No one would blame you for mixing up these two kitchen items.
Not only do they both contain the word “tea” in name, but between their prominent spouts and sometimes dramatic handles, they can even look quite similar to one another! While it’s true that a teapot and a tea kettle both hold hot liquids and are necessary for making that steaming cup of tea, they each serve different parts of the tea making process.
Whether you’re treating yourself to new kitchenware, looking to get a great gift, or are just curious about all things tea, you've found yourself in the right place to understand the key differences between a tea kettle and a teapot. Let’s get this tea party started!
What is a Teapot?
A teapot is a vessel that is used for the purpose of brewing tea. While it’s true that you can always brew tea right in your teacup, a teapot is a useful alternate option as it makes a greater quantity of tea, meaning you can more easily enjoy your tea time with others--or have as much as you like for yourself! The greater volume of liquid in a teapot also helps to keep the tea warmer for longer, and serves aesthetic purposes as well, often making that cup of tea just a bit more special.
Types of Teapots
While teapots are at heart a functional item, they also aim to be visually pleasing! Since the role of most teapots is to be front and center on the table at tea time, the type of teapot you choose is a personal one. Just for this reason, teapots are available in a wide range of different shapes and sizes.
In the interest of looking beautiful and delivering a level of elegance to afternoon tea, many teapots are crafted from fairly fragile materials such as ceramic or porcelain. Teapots may be extravagantly painted to sport a unique pattern, or they may be more simple and subtle in their appearance.
Not all teapots are so delicate though! There are plenty of hardy options when it comes to teapots. Some styles are made from borosilicate glass, stainless steel, and even cast iron, as is the traditional material used for Japanese teapots.
Can You Put a Teapot Over Direct Heat?
Regardless of which material is used, you should never place a teapot over direct heat (or in the microwave for that matter!) if you are unsure of its heat tolerance, especially a porcelain teapot. Doing so could cause severe damage to the tea pot, and ruin your tea in the process.
Some teapots are safe to be used on the stovetop, but please note that any teapot which is specifically designed to withstand that degree of temperature fluctuation will expressly indicate this fact.
What Type of Tea Can You Use in a Teapot?
This is entirely up to your preference! You may use either prepared tea bags, which offer the most simplicity, or whole tea leaves, which usually offer a much better flavor. When using loose leaf tea, you’ll most likely want to use a tea infuser. This accessory, also known as a tea ball, is a small, enclosed mesh basket which can be filled with tea leaves and dropped into the hot water, allowing the tea to steep while keeping the leaves contained.
If you typically make your tea with loose tea leaves, you may want to opt for a teapot which has a built-in strainer. This will make your task of brewing and pouring tea much easier, as you can skip the tea infuser step while still ensuring a leaf-free cup of tea at the end!
What is a Tea Kettle?
So we now know the teapot is the star of the show when it comes to brewing the tea, but where does the hot water come from? Enter: the tea kettle!
Although they are called tea kettles, these devices can actually be considered coffee kettles, hot cocoa kettles, instant soup kettles, or oatmeal kettles, as their sole purpose is simply to boil water. That right, a tea kettle actually has nothing to do with tea specifically! Tea kettles are designed as an enclosed environment to help the water boil as fast as possible, and most models have a narrow opening at the spout which produces a whistle when steam escapes through it, alerting you that your boiling water is hot and ready.
The important note here is that you should not steep tea in a tea kettle, as these devices are designed to hold water only. Some tea kettles may be made from materials which don’t play nicely with the natural astringency secreted by tea leaves as they brew. Therefore, if you were to brew or store tea in a tea kettle, some of these chemicals could leach from the kettle and into your tea. Not only is this unhealthy, but it also stands to negatively affect the flavor of your tea as well.
Types of Tea Kettles
When choosing a tea kettle, there are two main varieties to choose from. The main difference? How they get hot!
Stovetop Tea Kettles
Like teapots, stovetop tea kettles may come in a range of designs and be fashioned out of several different materials such as stainless steel, glass, enamel, or cast iron. Even though this is the same list of materials that make up the possibilities for teapots, tea kettles are actually intended to be used to heat water directly over a heat source, while most teapots are not designed for this.
Stovetop tea kettles are designed to be used over gas or electric burners, and depending on material and design, may even work on induction cooktops! These types of kettles are useful in the sense that they are designed to brew as much water as you want, from many cups to a single cup, in a relatively short amount of time.
Electric Tea Kettles
Electric kettles, on the other hand, are able to produce boiling water by way of electricity--no stovetop required! An electric kettle consists of a standalone reservoir with an internal element that heats up when the unit is turned on. Electric tea kettles tend to be more energy efficient than running a cooktop burner for the same amount of time, as they retain the heat rather than lose it to the surrounding air.
Many electric tea kettles have the added benefit of a thermostat that you can set to a desired temperature, which it will automatically switch off when it reaches. What’s the point of that though, boiled water is boiled water, right?
Not so fast! Many types of tea will actually specify a temperature range at which they will produce their best flavor. This ideal range can vary depending on how the tea was picked and processed and is truly worth your while to attempt to adhere to these suggestions. Making tea with water that is too hot can make it bitter and too tannic, while water that is not hot enough could leave the cup of tea lacking in the flavor department. An electric kettle can take the guesswork out of this step in the tea making process for you!
Teapot vs. Tea Kettle: Summary of Differences
To wrap up, let’s review the main differences between a tea kettle and a teapot:
- Appearance: Since teapots have played the central role of tea times and ceremonies for thousands of years, they are often made of delicate materials and carefully decorated with the intention of being admired. Tea kettles, on the other hand, are much more functional in their design.
- What They're Made Of: Teapots and tea kettles are fashioned from the same general types of materials (glass, ceramic, stainless steel, and cast iron), but the specific characteristics of these materials are different between a teapot and a tea kettle.
- How They're Used: While both a teapot and a tea kettle are vital to the process of making tea, they serve different roles. A tea kettle is used to boil water, while a teapot is used for brewing tea and serving tea at the table.
- Heat Tolerance and Safety: The key difference between a teapot and a tea kettle, and most important safety consideration, is that a teapot is not to be used directly over a heat source (unless clearly stated to be safe) while a tea kettle is intentionally designed to withstand the heat of a stovetop or burner.
Whether you enjoy your cup first thing in the morning, take afternoon tea, or prefer to sip a relaxing blend before bed, we hope to have furthered your understanding on all things teapot and tea kettle. Cheers!