Green Me Tea: an eco-friendly teapot?

Green Me Tea is not the kind with antioxidants, but the kind that lessens its impact on our little blue green planet. Greening your tea is one small step that you can take to save both electricity and water. Read on to learn about the most energy efficient way to make tea, the best models of electric and stove-top kettles to buy, and how to maintain or clean-up an old or burnt tea kettle. Even if you are not in the market for a kettle, you just might learn a smidgen of history and a few cool facts about Green Me Tea.

Making tea is not high on most people’s list of wasteful, polluting deeds, but then most people have probably never seen this report. The sad fact is that most people boil more water than they need and they let their kettles run past the first boil. For example, according to the aforementioned report, if Brits were mindful of their tea practices, and boiled the right amount of water for the right amount of time, they would save enough electricity to power 75% of the street lights in the UK. Now just imagine those power savings spread across the globe…

The Energy Efficient Electric Kettle

But seriously, the most efficient tea kettle is surprisingly the one with a plug. Electric kettles save energy, especially if you only boil the amount of water that you need and you take advantage of the auto-shut-off feature offered on many contemporary models. Modern kettles offer other neat features, such as cordless pots, timers, and gold surfaced coils to reduce scaling. In addition, electric kettles are very efficient boiling water in a matter of minute(s). The average electric kettle sold today runs about 1000 watts to 1500 watts, with the higher powered kettles boiling water faster. Either way, an electric kettle uses less energy to boil water than a microwave or stove-top (electric or gas). You could say that the energy savings from using an electric kettle over boiling water on a stove-top is similar to the energy saved when switching from incandescent to CFL light bulbs. (For a quick tutorial on watts see this page.) And, if you think that you need to boil your tea water on a stove-top, then you obviously arent British.

Not surprisingly the first electric kettle was designed in the 1950s by the British duo William Russell and Peter Hobbs. If you are in the UK, you can supposedly find an electric kettle made by Russell Hobbs; however, in the US, Russell Hobbs has been replaced with Chefs Choice, which is made in China. According to reviews, Chef’s Choice Electric Kettles are just not the same as classic Russell Hobbs. If you live in the UK and can find a Russell Hobbs electric kettle, you might wish to go with a different brand anyway, as Salton their parent company moved all production to China in 2002(Wikipedia).

I could not in good conscience profile a kettle made in China. Nor could I find any electric kettles made in the USA, which leaves us with the German company Braun (a Proctor & Gamble affiliate). According to their own website, Braun products are made in 5 countries (Germany, Ireland, Spain, Mexico, and China), so I called their US based customer service line and spoke to a representative who verified that Braun Electric Kettles are manufactured in Germany. Ive never had a problem with a German made household good (and Ive never owned a VW), so this assurance is good enough for me!

The Braun AquaExpress Electric Tea Kettle gets rave reviews on various sites, including Amazon. This kettle appears to have all the bells and whistles without breaking the bank (update: August 2008 they are on sale!). This kettle offers auto shutoff, which is not only a necessary safety feature, but also an energy saver. All Braun kettles are also cordless, meaning that the kettle can be removed from the base to facilitate both filling and pouring. If you’d like more options than this efficient little Braun kettle, here is a comprehensive review of electric kettles only.

Stove Top Kettle (not made in China)

My attempt to track down a stove top kettle made in the USA was less than fruitful. The closest I came is the Chantal tea kettle, which is assembled in the US (Texas) of parts made in Japan & Germany. Tea kettles by Chantal have earned decent reviews and they are found on Amazon. The classic looking Windsor Kettles continue to made in England. And, they have a moderately priced version offered on Amazon and a spendy version at Williams-Sonoma. If you are looking for the perfect old fashioned way to boil your tea (in blatant disregard of energy usage) don’t just take my word, but peruse the fine review of tea kettles over at Apartment Therapy NY. I myself have been happy with my Chinese made Oxo Kettle, which was a gift, despite this little incident last month.

Kettle Maintenance – cleaning up a burnt kettle or getting rid of scaling

If you have recently experienced a tea kettle calamity don’t immediately assume all is lost. A burnt kettle can generally be remediated with a little Bar Keepers Friend unless it has melted or broken parts. And, an old kettle that is filled with mineral deposits can be cleaned up with a good vinegar soak. If however, you have a flat mate who has lost a few (or perhaps all) her marbles, and she has decided to use your tea kettle as a stepping stool, you may have no choice but to recycle it as scrap metal.

As mentioned above, vinegar is excellent for removing scaling or mineral deposits from the interior of both electric and stove top kettles. If you have mineral deposits in your electric kettle, you will want to remove them, as they reduce the efficiency of the heating coils. To clean your kettle, fill it with equal parts water and vinegar. Then boil the kettle and leave to sit over night (it will be smelly). Rinse the kettle in the morning with fresh water and give it a light scrub. If all goes well, your kettle should be scale free. The Braun kettles have gold coils, which purportedly prevents scaling, and I have not found any evidence to believe otherwise.

So, to Green Me your tea, the best option is to use an electric kettle, and only as much water as is needed to make your current cup of tea. Don’t leave your kettle on all day, better yet, get one with an auto shutoff function! And, just in case you don’t trust the auto-shut off on your kettle, here is a neat little gadget, the smoke detecting power strip, which I came across, while researching this article!

If you love me, give me strawberries:

I’ve had a long standing love affair with strawberries. As a small child I once ate an entire mixing bowl full of strawberries that my mom had prepared for a cake. I later broke out in hives, but like all obsessive lovers, a little bump in the road didn’t stop me from coming back for more. For years the only flavor of ice cream I ate was “strawberry” and my favorite person in the world was my grandmother, who made a tantalizing batch of strawberry jam every summer.

My grandmother will be 89 this summer and she retired from the strawberry jam business a few years back. Since that time I have been left sampling every jam (organic) that I can find. There are an amazing number of organic and biologique jams to be found, but unfortunately most of them hail from far far away, and not one compares in flavor to my grandmother’s jam.

The only solution that I have come up with is to go into the jam business myself. And so, this Valentines Day, instead of flowers, my husband will be giving me 20 Organic Strawberry Plants, to be delivered from Seeds of Change after April 1st. I will add these to the 20 plants I started last summer and hopefully, sometime towards mid June, I will be in strawberry heaven.

You may be wondering why I am going to the effort of raising my own strawberries, when even organic berries can now be bought year round at the grocery store? Unless the birds get them first, homegrown berries are simply sweeter and taste better. Grocery store berries are not local, being trucked in primarily from California, but also coming in from Mexico, Central and South America. And, even organic grocery store berries tend to be bland and watery. According to the Western Farm Press, due to a favorable California climate, the US is actually the largest exporter of strawberries to the world market. So, for now, at least you don’t have to worry about your strawberries being imported from China.

Regardless of where they come from, I eat only organic strawberries and recommend the same to you. Why organic? Multiple studies have shown that organic strawberries have higher levels of beneficial antioxidants than conventionally grown berries. Recent studies in fact show that antioxidants are higher in organic crops, because they are part of the plants’ natural defense system. When pesticides are used to keep away bugs, the plants no longer need to defend themselves and the production of healthy antioxidants goes down.

So, conventional strawberry crops are pesticide intensive and strawberries are more likely than many fruits to absorb and maintain pesticide residue after application. From my point of view, if the consumption of conventional strawberries means that I get an over sized, but bland piece of fruit, which is tainted by pesticides, but without the benefit of healthy antioxidants. Why bother? My strawberries will of course be organic, and if you do buy strawberries, make sure to get the organic variety.