Of all manual brewing methods, the pourover drip method may appear the most straightforward. But as direct as the procedure may seem, a steady arm and resolute focus will only go so far. To gracefully land, time and time again, upon all the enticing aromas and flavors about which roasters (and coffee reviewers) wax poetic, you need the right equipment. In particular, you need a good gooseneck kettle. A proper gooseneck goes a long way in helping navigate the slippery variables of temperature, flow, technique and more that separate an ok cup from a cup that really sings, while also elevating your pleasure in the practice.
For this report, Coffee Review thoroughly tested four popular variable-temperature electric gooseneck kettles: the top-rated Fellow Stagg EKG Kettle (rated 9.5 out of 10.0), the Oxo Adjustable Temperature Pour-Over Kettle (8.0), the new Bonavita Interurban Kettle (7.5), and the bargain-priced Yabano Electric Kettle (6.5). We share our findings in the reviews linked to this report.
But first, a little about the gooseneck’s purpose, functionality and features.
Why the Long Neck?
The narrow gooseneck spout connects to the bottom of the kettle specifically to help steady and pace the stream of water directed to the grounds. The upward slant and serpentine shape of the spout, while lovely, has more to do with managing gravity than with beauty. If it were any straighter, shorter or differently positioned, water might simply gush out. The stream has to be delicate to avoid barging in and roughing up the coffee bed, which promotes an uneven extraction, and also must be easily controlled so you can speed or slow the pour in response to other variables, such as puffing caused by the gas-releasing freshness of the coffee, the fineness of the grind, or plain personal preference.
There are basically four categories of gooseneck kettle: 1) Those that simply look good and facilitate the pour, 2) those that look good, facilitate the pour, and also allow you to heat the water on a stovetop, 3) those with a plug-in base that heats the water to boiling before automatically turning off, and 4) the subject of this month’s report, designs that digitally control and hold water temperature at a user-defined, brew-ready set point.
Behind better-equipped professional pourover stations, you may spot some very handsome unplugged goosenecks in flight, such as the Kinto Pour Over Kettle or the insulated copper kettles made by Monarch Methods. These artfully wrought, straightforward tools needn’t contain any electronics or even be stovetop-friendly because commercial coffee settings include massive, stable water heaters that dispense water at precise temperatures on demand. Baristas fill their kettles from them and then swiftly execute their brew ballet before a gallery of presumably enthralled and under-caffeinated onlookers.
Stovetop goosenecks are a more common species where kettles for consumers are sold, as these are built both to withstand heat and to deliver heated water to the coffee bed with precision and pacing. Among others, Hario, Kalita and Fellow all offer stovetop kettles to pair with matching pourover brewers in a variety of styles.
The next step up in complexity are kettles with internal heaters that dock onto a plugged-in base and take water straight to a boil at the flick of one button or switch. Some are fitted with an analog thermometer protruding from the top of kettle that can alert a patient (very patient) user to when the temperature either reaches an approximate target brew temperature or drifts back down to it from a boil. However, our tests suggest that the temperatures displayed by these little analog thermometers are not particularly accurate, the dials are hard to read, and the entire process cumbersome. But for those with a modest budget and plenty of patience here are two of several options: the Yabano Gooseneck Pour Over Kettle with Integrated Thermometer and the COMFEE’ MK-12S07A Gooseneck Electric Kettle with Thermometer Gauge.
The Best Option: Digital, Variable-Temperature-Controlled Kettles
At this point, both for the value of your time and the sake of precision, it’s worth taking that final stride into a variable-temperature electric gooseneck kettle with a base that offers the ability to digitally set and maintain almost exactly the brew temperature you are aiming for, among other useful features.
We say “almost exactly” here because the accuracy of the temperature reading will differ from kettle to kettle. The temperature displayed on the base’s screen is a function of a small probe embedded in the interior base of the kettle itself. These probes apparently differ in sensitivity given their thickness, height and other factors. And the water temperature in any kettle will vary at least a little in different areas inside the kettle, particularly during heat-up. That’s why, in our tests, we took measurements at different spots inside the kettle both when it first reported hitting a target temperature and continuously for about five more minutes as it attempted to hold the brew water at the target.
Some clemency is deserved here because all kettles contain only one sensor in one spot. No kettle on the market today will know exactly the temperature of all the water all the time. However, the quality of parts, connections and technology in the kettle appears to make a noticeable difference in the overall accuracy of the temperature readings shown on the digital displays, as well as relative success in maintaining these temperatures over time as the kettle and its thermostat try to hold them at a target value.
We also measured the time it took each kettle to heat cold tap water (about 60°F) to a self-reported temperature of 205°F. Note that we tested both heat-up time and temperature accuracy/stability at two different water volumes: 600ml, as well as the volume required to reach the maximum fill-line for each kettle.
We did this overlapping testing because we wanted to measure the performance of each unit both on its own terms and in terms relative to the performance of competing kettles. Tests at maximum capacity are the basic measure of how true each device is to its own promotional claims, whereas 600ml is the level playing field we chose for them to compete against one another. Since 600ml is enough water to rinse a filter and brew a couple of standard American mugs of coffee, we settled on that volume as a typical-use case scenario.
And the Other Features
Of course, digital goosenecks are also accountable for their non-electric features, such as how a kettle’s handle and spout design can make pouring easier, more precise or more comfortable. And like anything else on display in your home, appearances also count for a lot.
We also considered the usefulness of additional features such as a built-in timer or pre-set temperature options, the overall build quality, and the price tag. We took all of this into account, and more, when determining if and how effectively each of these geese may help you lay that golden cup.