Have you ever had this discussion with a friend or fellow tea drinker ? I know it's something that can split people into two very different teams. Some say you should use the microwave for making tea, because it's fast and convenient.
Others get goosebumps at the idea, and maintain that a kettle is the best and only true way of making tea properly.
Both are right, though, and I can hear both sides groaning. It depends on what you're aiming for with your tea. Let me explain.
So which is best for tea, a kettle or a microwave ?
The best way to make tea is with a kettle. A kettle will heat water evenly, is easy to control, and you can see the water coming to a boil.
The microwave will only go for a specified amount of time and at a certain power, and produces irregular results. You also run the risk of sudden boiling, which may splash all over.
So in short, an all-around winner would be the kettle.
That being said, I'm sure there are people out there who really love their microwaves and wouldn't part with them for the world. And that's okay.
You just need to be very careful when boiling water in a microwave, and let it sit for a few minutes afterwards.
The main difference is how each of them boil water
Why does a kettle boil water better though, even if just marginally ? Well it has to do with how the water becomes boiling. Put very plainly, water contains a bunch of oxygen and hydrogen.
When the water become very hot, near boiling, oxygen turns into a gas and you'll start to see little bubbles forming on the sides of the kettle. Once the boiling point is reached, the oxygen comes out in plumes of steam and a roiling boil begins.
This means you can detect the exact stage of the water without a thermometer, by just looking at the kettle. Or pot, whichever way you like to boil water. Some kettles will whistle when the steam forms, letting you know the water's done. That's convenient on its own too.
In the end a kettle produces a more reliable, steady, and even increase in temperature.
A microwave will flash-heat the water, unless you're leaving it on a very low setting. This means that the oxygen won't really bubble up as it would in a kettle, and you're faced with the potential of literal exploding water when doing so.
There is also the matter of irregular results. Sometimes the water turns out hotter, sometimes there are pockets of colder water. Stirring the water with a spoon takes care of that particular problem.
As for the exploding water, it's a very real danger. But it too can be easily avoided by not letting the water itself boil - no tea ever needs to be steeped at 100 C/212 F - and letting it rest for a minute before adding the tea or sugar or anything else.
So in some ways, you could say the kettle is a sure-fire way of heating the water 'the right way'. A microwave's error is easy to fix, so again it's really up to how specific you want to be about your tea.
Optimal temperature means everything when making tea
What did I mean by no tea needs to be steeped at 100 C/212 F ? And what is the optimal brewing temp for teas, anyway ? Glad you asked, since temperature can seriously make or break your tea.
So tea leaves are very sensitive, more so than herbal teas. Okay. Black teas can be steeped at higher temperatures, actually they need to be steeped at a higher temp than a green or white. 90 C/194 F is the right temp for a black tea of most kinds.
Basically the more processed the tea leaves are, the higher the temperature. Never put the black tea in when the water is boiling hot.
You can indeed boil your water and let it sit for a full minute. You can be sure it's down to 90 C then.
Herbal tea can handle both 80 C and 90 C, and should never be actively boiled.
This is why people are specific about their teas and how the water is boiled. But, I personally think that waiting a bit for the water to cool down is not much of a hassle, even if you're making green tea.
If you really care about being specific, then a thermometer is your best shot at gauging the temperature of your tea's water.
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The difference in taste is minimal
This might annoy a lot of people, and I'm okay with that. There is a bit of a taste difference between microwaved tea water and kettle-boiled tea water, yes.
If you fail to heat the water enough, your tea will be faint in taste, and you'll see a whitish foam on the top of the liquid. That means your tea hasn't properly brewed.
Heating an already brewed tea is the worst idea, though, even if it might not seem so. This is because whichever way you heat it (microwave or kettle) you will ruin the flavor even more.
Best to just brew another cup and be sure you're getting it hot.
Now you might meet people who swear the kettle imparts a certain flavor that a microwave never will. Maybe it does. I certainly have never found a clear difference, but then again it also depends on how sensitive you are to taste and flavors.
I for one know I am, and I still didn't notice much of a problem.
It's tradition, more than anything
To be fair, the difference between kettles and microwaves isn't that much. They both heat up the water for tea, and you can enjoy a nice cup whenever you feel like it.
That being said, the traditional way of brewing tea is by kettle. It's how it's always been done (mostly because there were no microwaves back then) and it's part of the process of making tea.
Some people are very partial to their kettles, and the tradition and ritual of brewing tea. It's a sort of cozy, social thing to do. And a perfect excuse to sit around and chat with your friends and family while the tea is getting ready.
The truth is, tea and tea making and tea drinking is as much about emotion as it is about just drinking tea. It's an area where people are going to have very strong opinions and some arguments are bound to come up.
Honestly, I'm a microwave kind of gal, even if the best way to make tea is with a kettle. I drink several cups of very different tea types throughout the day (half of them at work), and brewing a whole pot of a certain type of tea is not for me.
But it might be for you, or someone close to you. I think we should all allow ourselves to just enjoy the beverage, whichever way we like it. In the end, it's just tea and it's honestly silly to be arguing over.
I hope I helped clear up the main difference between microwaving and boiling your water for tea. I know people are going to have their specific methods and swear by them, and they're all very right to do so.
Still, tea is tea and water eventually boils no matter which way you take it there. Best to just focus on enjoying what the tea brings you. A peaceful relaxing moment, and a great-tasting beverage to sip on wrapped up in a blanket.
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