By August 11, 2009

Electric kettle shootout: Adagio UtiliTEA vs Upton Tea Imports comparison

There was a time that I drank a lot of tea. I drank green tea, white tea, black tea, and herbal tea. Different types of tea taste best when brewed at certain temperatures. White tea is the most delicate, and needs to be steeped the least amount of time at the lowest temperature. Black and herbal teas don’t mind if you bring it on, and taste better when brewed at higher temperatures for a longer period of time. I also drink coffee made from my Aerobie Aeropress at least twice a day, and that requires the hottest water I can make.

The problem with using a traditional stove-top kettle is that you have to monitor the water temperature somehow. You need to get the water at the right temperature, but not too hot. I had the same problem when microwaving water, you can’t accurately tell what the temp is unless you interrupt the heating process. Plus using a stove-top kettle takes forever. I started looking at variable temperature electric water kettles.

I found the
Adagio UtiliTEA kettle
in December of 2006. The problem was it was out of stock until 2008 or 2009. I don’t know exactly when, because I wound up buying the Upton Tea Imports variable electric kettle instead. Almost two years later, my friend Stilts brought his Adagio UtiliTEA kettle down so we could do a comparison review.

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Upton Tea Imports kettle on the left, Adagio UtiliTEA on the right.

The first thing I noticed is that the Adagio UtiliTEA is a much more attractive kettle. It has a lot of nice design touches, like a button on the handle that opens the lid, a lighted power switch, and a nicely shaped spout. The temperature adjustment dial on the side of the pot is easier to read, and the dial has a more solid feel than the Upton. Even the base looks better than the Upton Tea Imports kettle. This is subjective, but the overall shape of the UtiliTEA is more appealing to me. It looks more modern and will look good in any kitchen.

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The lid release button on the Adagio UtiliTEA. This keeps your hand away from any steam coming from the top of the kettle, and also makes a cool noise when it opens. ;)

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The power lever on the UtiliTea is nicely shaped and lights up when depressed.

You’re going to need to keep an eye out for this light. The Upton Tea Imports kettle makes a very loud CLICK when it’s done. The Adagio kettle is much quieter. The temperature starts to drop as soon as the kettle shuts off, and even though both kettles are made out of stainless steel they don’t insulate like a true carafe. If you are a big time tea snob, you’re going to want to get to your water as soon as possible. Like I posted in my Upton review, I don’t understand why either manufacturer neglected to put a buzzer on their product.

The power cord on the Upton is really short. The Adagio kettle has a cord that’s twice as long. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. I have to keep the Upton very close to my stove, and that means it gets all sorts of shit on it from cooking spray, grease, etc. If I owned the UtiliTEA I would put it closer to my coffee grinder and further away from my stove and toaster.

http://gallery.drfaulken.com/d/7338-2/IMG_0006.JPG

There is also a clear window that lets you see how much water is in the kettle. This concept is a big improvement over the Upton, which just has a metal tab inside warning you to no overfill it. The problem with the window on the UtilitTEA is that the window is behind the handle. It is impossible to view the window directly head on, and the “MIN” and “MAX” marks on the window are too light and small to see at a distance. My eyesight is pretty damn good with my contacts in, and I had a hard time seeing the water level. This is a huge design mistake, and I am surprised it happened, given the other well thought-out features of the Adagio product.

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Adagio, the window, WTF?

Part of my job is to organize information in the most logical, easy to use manner for people. That means I’m usually a function over form kind of guy. Stilts and I busted out the stopwatch and a thermometer and thrust the two products into a variable temperature death match: two kettles enter, one kettle leaves.

Temperature ranges
We tested the UtiliTEA’s temperature ranges first, at the major “zones” depicted on the side of the switch.

Dial range colorTemperature (in °F)
White, bottom125°F
White, top150°F
Green, top170°F
White, second top200°F
All the way202°F

The Adagio kettle is obviously designed to be used with tea. The bottom color ranges are keyed to the types of tea that require steeping at these temperatures. Like I said, white tea is the most delicate, so Adagio did a good thing and colored the initial setting marks white. The next set are green, for green tea. I am not sure why Adagio went back to white for the uppermost setting. Orange would have been a much better color to differentiate it from the lower white setting, and orange is commonly used to denote “warmer” or “hotter” temperature ranges. Red should have been used for the last hash mark. Anyway, it’s a nice touch — the Upton kettle has white, blue, and red.

I thought I had done something similar for the Upton in my 2007 review, but it turns out I did not. We did test the upper range of the Upton, which was 200°F. Plenty hot, and not too far off from the Adagio.

Capacity
Both kettles can heat a maximum of 32 fluid ounces.

Performance
I’ve been touting the UtilitTEA’s features and design so far, but when the rubber hit the road the less expensive Upton started to pull away. We put 32 ounces of tap water into each kettle and hit the switch. I told Stilts I’d buy the UtiliTEA if it was within ten seconds of the Upton. The Upton heated the water to 200°F in three minutes, forty seconds (3:40). The UtiliTEA took four minutes, thirty seconds (4:30), a full forty seconds longer. That’s a pretty big difference in performance. Forty seconds isn’t a big deal if you don’t have anything to compare the Adagio to, but at this point I think the difference would really bug me.

Conclusion
The Adagio UtiliTEA kettle is attractive, mostly well designed (stupid water level window) and offers a range of temperatures for making tea and coffee. At $49 from Amazon.com or Adagio.com it is $10 more than the Upton Tea Imports variable kettle, but if this is your first electric kettle it’s worth it.

Similarly, if you don’t have an electric kettle in your kitchen you won’t be annoyed by the quiet “click” of the power switch or the longer heating time.

I’m going to declare the Adagio UtiliTEA variable water tea kettle the winner, especially if this is your first kettle. For me, I’m going to save $50 and keep my Upton kettle. There are just enough mis-steps with the Adagio to keep it from being a worthy replacement to my Upton. He’s served me well almost every day for two years, several times a day. You don’t toss out a dependable product on its ass because a competitor looks pretty.

Strongly recommended

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2 Comments on "Electric kettle shootout: Adagio UtiliTEA vs Upton Tea Imports comparison"

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  1. Starbuck says:

    I agree with your assessment on the fact that you can’t hear the kettle when it clicks off. That took some getting used to when I first got the kettle. I also have a problem with the lid. Sometimes it takes me 5-6 tries just to get the damn thing to pop open. Once it popped open after several tries and flicked hot water all over my hand. So be careful. With regard to the temperature control,I think the higher setting is colored brown to denote black tea :)

  2. Gremlin says:

    Huh, not a tea guy. I had no idea water temperature mattered. I just wait until the kettle whistles and then pour it in the cup. At my house that is about 210 degrees.

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