Does a Watched Tea Kettle Really Boil?

There’s an old adage that says a watched pot never boils, but what about a watched tea kettle? I can say unequivocally that, even with hubby and I staring down into our Asta tea kettle, those molecules of H2O succumbed to the effects of the heat and came to a full rolling boil, bubbling and hissing as if we weren’t even there.

Testing this adage was an unusual tea experience (a tough job that had to be done, but hubby and I were up to it). For one thing, we boiled the water in the tea kettle but left the kettle lid off. Normally, the kettle lid is on to speed up the boil, keeping inside the kettle those molecules that got hot enough to fly up past the water surface as steam, eventually gathering on the lid and falling back down to join their brethren. For another, we usually busy ourselves with other tasks while the kettle is on. The main ones are setting out the teacups and selecting the teatime treats (Walker’s shortbread and McVitie’s Digestives are favorites for mid-morning, while cheddar or jam on Walker’s oat cakes along with some fresh fruit keep our tummies from rumbling until dinner time).

The visual portion of this tea experience went through predictable stages. The bottom of the kettle, sitting directly on the burner of our electric stove, heated first, so the water molecules at the bottom naturally heated first. Heat causes water molecules to expand and get lighter, as well as to become active, resulting in them working their way up through the cooler molecules toward the water’s surface. This looked like little “water worms” about one eighth to one quarter inch long that danced around the bottom of the kettle (actually, we were seeing the shadow of the clumps of active, hot molecules) toward the kettle sides, their easiest route to the top. First, there were only a few, but each tick of the clock’s second hand saw more and more of these “water worms.” Cooler molecules were falling and crowding out the rising hot molecules. This process went on, getting faster and faster.

After a few more minutes (it takes about 10 minutes on the stove at our low elevation to boil six cups of water) we started to hear a sound. This was from the increased activity of rising hot molecules and falling cooler molecules bumping and jostling each other.

Maybe this all sounds silly and a huge waste of time, but for hubby and me it was quite fascinating. Since it only took a short time from setting the kettle on the stove burner to the water achieving the desired rolling boil, we were not whiling away too much of our otherwise busy lives. We also disproved an old adage (score one for reason, logic, and the scientific method). All in all, a very useful teatime pastime. Of course, we were a little behind in getting our teatime treats ready, but the delay was well worth it. I, for one, can sleep easy at night knowing that, indeed, a watched tea kettle does boil. Enjoy!

Visit A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill, to read about more of her “tea experiences.”

3 thoughts on “Does a Watched Tea Kettle Really Boil?

  1. Pingback: When Your Tea Kettle Fools You « Tea Blog

  2. Pingback: Tea Water: To Microwave or Not? « Tea Blog

  3. Pingback: Getting into Hot Water — Tea Kettles Galore « Tea Blog

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