Electric Kettle Acid Test: Sunbeam Tea Drop, Kenwood Response Kettle

I've never been one for electric kettles, although when even Alton Brown has been swayed by their easy allure I am compelled to reconsider. I borrowed one last year for a few days, thinking that I'd enjoy having water for tea at arm's length, rather than make the strenuous trek to my kitchen, almost thirty feet away, through the Straights of Boxes to Be Recycled and past the Horn of Ikea Cart. It worked okay until I kicked it over onto my hand-made particle board shelves which swelled like pound cake in, well, tea. Now I only drink air and whatever fluids my dog can manage to fling into my mouth when he shakes out his flaps in the morning. Here's one electric kettle I won't be getting: The Sunbeam Tea Drop Tea Maker [not pictured], panned by Gadget Lab's Rob Beschizza as a "useless piece of garbage."
The steaming mechanism just doesn't work. This might be because tea needs the impact of boiling water to infuse well, but hey, it doesn't really matter--all you need to know is that the Tea Drop is garbage. The output is undrinkable swill. If you've ever wondered why other people don't make tea the amazingly simple way you've discovered--by pouring hot water onto it from the faucet--you've just found your ultimate beverage-making gadget.
That directs the focus on the new, wholly untested Kenwood Response Kettle, whose name may evoke equipment used by tea time paramedics, but in fact refers to two LEDs inside. One LED is red, the other blue. As water heats the former begins to shine as the latter wanes, indicating your water has been boiled. The Response Kettle also has an intermediate step which heats water to 80 degrees, which they say is "perfect for coffee and herbal teas." That was confusing until I realized they were talking Celsius, which may also mean that the product is UK only for now. Sunbeam's Tea Drop Tea Maker is a Useless Piece of Garbage [Gadget Lab] Response Kettle press release [KenwoodWorld.com via Coolest-Gadgets.com via Chip Chick]
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29 Responses to Electric Kettle Acid Test: Sunbeam Tea Drop, Kenwood Response Kettle

  1. Anonymous says:

    As the parent of young children I would think twice about buying one of these – a kettle that draws attention to itself with a lightshow that’s most alluring when filled with scalding hot water is dangerous – kids just want to make it do it’s trick again. We use an anonymous white plastic job.

  2. Amy says:

    I’m very happy with my TFal Vitesse. I’ve had it since September 2004. There’s a newer version available on Amazon. No whistle, but it turns itself off after the water starts to boil. I also use my electric kettle to get pasta water boiling.


  3. Alison Scott says:

    I have the Breville Spectra kettle, which also has the blue when cold, red when boiling thing, plus a keep-warm setting (I’ve never used it, but I suspect tis essential for bottle-feeding mums). But I mostly love it because it does a colour-changing LED light show in the kitchen whenever it’s on standby. A kettle with standby mode. Can’t be good for the planet but it makes me smile every time I walk into the kitchen.

    Kettles are universal in Britain, with 240V electricity, but the argument’s not so clear in the US. My kettle boils in about a minute flat and I could not possibly live without it.

  4. adam says:

    Electric kettles are great when you don’t have a stove nearby (like at work). I have a Rival Hot Pot Express in my office. I make hot tea and the occasional Cup o’ Noodles with it.

    Even with fairly decent tea it works out to be much cheaper than going to the Starbucks we have in the building.

  5. Alan says:

    I like my electric kettle a lot, but for other reasons. Since it heats up water quickly, it’s great for making pasta; heat the water up in the kettle, maybe a little more in the cooking pot, and the wait time is cut in half, sometimes even to a third. Now, being a coffee drinker, I must admit that the Kenwood Response Kettle, besides the thoroughly goofy name, has a lot of appeal.

  6. milovoo says:

    I like having LEDs in my kettle so I got one called the Storm, it makes wavy blue light patterns on your ceiling while the water heats (that part is best enjoyed if you make your tea in the dark) but overall a good quality kettle.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Why $100 on a kettle? The main things people seem to want from a kettle are –

    #1 – Speed
    #2 – Efficiency
    #3 – Heating to just the ‘right’ temperature

    #3 has never been a big priority for me, many units that claim to hit a target temperature aren’t infinitely variable and just don’t get hot enough or cold enough.

    I usually want boiling or near boiling water with speed and efficiency. If I need lower temps I look for a vessel I can look down into. Small bubbles = 160-170F. Strings of bubbles = 180-190F. On a rapidly heating kettle I can tell by ear when the water should be coming off if I need it less than boiling.

    So what am I getting at here? There is something just as fast and nearly as efficient in the same price range as these kettles that is far more robust.

    An induction cooktop. Faster than most microwaves at boiling water, they transfer energy to a steel vessel directly, without heating the glass surface of the cooktop. You can even place newspaper between the vessel and the cooktop. It takes 3.5 minutes to bring 2 standard coffee mugs of water to rapid boil, using an attractive 6″ diameter stainless steel frothing pitcher that I wouldn’t even think about putting on a regular stove. It will take a 12″ diameter pot if you want it to.

    It is a true multi-tasker, getting hot within seconds, it will sear a steak better than most residential gas stoves. Just use it with a flat bottomed wok or a cast iron pan. If cooking something that splatters I can place a newspaper between the pan and the cooktop, for easy cleanup, since it heats the vessel directly. It will also shut off if boiled dry. On the lowest setting it will melt chocolate without burning it, great for maintaining temperature when steeping something.

    It also has a temperature sensor if you want to keep something just below boiling. My tests using the 170F setting found it fluctuated between 165-185, not too shabby, but I wouldn’t use the temperature hold mode for cooking. I use it to pre-heat oil for deep frying while I prepare other things. The highest “hold temp” on my unit is 430F, lowest is 80F.

    About deep frying – normally deep frying with small quantities of oil doesn’t work because as soon as you put something moist and cold in the fryer, the oil temp tanks. But with induction, I can put less than 2 cups of oil in my tea pitcher and fry single serving batches in it. Frying half a plaintain into chips in just over a cup of oil is no problem, just crank it on high and turn it down once the rapid release of steam is over. The chips never stop releasing steam until they are dry, the temp is maintained effectively. This is a testament to how much power these things put out, I can actually see the convection currents in the oil the moment I turn the unit on. If you live alone or with just one other person, induction + a tiny vessel for small batches of fried food is a nice plus. I find myself experimenting more with deep frying since I don’t need half a gallon of oil.

    An induction cooktop is compact and sleek enough to not look out of place in an office environment, since it sits fairly flat and has a sealed glass top. There is no pitcher with wires attached, so you can freely carry tea over to your desk to pour a cup without unplugging it or dragging wires. The unit even detects when the pitcher is gone and will shut off after a minute.

    Inexpensive models cost around $120, look on ebay for the brand “Sunpentown”. These are 1200w, while the one I use is 1800w, but I have heard there is little difference between the fancy units and the cheap Sunpentown ones for most tasks. 1200w pumped into a vessel at 80% efficieny is nothing to shake a stick at, the performance should be at least as good as a special purpose water kettle. One caveat, induction only works with magnetic steel, so if you get a stainless pitcher check if a magnet sticks to it before buying, not all grades of stainless are magnetic.

    They make pricey ($500+) single cooktop units that can be installed flush into a counter. I wouldn’t mind having one flush on the end of my desk, since it would blend in as a work surface when not in use. Maybe when I build my ultimate workstation with dual 20″ + 30″ LCD displays, but probably not, I don’t think I could justify the cost of a fancy unit for just boiling water.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I believe the reason that electric kettles are commonplace in Europe and not in the USA is in part down to the electrical supply.
    Standard European sockets supply 230V at up to 13A. That’s 3kW, easily enough to bring a litre of water to the boil in a couple of minutes. For the same power on US 115V voltage, you’d need twice the current, which would mean the cord and socket would have to handle 26A – something they’re not designed to do. So you have to resort to the cooker – which is either gas, or has a higher current and/or voltage connection to the electrical supply.

    Usually in the UK when moving into a new house or flat, the first thing you unpack is the kettle, followed by the teabags, milk and mugs. Kettles here in the UK are dirt cheap (< £5 / $10) which will bring a couple of litres of water to 100C in under 2 minutes in general. Ones that change colour depending on water temperature have been around for at least 5 years, and come in at around £20 / $40.

  9. Anonymous says:

    WTF. Firstly, how do you not all have kettles? I’m a Brit, yes, but I don’t drink tea or coffee.
    How do you boil water? Over a hob takes forever.
    The blue and red light kettles have been around for yonks. My parents are on at least their third.

  10. Jon Silk says:

    I love the way Americans discuss electric kettles as though they’re from the future / deep in the past.

    I remember visiting a family in 1999 and asking why they were boiling water on the hob in a saucepan to make me tea.

    “How else would you do it,” said the ‘mom’.

    “In an electric kettle,” I said.

    Mom said: “What? The plastic things? How do they not melt?!”


    By the way – is someone suggesting in this thread that they make tea using water from the hot tap?

  11. dculberson says:

    I have an old (80’s?) electric kettle that I use all the time; it looks like a traditional tea kettle with an electric cord and tall rubber feet. There’s no way you’d knock it over since the base is 2x as wide as the top. I love it. ‘Course, I keep it in the kitchen, past the straits of wooden bench and the narrows of pool tableau. (my poor shins.) (Apologies for stealing your metaphor.)

    I use it because it’s way faster and seems more efficient than heating the water on the stove. While it’s electric and the stove is gas, it takes about a tenth the time. (Really!) And there’s so much less heat given off that I can believe 90%+ of the energy it consumes is going into the water. The stove adds heat to the room, which isn’t a problem in the winter of course.

    Mine was probably originally a small fortune, but I got it cheap-as-free from a friend who got it from the thrift store.

  12. whitecat says:

    I must defend electric kettles. I’ve had an electric kettle for years. I first discovered how indispensable they are on the trip to the UK – every hotel room has an electric kettle.

    Mine’s a Krups. I’ve had others, but the Krups is faster and better made than any other I’ve tried. It was about $50 and worth every penny.

    Cooks have good reason to praise electric kettles and find them incredibly useful. They’re great for tea, of course, but that’s just the start. If you need hot water quickly for rehydrating dried fruit or beans or bulgur or vegetables or instant anything (soup, noodles, oatmeal), an electric kettle is much better and more energy-efficient than a microwave or boiling water on the stovetop. They’re perfect for sterilizing things – like the pet nurser I used when feeding an abandoned kitten.

    In the winter when my pond freezes over, I boil a pot of water to pour on the ice to open a hole (ammonia builds up and kills the fish if the ice is solid for too long). I use the hot water to heat saki, to warm liqueurs, to supplement pasta-cooking water as cited above, and to add water to already-simmering soups and stocks without bringing the temperature down.

    It’s not just about having water for tea at arm’s length, though that is nice. It’s about having hot or boiling water quickly, efficiently, and non-wastefully – which you certainly can’t say about running tapwater until it’s hot.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I have a retro setup. Metal kettle on a gas hob.

    Seemed more efficient than an electric one (what with electric units more expensive than gas units in Blighty).

    Can somebody confirm/deny this?

  14. mpb says:

    Russell-Hobbes (and it come in USA electricity).

    The other good thing about a proper elec kettle is that it shuts OFF when done. No more melting a pan on the stove or starting fires. Go to the bathroom without fear and still have water for morning coffee ready.

  15. Anonymous says:

    LOL… I am in Canada and only recently learned that our friends to the south are not regular users of electric kettles!!!

    I knew of no other way, and doubt most Canadians have either. It is one of the most basic kitchen essentials here. My local Sears store in Toronto has at least a couple dozen for sale.

    I bought a beautiful glass kettle by Capresso, truly a work of art, and something that MUST be left on the counter to be seen!!

  16. Anonymous says:

    I gather the lack of electric kettles in the US is something to do with the predominance of 110 volts? Here in AU we’re on 250 volts, and a kettle of water is ready in under 2 minutes; far more efficient than wasting all that gas.
    Another thing I’ve found, particularly in Western Australia, is that a hob kettle will last 12 months tops before developing a leak. Probably the crappy water quality.

  17. Justin Sherrill says:

    I’ve also seen the TriniTEA:
    Don’t know how well it works.

    And, the advice I tell anyone who already likes tea: If you are using teabags, you should find a supplier of good-quality loose tea. The taste difference is surprising.

  18. schmod says:

    Don’t get between the brits and their tea.

  19. Anonymous says:

    As an American, I discovered and embraced electric kettles in 1992 — when I saw a handsome Russell-Hobbs cordless kettle in a Williams Sonoma catalog. It soon became my favorite appliance, whether for coffee, tea or adding heated water to cooking. Since it was my favorite appliance I began to give them as special gifts — first for my mother’s 70th birthday, knowing it was the gift that would keep on giving, particularly by not ever burning down the house! My mother is now 84 and is still using and in love with the same trusty kettle. I also give them as wedding gifts. The reaction by the recipient is usually, “humm, a kettle?” and then they soon fall in love with it and sing it’s praises, particularly if they like to cook. Sadly, I don’t think Russell-Hobbs kettles are as good as they once were — since they were bought out by a U.S. company :-(

    On extended travels I now pack my Chef’sChoice Electric French Press, (model 695 http://www.chefschoice.com/page2g.html made in Germany) as it does 2 jobs in one — boils, steeps & serves tea or coffee. As strictly a Barry’s Irish Tea drinker — I want my tea whenever the desire comes over me!

    This glass kettle is not great for shorter travels — so if anyone has a good suggestion for a small, light weight travel kettle — please come forth with the info! Dual voltage would be a big plus!

  20. Beschizza says:

    Automatic electric kettles are actually wonderful things, so long as the steam detector isn’t too trigger-happy. I use a Breville for day to day use.

    Of course, an old can on the gas range will do just as well. So long as the water is roiling around going “PLOPH LOPH FLPL SFPHLOPH BLOBLE PHLOPH” the instant before you pour it, it’s good.

  21. Anonymous says:

    i still cant get over that its not commen practice to have a kettel in every kitchen, as an irish man, i dont have a toster in my kitchen, no microwave either, but you can be sure ive got a kettel and a stack of tea…

  22. tonx says:

    80C is not hot enough for coffee. 90-95C would be more appropriate.

  23. monopole says:

    The problem is the kettle used. The only proper electric kettles are the type made by Zojirushi they’re microprocessor controlled, have multiple temperature settings (140F,195F and 208F) allowing for optimal brewing of different grades of teas. They have a sleep mode for when you are at work or asleep, automatically shut off with error indications when they boil down, have a nonstick pot, and originated the magnetic cords Apple uses for their laptops. A pilot tube indicates how much water is in the reservoir.
    Simply put, they are the perfect electric water boiler and pretty much present in most Japanese homes.

  24. Anonymous says:

    I love my Breville kettle. Works like a charm, looks great. Who could ask for more??

  25. Anonymous says:

    Absolutely the first things you unpack when moving are the kettle, mugs, tea, sugar and milk. If they’re not in the very first box (or better: not packed and simply carried over by you), then you’re off to the shops to buy any missing components.

    Without the regular supply of strong, sweet, milky tea, your removal blokes’ workrate rapidly diminishes. With it, well, moving all our furniture and stuff into our (4 bedroom) house the other week took under 3 hours.

  26. Anonymous says:

    They are talking in Celsius because Fahrenheit is complete insanity. Nobody even knows what it is based on. Wikipedia lists seven different versions of the story behind its inception.

  27. Teapunk says:

    What you really want is Alessis electric kettle: http://www.alessi.co.uk/ashop-uk/home-design/electrical-appliances-90150/electric-kettle-945/
    which also gives you the authentic “Get your ass over into the kitchen already the water is cooking and if you don’t turn it out right now your hysteric neighbour will come over and kill you” whistle sound.
    Lovely, isn’t it?

  28. Anonymous says:

    On the Sunbeam Tea Drop.
    While playing with the mechanism, I realized that the stenciling for brew strength is backwards. If you want stronger tea, you must turn it left to mild.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I have the Adagio TriniTEA. It works great and can be microwaved!!! We’ve considered getting a second one for my husband to have at work.

    I recently just purchased a GE electric kettle. My decision to get one was for one main reason. I’d left my regular tea kettle on the stuff to boil and upon walking away immediately forgot that I had put it on. However long later (hour or so) Hubby commented on what was burning. The tea kettle had fused itself to the burner leaving bits of painted metal on the burner.

    The electric kettle is also heats water a lot quicker than the stove top. I boiled 10 cups of water in 5 minutes. And of course much quicker than heating 2 separate cups of water in the microwave (at 1 1/2- 1 3/4 minutes each). My only wish is that it was an insulated container.

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