Product Review: Breville Variable Temperature Kettle

If you have been reading this site for any length of time, you probably know that I take my electric kettle very seriously. I use an electric kettle several times a day to heat water for coffee, tea, soaking and blanching vegetables, plumping raisins, and any other number of things that require hot water. Many of these things, though — especially coffee and tea — require water that isn't heated to boiling temperatures. Most teas steep at a much lower temperature, and coffee also should be brewed a little under boiling. But most kettles go straight to boiling without stopping.

So you can imagine my delight when I got to try out the new variable temperature kettle from Breville. Here are a few thoughts on this very handsome electric kettle.

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The background: I have been using a UtiliTEA adjustable temperature kettle from Adagio, which I loved, but I still had some issues with it. It doesn't have a very precise temperature control; you can only set the kettle to a general category of temperature, and depending on how much water is in the kettle, you get slightly different results every time.

What I really want is a kettle with a temperature readout on the side, showing you exactly what temperature the water is at.

Well, the Breville isn't exactly that, but it does have some very good features. Let's take a look.

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Features
• The Breville is a stainless steel kettle that is completely detachable from its stainless base. So, in kettle-speak, it's a cordless kettle. (The base plugs in, not the kettle.) This is the best sort of kettle to have: the removable pot makes it easy to fill and pour, and the steel construction removes any worries about boiling water in plastic.

• There is a clear water indicator on both sides of the kettle, which is a nice touch. It makes it equally convenient for left and right-handed people to check water levels.

• What sets the kettle apart from most other kettles available in the States, though, is the adjustable temperature settings. There are five temperature settings, labeled by their function and their temperature. They include: 175F/80C - Green Tea, 185F/85C - White Tea, 195F/90C - Oolong Tea, 200F/93C - French Press, and 212F/100C - Boil and Black Tea.

• Each of these temperature settings can be held for up to twenty minutes. So you can boil your water and just hold it there until you're ready for it. I confess, however, that I almost never use this setting. It feels rather wasteful of energy, and also water for tea should always be freshly boiled — not held at temperature.

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The Good
So, how does it work? It works well! My husband and I have put this kettle through its paces for quite a while now. We have a very precise routine for coffee, and this kettle fits in well. It would be a good kettle for households that go through a lot of hot water; at 1.8 liters this thing is huge! The buttons for setting the temperatures are clearly marked and they light up when pressed. It's very easy to operate the kettle, and so far it's been working beautifully — with just a couple of exceptions.

It's also very good looking: that brushed stainless look, along with the sleek base, look great out on the countertop.

The Bad
There are two drawbacks to this kettle. One is also potentially a good thing: the size. I find this kettle very heavy, especially when it's full. I can't just swing it off the base and pour it; I have to be very careful not to spill or splash. I find the 1 liter Adagio kettle much more manageable. But some people felt that the Adagio kettle was too small and would probably like the size of this one.

The second problem is less a preference issue, and more one of design. We have found that the kettle doesn't heat accurately when it isn't completely full. I like to fill it up only partially (because it's so heavy!) but I started noticing that the kettle would shut off before the water was heated to the chosen temperature. This is a puzzling design flaw; you would think that the water would heat too hot when less full (the Adagio kettle trends this way). This is unfortunate; you have to spend more time and energy heating more water to get a really accurate temperature.

And this kettle, by the virtue of its sheer size and capacity, does take several minutes to heat. It takes at least a couple minutes longer than the smaller Adagio kettle.

Summary
This is a great kettle for anyone who wants to pay a little more attention to the temperature of their water for tea and coffee. It's still not perfect — I still want a kettle with a temperature readout! But it's a very well-made and handsome kettle with generally accurate temperature control.

It's pricey; at $150 it's $90 more than the Adagio kettle. But the greater size and control may be worth it.

Buy it: Breville BKE820XL Variable Temperature Kettle, $150 at Amazon.com

Related: Best Product: UtiliTEA Electric Kettle

(Images: Breville and Faith Durand)