This past week I have been working from Italy and I realised something was missing from my life: the kettle. It might not seem like a big deal, but this awesome everyday appliance that you can find everywhere in the UK is quite unknown here in Italy.
This is because of the different attitude towards hot drinks we have in my country. I am personally teaholic and I surround myself with people who are, too, but most Italians would drink tea exclusively when they are sick and cannot have coffee, or would deem this drink as something rather posh and suitable for some occasions only.
Tea was introduced into Europe from India thanks to the British Empire and after being drank by affluent people, it became popular amongst all social classes. Now Brits are known for being avid tea drinkers: whether you are cold, upset, ill or happy, tea is the answer. The kettle, therefore, plays a crucial role in accessing this comforting beverage: it helps water boiling in less than two minutes and then tea is ready shortly after. “I’ll put the kettle on” is a sentence you hear in houses and offices, whenever a guest arrives or there’s need for comfort or energy; tea provides all of those things and kettles just make everything easier.
No wonders foreign guests complain that they cannot find a kettle in their hotel rooms in Italy. When I was working in Ireland, I was once told “Italy is lovely, but why hotel do not keep a kettle in their rooms? I want my tea in the morning!”. In Italy, morning is for coffee, and when it’s very hot outside, a hot beverage is not so appealing; plus, the kettle (or bollitore) is not a common sight in most Italian kitchens, where a normal pot on the hob or a microwave is used to heat up the water for a cup of tea.
Another difference is that if you order a tea in a café in Italy, often you will be given a wedge of lemon- this, I think, is because often tea is associated with feeling sick and lemon helps settling digestion. “White” tea sounds quite unusual and when a handyman asked me for one I was very puzzled, as I immediately thought of the white tea type (like this one) rather than tea with a splash of milk; I was also unsure of how to make it, as there’s an ongoing debate regarding when milk shall be poured, stirred and so on. I still don’t know which is the proper way, so please let me know if you have a tried and tested way to do this.
A kettle is very helpful for preparing other ready-to-make beverages, too. Instant coffee, a hit in many Anglo-Saxon countries, is quite frowned upon in Italy- you can find it in supermarkets, but not in as many brands and varieties as you would in the UK. When I was in Italy, I never considered using instant coffee, but here I have it quite regularly as it is a super speedy caffeine fix (please, Italian readers, don’t look at me like that). In Italy, coffee is traditionally prepared with the so-called coffee machine (macchinetta del caffè), also called moka: you put water in the bottom part, coffee powder in the filter, close it with its top and let the steam work its magic to produce the characteristic amber-brown liquid with its wonderful aroma. Lately, the capsule coffee machine has become increasingly popular and often replaces the Moka to get a flavoursome, caffeine-loaded espresso.
I have visited many countries where instant chocolate is prepared with kettle boiled water; this one really makes me cringe! In Italy, hot chocolate is lush, thick and decadent and is made with milk and lots of chocolate. In many Northern European countries, hot chocolate is really some water and a couple of teaspoons of powder which tastes vaguely chocolaty.
Drinks are an integral part of the social life of a culture and even if the beverages I mentioned are quite popular throughout the world, each country gives them its own tweaks and even creates inventive tools to help their enjoyment (from kettles to moka to percolators).
What do you use in your country to make tea, coffee or chocolate? I’d love to hear your habits and tips!