How do you brew? The history of kettles and cuppas

Updated on 07 December 2011 | 0 Comments

The traditional kettle has been forced to evolve to keep up with our tea and coffee habit

Hardworking kit

We do like to use our kettles, and we like to abuse them too. Often they’re the first item to be switched on in the kitchen each morning, and the last to be switched off at night, as we trundle to bed clutching a hot drink.

Without the electric kettle, brewing up our favourite hot drink would be a lot more trouble. Imagine having to go to all the trouble of filling a saucepan with water to put on the stovetop…indeed, modern kitchen conveniences have most certainly made us lazy.

Ancient appliance

Hot water is a mainstay of warm food, however, and a kettle of one type or another is one of the most ancient examples of a cooking utensil. The word comes from the Old Norse word ‘ketill’, which means ‘cauldron’, and would most likely have been made from bronze.

By the 19th century, most kettles were made from copper and heated over an open fire or stove. The first electric kettle was invented in Chicago in 1891, and took 12 minutes to boil the water. Few of us would hang around for that long these days.

First modern kettle

During the early decades of the twentieth century, great advances were made in kettle technology – brewing time was cut, the designs became safer and easier to use, and in 1955 Russell Hobbs came up with the blueprint for what we understand today as a kettle – an automatic, electric kettle which boils water in just a few minutes.

However we weren’t content with this. Our thirst for a greater and greater number of hot drinks, served at a faster pace, each day, has fuelled a competition between product designers – to be the first to create the cleverest kettle of them all.

Teasmades and beyond

And we have seen quite a selection. In the 1930s, the Teasmade began to make appearance by the bedsides of the lucky few. You can still pick up a Teasmade today, but they reached the peak of their popularity in the 1960s and 70s and are mostly considered a retro novelty item.

There have been rumours the Teasmade is making a comeback and newer designs, such as the one which cooks your bacon while making your cuppa, are on the market, but it seems likely we’re all but done with this contraption.

As coffee culture took hold in the UK, we started splashing the cash on expensive coffee machines instead, such as the clever Nespressos, which require expensive shiny pods of coffee but no expertise, and Gaggias, as used by the professionals.

Really, the clever kettles we should be seeking out these days are the energy efficient designs. If you must drink six cups of tea every day, try not to boil a full kettle each time.

Did you own a teasmade or perhaps you have a Nesprsso machine, or do you still put a whistling kettle on the stove? Let us know your kettle recollections.

Why not use a cuppa to wash down the following

Paul A Young's tea bread

Tristan Welch's tea custard and crumble desserts

Bake Sophie Grigson’s pecan puffs


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