Posted in Kafevend Blog

What makes a cup? The kettle

Those of you with us on Sunday last week will remember we started a series examining all the various things that go into making a cup of tea and coffee. Following on from that blog, which concerned itself with water, today we are going to move on to consider a stalwart of any British kitchen: the kettle. The almost space age design of the modern appliance belies its ancient past however...

Ancient history

Quite when, where and who was the first person to create something akin to a kettle is obviously a little tricky to pin down. We do know however some areas that they began to spring up in. The ancient realm of Mesopotamia is one- the cradle of civilization in the Middle East based around the rivers Tigris and Euphrates. The kettles here were typically fashioned out of bronze. Kettles also began to show up in ancient China, although these were made using iron or porcelain.

Whilst the Mesopotamian kettle was more likely used in a cooking context, the Chinese version served basically the same function as any modern one- heating water. However, whereas we use it for making drinks, the ancient kettle served a vital role in making often contaminated water safe to drink, a task it has been turned towards for thousands of years. The name kettle is a more recent invention or adoption, deriving from the word ketill. This is an old Norse word meaning cauldron, which also serves as a pointer to the kettle's initial form.

Modern tweaking

The modern electric kettle first arrived in 1893, devised by British company Crompton and Co. Unfortunately, the heating element was isolated from the water, meaning they were less efficient than the traditional stove top variety. As you can guess, they didn't really catch on because of this. Thankfully, a Birmingham engineer by the name of Leslie Large finally pushed the electric kettle into the limelight in 1922, when he designed an element that could be submersed, massively improving the efficiency.

Further developments were made over the years, an important one being introduced by the well known brand Russell Hobbs. Bill Russell and Peter Hobbs invented the automated kettle in 1955, which used the steam produced as the kettle reached a boil to trip the switch and stop it from boiling dry- a potentially dangerous occurrence.

These days there are even more developments to be found in the kettle. For those of us living in hard water areas, the integration of a filter is much welcomed, as it will keep our kettles going for longer without all that limescale building up. Perhaps more importantly for the discerning tea and coffee drinker, there are now kettles with temperature controls. As we mentioned last week, different types of tea require different water temperatures- one of these kettles will save you a lot of guesswork!


Russell Hobbs

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