“Teaism….is essentially a worship of the Imperfect…”
Okakura Kakuzō – The Book of Tea
My Philips variable temperature kettle started to malfunction.
It began shutting itself off very early on, when the water inside it was barely tepid.
After a bit of experimentation, I soon found out that if you kept a finger on the on-off switch, it would continue to heat the water. Further research revealed that a small glass ornament propped up against the switch would act as a fine surrogate finger whilst you got on with other things.
So far so good, but one major problem remained. The raison d’être for such a kettle is the accurate control of the water’s temperature.
For teas that require a full rolling boil this wasn’t going to be an issue, but what about those that required water in the temperature range 70°-95°C?
Initially I thought that I would be able to judge this according to the sound the water made in the kettle based on experience – I had after all heated hundreds of litres in the kettle by this time, surely I would be able to guestimate this with a reasonable degree of accuracy, wouldn’t I?
No. No I couldn’t, was the succinct answer to that question.
So, I did what any sensible person would do. I went off and made a pot of tea.
And so it came to pass that whilst supping a cup of Ti Kuan Yin that the answer came. Meat thermometer!
We had a meat thermometer, accurate to within 1°C. Perfect! All that remained to figure out was a way to suspend the sensor end of the thermometer in the water.
In a previous life I worked in a railway carriage repair shop, and one thing I learned during that time was that if you can’t get two components to work in conjunction with each other it’s because up until that moment you haven’t tried hard enough. Ask the crew of Apollo 13.
After about an hour of rummaging through kitchen drawers and cabinets and several supplementary cups of tea, I found a solution.
The temperature sensor was a snug fit inside one of the holes on a common or garden clothes peg, which itself rather fortuitously was a snug fit inside the top of the kettle.
Now, all I had to do was simply dial in the desired temperature on the thermometer, set the kettle going with the glass ornament holding the switch in place, and then quickly switch the kettle off when the thermometer started beeping to indicate the correct temperature had been reached!
Although this now meant that the kettle had to be operated with the lid open, and so impaired its efficiency somewhat, it also meant that I could set the water temperature to within 1° centigrade accuracy, something not possible previously.
The teacup is half full, and all that.
A tea philosopher might at this point consider the Japanese concept of “wabi-sabi“, which is the celebration of flaws and other imperfections, and how the Japanese sense of the aesthetic can find virtue in signs of wear and tear as part of the integral story of an object’s life.
The hard-nosed Northern Englishman will then cough politely and remind the philosopher that he has just saved a considerable amount of money by not having to purchase a new variable temperature kettle, and that those funds could, nay, must instead find their way into the tills of the local tea merchants.
A fine result, in any case, and no mistake.