Electric kettles are very convenient. They can be used for anything from making pour-over coffee to cooking breakfast burritos (yes, really!). But the most obvious and common thing to do with them is brew tea.
The third-wave tea movement which has been on the rise in the last few years has called into question how best to make tea. While there’s some disagreement about timing, amounts, and temperatures, there are two key ingredients that every cup of tea needs: water and tea leaves.
The tea leaves are going to be up to you, but in this article, you’ll learn how to use an electric kettle to make the perfect cup of tea.
Before we jump in, a small detour is in order to explain some of the principles of electric kettles. As possibly the simplest appliance in the kitchen, why make them electric?
The principle is very straightforward. If you’ve ever seen an electric oven, you know they have a coil that heats up and cooks the food that you place on the range in a pot or pan. An electric kettle works in a similar way. It’s the marriage of a container to boil water in and a heating element.
The coil, in this case, isn’t on a stovetop but rather in the kettle itself. By putting it in contact with the water, it heats the water faster and makes it a stand-alone unit. Therefore, electric kettles typically use less energy to heat water than a stove. It also takes up less space and all the obvious things you can discern just by looking at it.
The first thing you need to know is that tea leaves (or bags, as the case may be) never go into an electric kettle. You shouldn’t dual-purpose your electric kettle to be a teapot also.
The reason is pretty simple – you’ll probably want to make a variety of beverages and foods. If you infuse it with tea flavor, it won’t be as suitable for anything other than tea. It will also fuse the flavor of one tea into another, again creating a less-than-ideal scenario.
Having said that, the process of making tea with an electric kettle is extremely simple. Every model will be slightly different, but there are some basic elements that they all share.
Plug in your kettle, fill it with water (purified, if possible, to prevent residue buildup) and turn it on. The preponderance of kettles has a very simple interface: You press a button or flip a switch and it starts heating whatever is inside it. The water will reach a boil or near boil and then the kettle will maintain that temperature until you turn it off or the automatic shutoff engages.
The ideal temperature to boil most teas is 185°F. If your kettle has a thermometer, set it to that temperature. If it doesn’t have a thermometer, a few degrees up or down won’t make that big a difference.
If you want to keep the tea hot longer, warm up the cup or teapot that you’ll be using to steep with some warm water beforehand.
Add the tea leaves into the vessel you’ll use to steep the tea — an infuser is ideal for loose leaves to avoid having to strain it afterward. You want to use one tea bag for every cup of water that you’ll be brewing. If you’re using loose tea leaves, that comes out to about one teaspoon of tea leaves.
Pour the hot water over the tea and let it steep for three to five minutes. The longer it steeps, the stronger it will be — within reason. Avoid steeping it for longer than five minutes as this will start to release tannins which make your tea bitter. Remove the tea bag or infused, and enjoy your tea.
Milk and sugar are optional and you can add them to your cup before or after the tea. There is some disagreement about that, but rest assured, it makes no difference. Keep in mind, though, that stirring will cool your tea faster.
As a general rule, you should only brew teas once. However, some particularly strong teas can safely be brewed twice if you don’t steep them very long. Oolong and black teas fall into this category. Just reserve the leaves when you’re done steeping and use them again the same way. Don’t apply this to tea bags, though, they should only be brewed the one time.
If you’re more into softer tea flavors, green tea or white tea may be more to your liking. There are more varieties of tea than most people realize so it’s worth doing a bit of research to find the right one for you.
Always use fresh water. If you start with water that has been boiled before — or if you boil water for too long — it will taste flat and ruin your tea.
Also, if stored improperly, the flavor compounds in tea leaves begin to dissipate. Make sure you store your tea in airtight containers and in a cool, dry place. If you have a lot of tea, keep the brunt of it in a large container and set aside bits into a smaller one so you don’t expose all of it to the air frequently.
When it comes down to it, making a cup of tea with an electric kettle isn’t much different than making it any other way. The benefits of using an electric kettle are that the water heats much faster and you don’t have to worry about forgetting about it.
All you really have to do is set the kettle and wait for it to heat up. Then cover your tea leaves with the hot water and steep them for 3-5 minutes. Don’t forget to remove the tea, whether it’s a bag or an infuser; no one likes over-extracted tea.