Settling an Argument About My Tea

It started simply enough, with Amanda suggesting that we start using the kettle to boil water for my tea. My bride is a lover of all things British, and our Russell Hobbs electric kettle gives her a warm, fuzzy feeling because it’s so similar to the ones we have seen in kitchens all over the UK on our travels there.

But I knew better. “Nope. Not energy efficient,” I said, displaying my usual confidence about such weighty matters. “The microwave is the fastest way to heat water.” Before we knew it, we had spread out the three contenders for heating water for tea and were presiding over a smackdown.

The three contenders for us were the electric kettle (wired for 110 volt American current instead of the 220 volt configuration used in the UK); our induction cooktop with a dutch oven; and the microwave. Heating water on the stove wasn’t in the running, because (a) radiant stovetops are notoriously inefficient, and (b) even if we thought it might be the winner, we don’t have a range at the farm. For our test we used our Kill-A-Watt, a nifty gift from our daughter Adrian that allows us to measure the current consumed by any device that plugs into a wall outlet. In each case, we measured the electricity (and time) needed to heat a pint of tap water to the boiling point.

The kettle went first, finishing its assignment in 2 minutes and 20 seconds and using 5/100 of a KwH. Next up was the induction cooktop, which took 4 minutes and 25 seconds and used 8/100 of a KwH. The final contender, my predicted champ, was the microwave oven. It finished in 4 minutes and 20 seconds but used much more power (11/100 of a KwH) to finish the task. Loser!

Okay, I give. Amanda was right, and I was wrong. If your goal is to get a pint of water to boil in the least amount of time and using as little energy as possible, the electric kettle is the clear winner. However, I’m not convinced I should change yet. I’d like to think it’s because I’m reflective, although it may be simply that I am stubborn. Here’s my reasoning: when I make a cup of tea, I don’t use a full pint of water (which is about as little as you can heat in the kettle), and I don’t need it to reach the boiling point. I can heat exactly the amount of water I need in the mug from which I will drink my tea, and heat it in two minutes to exactly the right temperature for my tea (short of boiling). That process in the microwave uses 4/100 of a KwH.

So to sum it up, Amanda was right, and I was wrong, but I’m not changing. Do you see now why I say I married a saint?

The video runs about six and a half minutes.

4 thoughts on “Settling an Argument About My Tea”

  1. I wonder what would happen if you repeat the microwave oven test with a few different containers. Some container materials absorb microwaves; others don’t. I’ve seen this difference in coffee cups, for example. You want the microwave energy to be absorbed directly by the water, not the container.

  2. Lee,

    Though the information you shared from your experiment is great, the amusement I got watching far outweighed the knowledge I gained. That was fun Lee(and Amanda)!


  3. Good question, Chuck.

    Large opaque pyrex bowl: 5 min 50 sec. 15/100 KwH
    2 clear glasses (neither was big enough alone): 4 min 15 sec. 10/100 KwH
    Large opaque plastic bowl: 4 min. 20 soc. 10/100 KwH. Amanda fussed at me for heating water in a plastic bowl.

  4. Out of curiosity, I tried heating up just a mug’s worth of water in my electric kettle, and it still took over 2 minutes. Strengthens your conclusion, if you ask me.

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