The Tea Kettle’s Fascinating Journey Through The Chapters Of History
- Reema Gowalla
Updated : June 13, 2022 03:06 IST
From bronze and iron to porcelain and glass, the tea kettle has gone through more transformations than you think
Oftentimes, we tend to obsess over the cuppa but not speak much about the humble kettle. Possibly one of the oldest and the most used items in the kitchen, the kettle has seen varied transformations - in terms of shape as well as the material used to make it. Its primary purpose, however, has remained more or less the same - to boil water or make tea.
The origin of the kettle can be traced back to the ancient land of Mesopotamia, where - between 3,500BC and 2,000BC - kettles made from bronze were used by people. These came with fancy sprouts too. Iron was the preferred material to make kettles before the 19th Century. One of the reasons behind the growing popularity of the handy kettle during ancient times was its ability to quickly boil water and the fact that it could be directly placed on the flame. Thus, the material from which it is built was important. Copper was another choice, because it could conduct heat fast.
In terms of usage, people from ancient China - mostly the soldiers and travellers - used kettles primarily for two reasons - to get rid of the impurities in water and, in the process of boiling, also lend a flavour to it. Legend has it that while doing so they found out that adding green tea leaves to boiling water could dramatically change its taste and render a refreshing effect on those who sips on it. European warriors and nomads, on the other hand, used the kettle to boil water infused with wheat grain. This practice could be what eventually led to the making of the malt beer. The North American cowboys made coffee in the already popular kettle.
Given its burgeoning reputation as the one of the main organs of the kitchen, large volumes of the kettle began to be traded across the globe. Not long after, the Chinese came up with the idea of using porcelain to make kettles, tea cups and pots, which as we know later became a symbol of sophistication, adorning the very many tea parties in civil society.
Typically comprising a lid, spout and handle, the term ‘kettle’ too had its own journey. It originally came from the Old Norse word ketill, meaning a cauldron. The Old English spelling for it was cetel, which was later also spelled as chetel, before we finally settled with ‘kettle’.
Then there were different types of kettle too. The stovetop kettle was built without a lid and the spout was used to fill water in it. That particular invention eventually made way for the kettle whistle. Modern-day whistling kettles come with an actual whistle cover at the end of the spout. These are made of stainless steel and they feature a bright finish. You’ll also find stove kettles made from aluminium, iron, copper, ceramic and polished chrome.
In 1891, the first electric kettle came into the picture. It was the creation of the Carpenter Electrical Company in the US. It used to take about 12 minutes to boil water. The Swan Company pulled the wraps off a newly designed electric kettle in 1922. This version boiled water faster and was far more efficient than its predecessor.
The company used brass to make the kettle, a model of which is now on display at the Museum of Liverpool. Then came the Russell Hobbs-designed automatic electric kettle. This 1956 invention is what resulted in the development of the automatic kettle that we use today.
Meanwhile, Turkish cuisine featured a unique aluminium vessel to boil water. It’s called the çaydanlık. In 1984, Graves kettle came into existence. It sported a bird-shaped whistle on the spout. The Kelly kettle was created to efficiently use the heat of a small fire, while there’s also Kashgar’s glass tea kettle that was developed in 2010. In between, we also had the solar-powered kettles. The contemporary electric kettles that look more like a jug now are mostly made from enamelled metal and plastic.
In India, the aluminium ketli and chai glasses are an inseparable combination. Given that we are primarily a tea-loving nation, the aluminium kettle has come up in history time and again, becoming almost a living legend. Be it at home, railway stations, eateries or on the streets, milky, spiced tea being prepared in this huge spouted vessel is a sight of sore eyes.