To microwave or not to microwave water for tea? That is the question. You don’t have to look hard to find people who have strong opinions about this issue. But if you’re trying to find cold hard facts, you’re going to have to look a lot harder.

Consumer Reports' Microwave oven buying guide (last updated May 2012)

Consumer Reports’ Microwave oven buying guide (last updated May 2012)

There doesn’t seem to be any consensus on this issue, though if you read through a number of forum threads where the issue has been discussed, the anti-microwave camp seems to outnumber microwavers and agnostics. The most common reason for eschewing microwaved water is the notion that it gives tea a flat or bland taste. For a sampling of how the discourse goes on these forum threads take a look here and here.

Plato's Allegory of the Cave by Jan Saenredam, according to Cornelis van Haarlem, 1604, Albertina, Vienna.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave by Jan Saenredam, according to Cornelis van Haarlem, 1604, Albertina, Vienna.

As someone who used to use a stovetop kettle and who has also used an electric kettle as well as a few “automatic” teamakers, I made to switch to the microwave a few years back, for convenience sake, and haven’t found any reason to regret the change. Of course, I realize that like the inhabitants of Plato’s Cave, I simply might not know what I’m missing since I haven’t bothered to do a side-by-side comparison of water heating methods.

Which is exactly what one blogger did a few years back, gathering a group of six test subjects and asking them to taste test tea made with microwaved and kettle-heated water. Though hardly a clinically precise experiment, at the writer notes, he found to his surprise that the microwaved water edged out the kettle water by a very slight margin.

Lots of kettle choices to heat your water

Lots of kettle choices to heat your water

What you won’t find (unless you’re a better researcher than I) is a clinically precise study that weighs in this particular issue. And, until such a creature rears its head, a good rule of thumb would probably be to do what works best for you.

For those concerned about environmental impact and energy use of water heating methods, look here and here for some (conflicting) opinions on that issue. As for the notion that superheated water caused by microwaving can be dangerous, myth-busting site Snopes.com claims this one is true. But they downplay the danger and simply recommend leaving a non-metallic object (I use half of a chopstick) in water when boiling it in the microwave.

See also:
Getting into Hot Water — Tea Kettles Galore
The Mettle of the Kettle
Does a Watched Tea Kettle Really Boil?

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