperature settings as buttons on the handle, a start button and a keep warm button. You add the water, hit the temperature you want, and wait for it to beep when it’s done. It then kicks into an automated keep warm cycle, where it will maintain temperature for up to 30 minutes, in case you can’t quite make it to the kitchen in time.
In our lab testing, it took a slightly better than average amount of time to heat up water, and was the most accurate of the kettles.
The kettle has a removable scale filter for easier cleaning, and a concealed heating element that won’t get gunked up by mineral deposits. It has a 360° swivel base—so you can grab it from any angle—a 1.7-liter capacity and a lid that is large enough to get inside easily for cleaning (unless you have enormous hands like me).
And while all of these are fairly standard features, the Cuisinart is the only one that has them all while managing to avoid any of the glaring flaws that plague its competition.
One feature the Cuisinart has that isn’t as standard is a limited three-year warranty, which is substantially better than all of the competition (they offer just one year of coverage). Given that constantly-boiling water can be a very rough on a gadget, having triple the warranty of the rest of the pack is pretty darned impressive.
There are, of course, some minor downsides. Some Amazon users have reported rusting screws on the interior within a couple of weeks, but this is very rare, and should be covered under warranty.
The other problem is to do with its keep warm feature, which can occasionally run amok. The keep warm function kicks in as soon as the kettle comes to temperature, and stays there until you turn either the function or the kettle off. Not a big problem, but if you boil a pot of water, then pour it out and put the kettle back on the base, it’ll automatically try and bring it back up to heat, even though it’s empty. This triggers the “boil dry protection” and a raucous beeping to warn you of your poor behavior. You can easily prevent this happening by hitting the “start” button when you return the kettle to its base, but it’s a thing that you do have to keep in mind and a rather irritating oversight on the part of the design team.
The Cuisinart took an average of 4:50 (minutes:seconds) to boil a liter of water. This isn’t the fastest of the kettles we tested but better than many, sitting barely on third place of the variable-temperature models (just one second off the #2 spot). 30 minutes after boiling, the water had cooled down to an average of 76°C (168°F) with the kettle off, which is again on par with other kettles.
The testing result that was by far the most impressive for the CPK-17 is how accurate the temperature of the water is. Some kettles can be as much as 10°F off of what the desired temperature is, but the Cuisinart managed to keep it in the 1-2°F range for most temperatures. We tested this by filling the kettle with one liter of water, then bringing it to one of the kettle’s specific listed temperatures, and measuring with a traceable-probe thermometer. This was done multiple times for each temperature available on each kettle (with ample time for cooldown in between sessions).
Who else likes it
Joe Brown at WIRED did a roundup of high-end electrical kettles in 2010 and awarded the CPK-17 top marks thanks to its speed, streamlined looks and easy to use controls. Interestingly in their testing, it took just 4:09 to boil a liter, which was quite a bit faster than in ours.
Denise Amrich of ZDNet Health praised it for ease of use and all the features it packs, calling it “the best thing since boiled water.” Becky Bracken for Bestcovery called it “the electric kettle for the true tea snobs out there”.
For more widespread user reviews, the tea lovers at Steepster have the Cuisinart kettle with an average of 89/100, and with more than 700 ratings, Amazon users give it 4/5.
Consumer magazine in New Zealand reviewed the kettle (subscription required), and complemented it for “Good boiling performance. Easy-to-use push-button controls on top of the handle. Very clear (blue) indicator lights inside kettle. Push-button lid-opening for easy filling. The water can be poured in an even stream. Six preset temperatures. 30-minute keep-warm option for selected temperature. ” However, they didn’t give it top marks, as one of their most important scores was noise and they felt it was loud.
Generally speaking, we really like the Cuisinart. It’s a great kettle that hits all the right marks. But, for some people in some situations, there are alternatives that we also recommend.
If you are a coffee fiend (or happen to live with one), the Bonavita Gooseneck kettle is an excellent compromise between a traditional tea kettle and a coffee pourover. We touched on it a bit in our guide for coffeemaking gear, but this kettle allows precise temperature control and has a long neck for excellent pouring technique. However, it doesn’t work particularly well as a dedicated tea kettle thanks to its relatively small volume (just one liter) and a spout that isn’t very handy for pouring into a teapot. But if you’re in a situation where you have limited space and you value your coffee as well as your tea, it’s a solid compromise.
The step up
While a Zojirushi may keep a stupendous amount of water at the right temperature, it’s slow, taking around 20 minutes to come to temp; and rather than just bring your water to the right temperature, it instead boils it, then lets it cool down. The tea experts I talked to aren’t a big fan of that heating cycle as it deoxygenates the water, which can affect the flavor of more delicate teas. I asked tea expert Bruce Richardson about this, and he said “[I] don’t know why anyone would design it that way.” Michelle Rabin of T Ching told me that she actually stops her Zojirushi before it boils to prevent this, saying “Initially this machine wants to boil the water and then maintain the lower temperature at your desired setting. I actually stop the machine from reaching the boil when it gets to the setting I want and it will maintain that temperature for me. Remember that boiling water reducing the oxygenation of the water which produces a flat cup of tea.”
The reason for this boil then cool method is arguably linked to Chinese and East Asian approach to tea preparation, where some people traditionally boil the water first. This is obviously great for killing anything nasty that might be in the water, and there’s an interesting interview in Leaf magazine with tea expert Zhou Yu who talks about the long running debate in traditional Chinese tea circles about if this is proper or not.
The Chef’s Choice 681 is one the highest rated of Amazon’s most popular electric kettles, with an average of 4.4 stars out of five with 123 reviews. Mariette Mifflin at About.com gave it 5/5, praising it for “fast boiling, cordless design, stylish and durable construction, good performance, easy cleaning and comfortable handling and pouring.” And when I talked to Chef’s Choice themselves, they said it’s the most popular kettle they produce.
Plastic (not so) fantastic
All of the kettles we recommend are primarily metal. Metal kettles last longer. Plus some people complain about plastic kettles having a funny taste, and you don’t usually see temperature-variable plastic kettles. However, all of the ones we tested contain some minor plastic elements, like parts of the lid, a filter or the water level window. Every manufacturer we talked to assured us these were BPA-free, but a number of other folks were worried about other materials in plastics too. While there is no widely accepted evidence of this being a health problem, some people are definitely not fans. Michelle Rabin of T Ching said “I have serious concerns about using a plastic kettle when boiling water. It releases toxic compounds with high heat and think about the consequences of long term, frequent use. I believe this is dangerous to one’s health.”
There’s not a lot of evidence for plastic being so problematic, but if you really, really want an entirely metal kettle, there’s not much to pick from with the world of electrics. All the half-decent ones have small plastic components. If this is something that really concerns you, I’d recommend investing in an old-fashioned all-metal stovetop kettle. This one seems to have no plastic parts that touch the water, or it might pay to nose around a cookware store and look at available options—but we haven’t had a chance to play with these, and testing stove-top kettles was beyond the scope of this guide. Or, if you’re really worried, just put a cooking pot of water to boil on the stove.
There are a huge number of variable-temperature electric kettles out there, some of which we managed to dismiss through research, and some of which we hit major problems with while testing, namely the Capresso teaC100, the Hamilton Beach 40996, the Chef’s Choice 688, and the Breville BKE820XL.
The Bonavita 1.7 L has incredibly poor reviews on Amazon, apparently at least in part due to the handle overheating. There’s a Pino digital kettle that Cook’s Illustrated liked, but again the Amazon reviews are poor, and it doesn’t seem to be widely available.
The Adagio Teas Variable Temperature Kettle has an average of just 2.5/5 on Amazon due to shoddy construction.
Adagio Teas 3 UtiliTEA is one of the more popular variable-temperature kettles thanks to its low $40 price point. Unfortunately, it’s also mired in flaws. It can only hold 0.9 L, which is barely enough for a basic pot of tea. The other big problem is the heat control. It’s just a knob with a brown section and a green section. No indication of what temperatures those are, and even though you would assume that you could set the temperature between the two zones on the knob, the official word is that there are just two temperature settings. Not only that, but one person found a temperature range of 15°-20°F even on the same setting.
We tested the Capresso teaC100, which is a popular kettle thanks to its gorgeous looks and all glass exterior. But again, it has a dial for temperatures without the ability to set anywhere in between the few specific settings; the kettle can only sit on the base in two orientations; there’s no keep warm function; it’s entirely silent so you don’t know when the water has boiled; and the top opening is tiny. And as pretty as it is to watch the water boil? You can bet those glass sides built up mineral deposits very, very quickly. Also, the lid is horrible and had a habit of spraying droplets of extremely-hot condensation when opening.
One kettle we wanted to like was the Hamilton Beach 40996, but it was dragged down by horrible accuracy, slow speed and unintuitive controls. The nice thing about this kettle is that you can manually set the temperature over a huge range in 5°F increments, and it also has a built-in clock so you can have the kettle ready when you wake up. It doesn’t have any sort of alert when done boiling, but it does keep warm, so that’s not a huge problem. But even by its own digital thermometer, when you set a temperature it’ll overshoot by about 10°F before stopping—by my thermometer it even went as much as 12°F off. Not only that, but it’s slow to boil (more than 5 minutes for a liter), and has a tiny opening which makes it hard to clean. The interface is also complicated to use; changing temperature units and setting the alarm and time are highly complex operations.
The Chef’s Choice 688 has one enormous, glaring flaw. It’s incredibly slow. It took more than six minutes to boil a liter of water, sometimes as long as 6:30. That’s more than 90 seconds longer than our top pick. And while it was nice to be able to set your preferred temperature to 1°F increments (which it was mostly accurate with), it didn’t have any temperature presets, and had an obnoxiously loud beep when it hit temperature.
The Breville BKE820XL is pretty fantastic, but is let down by its rather steep price. With a sticker of $130, it just doesn’t do anything special enough to differentiate it and be worth the extra cash. On average, the Breville was slightly faster than most other units, taking about 4:40 to boil a liter of water. It also tended to run a little cool (about 5°F most of the time). What we really liked about the thing was the intuitive buttons (like the fact that the keep warm function only kicks in if you tell it to), the pleasant beep it makes when at temperature, the very large mouth for easy cleaning, and just generally looking sleek. But that’s not enough to be worth the extra $40 in our book.
The Firebox iKettle is temperature-controlled and connects via Wi-Fi to your smartphone. It’s also priced at a rather steep $160. Having Wi-Fi on your kettle really seems like it’s of limited use: you have to put water in the kettle anyway, so you might as well just start the thing boiling while you’re there. And while the manufacturers are billing it as a great thing to start your morning, you still need to drag yourself out of bed, get out the tea, put said tea in the teapot, then add the boiling water, and wait for it to steep. Having the water boiling already when you wake up doesn’t exactly do a lot to save you time — it’s not a coffee drip where you can set up the whole thing the night before. All told, it’s probably not worth the significant extra cost.
Wrapping it up
If you’re serious about drinking tea, you’ll want a variable temperature kettle so that you can heat up water to the perfect temp for your various tea types. The $90 Cuisinart CPK-17 offers decently good boiling speed, very accurate temperature and six different water settings for everything from delicate teas to a rolling boil. It looks good, is easy to use, and will keep your water to heat for 30 minutes. If you want something more affordable and basic, the Chef’s Choice 681 is the way to go.
Adjustable Electric Kettles, Cook's Illustrated, March 1, 2010"We found five models; all but one boasted automatic shutoff, a separate base for cordless pouring, and a visible water level, features we like in an electric kettle. Four of the five brought water to a boil in less than five minutes, about the same as our favorite standard electric kettle. Our winner wowed us with its ability to hold water at the desired temperature for up to 10 hours, but we balked at its price and its ungainly size. For tea or coffee connoisseurs who don’t mind spending $100, our second place finisher is fast, accurate, and holds water at temperature for up to 40 minutes."
Best Electric Teakettles, Good Housekeeping"We evaluated 24 electric teakettles for water temperature, boiling time, ease of use, and customer service. See our full results. Tote your beverage in one of our favorite coffee and tea travel mugs."
Hot Pots: Electric Kettles Steeped in the Future, Wired, August 23, 2010,"Four minutes and nine seconds! That’s the average time it takes for Cuisinart’s electric teapot to boil a liter of water. In addition to this blistering performance, the PerfecTemp offers a host of other highlights: the widest range of preset temperatures (six options, from 160 degrees to boiling), an easily accessed control panel built into the handle, and the ability to keep water warm longer than any other kettle we tested (30 minutes)."
Tea Tech: The high-tech kettle that's the best thing since boiled water, ZDNet Health, July 5, 2011,"Enter the Cuisinart CPK-17 PerfecTemp 1.7-Liter Stainless-Steel Cordless Electric Kettle. It's the best thing since boiled water. Really. I have had some truly wonderful cups of tea since I bought this kettle, because of how easy it is to choose the temperature based on the type of tea, push the appropriate button, and then press Start."
"This is the electric kettle for the true tea snobs out there. The Cuisinart PerfectTemp Cordless Electric Kettle comes with six preset temperature settings to heat the water for your tea to the precise temperature for full flavor. This electric kettle has every kind of feature you could ever want like auto shut-off and a memory function that keeps the brewing process going, even if you lift the kettle off of the base. This model has a hidden heating element and a scale filter, so it's a great choice if you have hard water. And at about $100, this is a top of the line electric kettle at a good value."
Gear for making great coffee, The Wirecutter, September 10, 2012,"For the same price as the Buono, Bonavita makes a convenient electric kettle that's also great for pourovers."
Whats the lowdown on the Utilitea Kettle's Temperature knob?, TeaChat Forums, November 2, 2009,"There are only two temperature options. The gradient does not indicate other temperature options."
Doesn't work as advertised, Amazon User Review, January 11, 2010,"The idea behind this kettle is great. However, it doesn't really work. The short story is that its thermostat is inaccurate. Set the control knob to a different setting and you'll get a different temperature--but what that temperature will be is anybody's guess. Using both a Mastercool infrared thermometer and a long probe instant-read thermometer, on any setting but the highest (full boil), I find the kettle is accurate to only something like 15-20 degrees. That is, on the same control knob setting, it will bring water to very different temperatures with successive uses. Without adjusting the knob, I'll get water at 195 one time and around 175 a second time. (Yes I allowed the kettle to cool between uses, not that that should matter.)"
Gong Fu Tea Tips with Zhou Yu -Fire, the Teacher of Tea-, The Leaf, March 2008“Throughout history different tea sages have disagreed on this point. Some thought it better to boil first, some to gauge the proper temperature each time. I think it depends on the water”, he said. He went on to suggest that some very clean mountain waters need not be boiled for sanitary reasons and therefore it might be better to never let them reach a rolling boil, as oxygen is depleted, and the texture or Qi changed.
Jugs and Kettles: Cuisinart PerfecTemp Programmable Kettle CPK-17A, Consumer, May 29, 2013"Good points: Good boiling performance. Easy-to-use push-button controls on top of the handle. Very clear (blue) indicator lights inside kettle. Push-button lid-opening for easy filling. The water can be poured in an even stream. Six preset temperatures. 30-minute keep-warm option for selected temperature. But: Noisy. The handle is comfortable but towards the end of pouring the kettle has to be tilted to an angle that doesn’t feel comfortable. Filter is a little fiddly to remove and replace."