April 16, 2009

Sorapot teapot modern


Sorapot is a unique, modern teapot. Its architectural shape and simple functionality bring tea’s quiet beauty into sharp focus. Made from 304 stainless steel, borosilicate glass (Pyrex), and food-grade silicone, it articulates the ritual of tea making in a thoroughly modern way.

Capacity: 11 oz, just enough for two cups of tea.
Dimensions: 8″L x 6″H x 5″W

Designed by Joey Roth


A Watched Pot

April 16, 2009

What do we ask of a tea kettle? Not too much. First and foremost, we would like it to boil water.

And that’s about it. Of course, if it can boil water faster than other kettles, that’s a plus. Likewise, it’s nice if the handle stays cool to the touch—even when there’s boiling hot water inside. That way you can pour out the water without charring your palm. (And please don’t start on oven mitts. They’re an added, unnecessary step, and they never seem to be handy when you’re in the thick of things.)

Sure, there are other considerations. You may prefer a kettle with a larger capacity, a sleek look, or a melodious whistle. But these are minor concerns. In the end it comes down to those two main criteria: boil quickly; keep the handle cool.

Given this, I think America is living in the past. According to the tests I conducted (using a gas range at highest heat), our traditional stove-top kettles take eight or nine minutes to boil a mere four cups of water. Pathetic! What’s more, the handles of these stove-top kettles—having perched above a hot flame for eight long minutes—are often quite painful and injurious to grab.

People, we are long overdue for a consumer revolution. Like Bob Dylan walking onstage at Newport in 1965, kettles are poised to go electric.

It pains me to tell you that the Brits are way ahead of us on this. It’s all about electrics over there. Granted, the higher U.K. voltage allows kettles to boil at light speed. But even using the standard voltage in my U.S. apartment, I found that an electric kettle can boil four cups of water in well under five minutes. That’s twice as fast as most of the stove-top kettles I tested (even the most expensive ones).

Meanwhile, the electric kettle’s handle—safely shielded from the heating element—remains perfectly cool. Electrics are easier to clean (their wide mouths let you wash out their insides, while a metal kettle has a tiny mouth to help retain heat). Electrics even shut themselves off automatically.

I see only two drawbacks to plugging in. The first is that electrics take up counter space, while a standard kettle sits on your range. In a small apartment, this might be a problem. But given that most of America now has acres of granite countertop and vast kitchen islands, I don’t see it as much of a problem.

The other thing is that electrics don’t work in a blackout. Of course, in an emergency situation where you simply must brew tea while enduring a power outage, you could just boil the water in a pot. (Assuming you have a gas range. If you have an electric, you’ll need cans of Sterno.)

So, I’ve sort of killed the suspense here. I think electrics are the way to go, and I won’t hear otherwise. Furthermore, I see no reason to buy anything but my winning electric, the Bodum Ibis, which is both affordable and excellent. Nonetheless, certain among you (for reasons of affectation, or just a hidebound fear of the new) will insist on clinging to your primitive stove-top kettles. For you, I offer these rankings, from worst to first:

Click image to expand. Alessi “Mami,” $135
Boil time: 8:40. (All boil tests were conducted using four cups of water over a gas burner on highest heat. Your times may be quicker if you own one of those bad-ass Viking ranges with the rocket-ship burner flames.)

This is the stupidest kettle ever. Its whistle is a removable part (not a flip-up, as with most kettles). This means: 1) You could easily misplace it; 2) In order to pour out the boiling water you must first remove the whistle, thereby sticking your hand directly in front of the steam blast. Not fun, even with an oven mitt. Also, the whistle had a weak sound and was barely audible from my living room. Throw it all together—along with the highest price tag by far—and you’ve got a lemon. Admittedly, a stylish Italian lemon.

Click image to expand. Chemex Handblown, $79.95
Boil time: 8:35

I confess I was rooting for this one. It’s an elegant piece. Designed in the mid-1940s by a German-born chemist, it is housed in the permanent collection of MoMA (according to Chemex). The clear, handblown glass lets you watch your water as it rolls to a boil, which is pretty neat. Also, the Chemex looks a whole lot like a bong. You might enjoy the subversive thrill of leaving it out when guests come over. Oh, that? No, no, no (laughing slyly), it’s just a tea kettle.

Sadly, the Chemex doesn’t work very well. For one thing, it has no whistle. That seems inexcusable. Also, the first time I used it, I chipped the glass around its pour spout (through no fault of my own—it was really fragile). And despite the much-touted silicone stopper (meant to divert hot air and keep the handle cool), the Chemex handle got so hot that I couldn’t even touch it without using a thick potholder. This once-proud kettle is in need of an update.

Click image to expand. Chantal Classic, $110
Boil time: 7:53

This kettle has a metal handle. Metal! That makes zero sense to me. How am I to pick up a kettle safely when its metal handle has been heating over a flame for eight minutes? Ouch! Granted, Chantal supplies a mini-potholder that slips over the handle. But it’s a nuisance to find this tiny thing every time you boil water (you can’t leave it on while the flame’s going or it will ignite), and it’s cumbersome to fit it over the fiery-hot handle without scorching yourself. Dumb design.

Other than its appealing palette of colors, the selling point with the Chantal is supposed to be its polyphonic Hohner harmonica whistle. I guess the Hohner is less piercing than a traditional single-note whistle, but it’s also louder, decibel-wise. My girlfriend hated it, claiming it sounded like “alien laser beams.” (I’m having trouble deciding whether this says more about her or about the kettle.)

Click image to expand. Le Creuset Demi, $49.99
Boil time: 9:30. Slowest of the bunch.

It’s a cute little kettle with a few fatal flaws. For one, the whistle is meek. It sounds like a kid who hasn’t learned how to whistle yet. Totally inaudible if you’re more than 10 feet from the kitchen.

But the big problem is that slow boil time. It feels endless when you’re waiting on it. The only reason I’ve ranked this higher than the Chantal is that it costs half as much.

Click image to expand. Revere Ware Copper Bottom, $29.99
Boil time: 8:56

Your typical, regular old kettle. This is the one I had on my stove before any of my research began. Slightly weak whistle, but not piercing or annoying. Handle gets hot, but no hotter than the others. I’ve ranked it “Ehh, fine” because the price is nice.

Click image to expand.

Oxo Uplift, $49.95
Boil time: 7:45. Quickest of the conventionals.

This is a great kettle. Quick to the boil, and its handle remained relatively cool. Very comfortable to hold and to pour. The multitone whistle is harmonious, never piercing. (It sounds a bit like a distant traffic jam.)

As stove-top kettles go, the Oxo is a gem. But it can’t hold a candle to …

Click image to expand. Bodum Ibis Electric Cordless, $35
Boil time: 4:25! And the results were identical every time I tried it. Please note that this is nearly (and sometimes more than) twice as fast as several of the other kettles.

It’s no contest. Think of all the time you’ve wasted waiting for water to boil. You could have saved half that time by switching to this kettle. They say a watched pot never boils, but a watched electric kettle does in less than five minutes!

I needn’t mention that the handle remains perfectly cool; that the pour spout is superaccurate; that it automatically shuts itself off once the water is boiling. But I will.

For less money than all but the cheapest of the stove-top kettles, you can own a device that is vastly superior. What are you waiting for? Make the leap.


All living things depend on water to survive. It is an essential and scarce resource, but one that too few people use responsibly. Australians live on the driest inhabited continent on earth, yet are the greatest consumers of water worldwide. In 2002, the national average water use in a four-person household was 1250-1400L a day –
equivalent to 250 to 280 buckets of water consumed per household per day – and this is predicted to increase.

The Queensland Government’s Towards Healthy and Sustainable Housing Research Project in Rockhampton is demonstrating and testing ways that water is being conserved in Research House.

The Research House project involved the design and construction of a family home incorporating the principles of the Department of Housing’s Smart Housing Initiative. A Smart House is one that incorporates the elements of:

Social Sustainability: A Smart House has been designed with people in mind. It is safe, secure and universally designed

Environmental Sustainability: A Smart House is resource efficient in water, waste and energy

Economic Sustainability: A Smart House is costefficient over time.

For further information about Smart Housing please refer to Appendix A or visit

Hot Water

The amount of hot water used depends on the duration of the shower, the flow rate of the water-saving showerhead or the quantity of water in the bath, the type of water heater installed and as does the pattern of use. Research House tenants’ household with the heat pump hot water system (Quantum) used an average of around 129L per day. By comparison a typical Brisbane household with a 315L off-peak electric storage system used an average of around 140L a day. Accordingly, Research House has achieved annual hot water saving of around 4015L or 8.0% less than the conventional electric storage system. The shower and bath area alone can realise total water (hot and cold) savings of at least 139L a day or 50,700 litres over a year.

A higher efficient (litres/kilowatt hour) hot water system, heats a larger volume of water (litres) for the equivalent units of energy consumed (kWh). The quicker recovery period and the efficient conduction of heat into the stored water for the heat pump water heater (Quantum) means the stored hot water stays at a higher temperature over a longer period, with the benefit that less hot water is used in Research House.

Water Use Data and Findings
Over the year, the total average daily water consumption for Research House was 1150L made up of 49% for indoor use and 51% for gardens, lawns and other outdoor use.

The dishwasher uses approximately 29L and the clothes washer uses 43L of water per day respectively, which is approximately 7% of the total water usage of Research House [12 (figure 2)].

The wet areas such as the shower and bathrooms used a total daily average of 211L that equates to approximately 18% of household water consumption. Shower and bath usage has been combined in line with the Brisbane data. The toilets use an average of 116L a day, which is approximately 10% of total household water consumption.

Of the total water consumption for the year, 14% was used in cooking, cleaning and drinking which includes the Zip hydrotap (instant boiling and chilled filtered water dispenser), which the tenants usage averaged 9L a day.

The hot water average daily use in Research House for the year was 129L a day or 11% of the total water use.

The outdoor water usage was initially very high in the first two months (October & November 2002) due to the fitting of incorrect sprinklers with huge quantities of water being wasted through over-watering of the gardens and lawns. Installation and calibration of the correct low flow sprinkler heads provided a more efficient watering system. Even with this intervention outside water use still accounts for a substantial proportion of the households total water use – 588L/day (51%). []

Samovar FAQ

April 16, 2009

To brew authentic Russian Black Tea: Pour hot water into a small tea pot, swish and let stand for several minutes. Pour out water and add 2 or 3 tablespoons of loose tea. Fill with boiling water. Steep for about 10 minutes. Use this “brew” as a concentrate. Add boiling water from the samovar to each individual cup. Serve with lemon and/or sugar.

The valve, or spigot on a samovar is of a very simple design. It consists of two parts: the spigot key and the spout (there are no gaskets and o-rings, etc.) When these two parts don’t fit together a leak will occur. To get rid of a leak, or reduce it to a manageable drip, first try to “seat” the key better. Do this by supporting the spout from below with one hand, and gently yet firmly pressing down on the key with the other hand, while at the same time moving it back and forth just a bit.

Often the valve works better (doesn’t leak, or leaks less) when the key is on one side or the other of the center positon. To check this, move the key back and forth slowly between the center “ON” position and the two “OFF” positions on either side of it. You may find a spot that works the best.

Because of the simple valve system samovars are often used with a sump bowl, or drip bowl, beneath the spout to catch the drips. This is especially true of those produced and used in the past when milling the two pieces of the valve was done using hand tools that are considered crude by today’s standards. However, though the tools may have changed, the design of the valve hasn’t changed, thus the last resort to fixing the leak (after trying out the two steps above) involves making and using a crude “handmill”. []

It always seemed senseless to me that wine afficionados spit after slurshing air though a mega-sip of wine. The slurshing–the sucking of air through a half-mouthful of wine–is something I used to get slapped for as a kid, and spitting afterward would warrant a television prohibition and room banishment.

What the hell is wrong with people? The theory of spitting is it keeps you from getting drunk, which is an insult to the gods of history and sloppy kissing. The theory of wine is drunkeness in varying degrees of decreasing sophistication just like the theory of beer is drunkenness of the spew on the floor order. If the alcohol high from wine was somehow magically removed leaving all the esthers and ketones and subtle legs and noses intact, people would eschew wine like painful leg boils.

God put substances here for a reason. We know what those reasons are. Pretending we don’t doesn’t make us innocent. (It makes us Robert Downey Jr. )

Any student of the sciences knows all the mathematical curves of action and result hold over finite intervals. They don’t go on forever. Life is not math. And so the curve of the depth of your drunkness per glass consumed saturates at some point. Nobody knows how to measure how drunk you are between the time you swear your love for every human on the planet and the time you puke up that really bad cafeteria lunch you had in third grade. This is where God abandons the perpetrator. This is why hangovers were invented. These are the consequences your mother told you about. There are consequences to everything. Even coffee. []


The drink of choice for Web 2.0 zillionaires isn’t a quad espresso anymore. It’s a soothingly steeped tea harvested from a shaded mountainside half a world away.

Captains of the internet like Digg’s Kevin Rose and business guru Tim Ferriss (pictured above) are gravitating to the ancient drink, and enterprising retailers are stepping up to fill their every need. 

“We’ve had the Red Bulls, coffee and everything else,” Rose says of Digg, which spends about $1,000 a month just on specialty tea for employees. Rose himself favors a cup of Pu-erh imported from China’s Yunnan province after a tough day at the office.

“It’s one of those things where you want to turn to something really natural and from the Earth — and from something that isn’t going to give you a big crash,” Rose told “Once you start consuming tea it makes sense: This is the best of all worlds.”

In Silicon Valley, specialty tea is quickly becoming a phenomenon. Specialty shops, stores and tearooms devoted to the leaf are sprouting up all over the Bay Area. In San Francisco, tea businesses have gone beyond Chinatown and Japantown, spreading to Hayes Valley, the Castro and SOMA.

Tea is the new coffee — the tipple of choice for the Twitteratti. The culture that brought us pizza as a food group and $20,000 coffeemakers has now discovered tea. And its internet-savvy boosters like Rose and Ferriss are leading a movement in the United States to promote the leafy beverage as a trendy drink for new-age geeks who are as obsessed with having energetic bodies as they are with fast computers.

“It’s the new social lubricant,” said Jesse Jacobs, owner of Samovar Tea Lounge, a popular mini-chain of high-end tea rooms in San Francisco. “You’re never hung over and you can never drink too much.” []


The Samovar, a Russian contraption for heating water to make tea has been given a lovely makeover by Yarel Yair, a student of the Bezalel School of Industrial Design in Israel. Yarel Yair breaks away from the traditional metal Samovars to sculpted this Modular Samovar entirely out of white ceramics and to suit the current times, heating now is taken care of by electricity. The beautiful Samovar looks more like a decorative item that can easily find a corner in today’s stylish living rooms than a humble water warmer.