A Watched Pot Never Boils

Unless you’re Asian, British, or a tea obsessive, you may not know the many pleasures of an electric kettle. Yes, it’s perfect for heating water for your fine fragrant leaves, but it’s also ideal for French press coffee, instant ramen noodles, and steel-cut Irish oatmeal.

Besides offices and homes, it’s good for dorm rooms, too. All you need is an outlet.

There are actually two primary types of water-heating devices: electric kettles and hot water dispensing pots. The first looks and works like a teapot, with a handle and a spout. The other stays upright and releases water with the push of a button.

Whichever style you choose, you want a pot that will automatically shut off when your water has boiled or reached your set temperature. Also, don’t bother with plastic pots: They affect taste and aroma.

Fill your pot only with water and take care not to overfill it, because boiling water can spill dangerously onto electric heating elements. All pots may need limescale deposits removed occasionally.

VE Hybrid Water Boiler & Warmer
By Zojirushi, $184.95

Like a hybrid car, this water boiler and warmer model from Zojirushi has been designed for energy efficiency. The VE stands for Vacuum-Electric: Water boils when the electric appliance is turned on, but it can stay warm even when the boiler’s turned off thanks to double vacuum insulation.

It heats up to four liters to three preset temperatures (175 degrees Fahrenheit, 195 degrees Fahrenheit, 208 degrees Fahrenheit). A reboil button automatically heats water to 212 degrees Fahrenheit, and the actual water temperature is always displayed.

The timer lets you set water to boil in six to ten hours, but unfortunately it’s not a clock. You can fill the boiler at night, then set it to boil in eight hours to have hot water ready for breakfast.

The clear-coated stainless steel exterior and seamless touchpad controls are easy to wipe clean. Zojirushi’s signature “Panorama Window” water gauge shows the level clearly. Lift the machine with the sturdy, fold-back handle. The large lid raises and detaches, revealing nearly the entire top for filling and cleaning.

The boiler plays a song or beeps to alert you when your water has boiled or if the level is low. Unlock the unit and then press the large center button to dispense hot water.

This boiler works beautifully, but it’s big and relatively expensive. However if you regularly have the need for great volumes of hot water, it is definitely worth the space and price.

International Cordless Electric Kettle (Model 678)
By Chef’sChoice, $59.95

This cordless stainless-steel kettle by Chef’sChoice features a big, stay-cool plastic handle and heating base. The lid locks for added safety. With a two-quart capacity it’s not only the biggest kettle made by the manufacturer, but one of the largest kettles on the market by about a cup. An exterior gauge shows the water level inside.

Despite its volume, this kettle still boils water far faster than a stovetop or a microwave. Plus, the 1,500-watt heating element is sealed beneath a stainless-steel bottom so it’s never in direct contact with the water, which means there are no mineral deposits to clean up.

The brushed finish resists fingerprints and polishes easily to a sleek shine. The pot’s stylish enough for table service, but warn your guests that it is very hot.

UtiliTEA Kettle
By Adagio Teas, $49

On the other end of the temperature spectrum, the UtiliTEA Kettle, made by the wonderful people at Adagio Teas, offers a highly variable control dial. Connoisseurs of green tea can bring their water to a lower temperature, while drinkers of darker tea can still get a rolling boil. A dial lets you make minute changes.

The UtiliTEA is also cordless, with a brushed stainless-steel body, a plastic stay-cool handle, and an exterior water gauge. It’s very compact, perhaps too small for some, with only a 30-ounce capacity.

While serious tea-drinkers love this kettle, I found it strange that there are no temperature markings on the pot. Once you hit on the perfect degree for your leaf of choice, you’ll have to remember where it was on the dial.

Shopping for new gear? What would you like Louisa to test next? Email gear@chow.com.