I know what you're thinking: my manual coffee brewing technique would be just perfect if only I spent $120 on a stainless steel water kettle with perfectly angled tip, to ensure brilliant control over my water pouring—right? Or is that you over there clinging to a gaping-mouthed, whistling teakettle for dear life, reluctant to give it up until it is pried from your cold, dead hands?
Your coffee needs a certain amount of contact with the water over time, and when brewing a pourover or Chemex, it wants that contact administered slowly and gracefully—not just unevenly sploshed in over top in between pouring out the cereal and feeding the cat. A specifically tailored kettle allows slow, steady flow of water which produces a more balanced and nuanced cup, though you'll have to measure and heat the water yourself before you pour. (You can handle that.)
Come along, coffee grasshopper, and let's evaluate the options.
Hario Buono Kettle
In cafes and coffee-nerd circles the Buono (around $52) has become iconic in recent years: its retro-blender form and waterfowl-necked-spout are seen 'round the world, hovering over ceramic cones at the so-stylish pourover bars now seemingly installed in every cafe that doesn't have to worry about customers having to get to work in any particular hurry.
The Buono's a sweet little thing—pretty affordable, cute, and easy to love—but for some it's too flimsy-feeling and doesn't allow quite as much precision with the pour as they'd like. The superobsessives over at Barismo in Massachusetts, loyal to Hario but dissatisfied with the kettle's too-free flow, actually sell a "gicleur", or flow restrictor, to make a good kettle into a great one. It's not the Cadillac of pouring kettles, but it's pretty, cheaper than some of the other options, and easy to find—and you can set it right on your stovetop burner. (Note that an attractive, electric version of the Buono is being developed for the US, but is currently only approved for sale in Canada. This combined with the gicleur might make your kitchen counter a great place indeed.)
The Takahiro (around $120), on the other hand, is the Caddy of kettles—with the price tag to boot.
Its petite, sturdy stainless body is classic and elegant, and allows extreme precision "Takahiros have a more delicate control over the pour—from turbo to dribble and a fine gradation between," says manual brew pro Matthew P. Williams of Stumptown Coffee in Portland, Oregon. (Though he bemoans the handsome kettle's lack of insulated handle—"I have a nice callus built up on the base of my pinky.")
There's no question of superiority when holding a Takahiro versus anything else on the market—there's just a question of whether you want to throw down $120 to 150 on a very pretty hot water pourer. You make the call. Can be placed on an electric burner, and looks fantastic on the shelf, too.
Bonavita Electric Kettle
Coming in from left field is newcomer Bonavita, offering a line of brewing products like this competitively-priced electric pouring kettle (from $50) that checks all the boxes. Insulated handle? Yep. Precise spout? Yep—just a hair's breadth narrower than the Buono's, comfortably ergonomic, cheaper, and oh yeah, it plugs in. Auto-shutoff and a 1-liter capacity make this easier and cheaper than anything else on the market, allowing us to turn a blind eye to its slightly flimsy base construction. Boils fast, too.
That Other Kettle They Sell in California
Frequenters of West Coast coffee posts like Four Barrel Coffee will see a handsome, unmarked, and rather unsung kettle on brewers' shelves: this cryptic canteen, stamped only "Casual Products" on the bottom is sold for around $70. Stainless and stylish like the Takahiro but with wood handle (no heat calluses!) and accents, this goosenecked fella is a happy medium between the Buono and the Takahiro, just in case you haven't gotten quite as big a tax refund as you'd hoped.
Of the Casual Product, Williams says "It has a very similar form to the Hario, but it feels much sturdier and balanced." And at a price still well under $100, it allows you to balance fashion and function...and careful, measured pour. Can be placed directly onto a burner.
Disclosure: Some kettle samples were loaned and provided.
About the author: Liz Clayton drinks, photographs and writes about coffee and tea all over the world, though she pretends to live in Brooklyn, New York. She is currently compiling photographs of the best coffee in the world to be published by Presspop later this year.