Why Won’t Capitalism Produce a Decent Kettle?

It was the late 1970s. As children of a mix of working and middle class, multicoloured parents at a secondary comprehensive school run by left-wing radicals in the heart of St. John’s Wood, we were the definition of melting pot. On one matter we were agreed — having a Bosch appliance in your kitchen meant you’d made it.

I persuaded my wife recently that none of our kettles had served us well enough, and that a Bosch was the answer. “Don’t look at those negative Amazon reviews, they’re from losers” I insisted.

Our journey began when our eleven year old small electric kettle finally had to be put down due to mechanical wear. It still worked, and perhaps I did feel a little like Fitzgerald in The Revenant, but I had my eyes on the prize: A kettle that could handle multiple temperatures; well that’s where it started, it always starts with good intentions before morphing without your conscious realisation into a twisty road signposted “hell”.

Amazon offered very little help. Did we really need WiFi on a kettle? Why was the user interface for temperature control on the kettles that had it so unbearably arcane? What’s the point in a kettle that forces you to resort to an instruction manual every time you use it? What about filter kettles? Well, these were all redundant for us since we got our distiller1.

In the end it was the lure of a bargain that did for me. They know how to get suckers like me — list that thing you wrote off for its totally ridiculous price at half its normal price, which still makes it bad value and see how many suckers will bite. A bit like all those games you buy when the Steam Sale is on, but never play, because if you’d really wanted to play them, you’d probably have bought them at the original price. So I hit “buy” on the Breville.

The Breville wasn’t bad. It was just a bit too “divide the family so you can target each member as an individual for maximum commercial gain” for our liking. You see, it only boiled one cup at a time. It could be a big cup, but it could only be a single cup as it only had a single spout. If you had guests over, or more than one of you wanted a brew at the same time, well, tough, you had to take it in turns. It had no temperature control and it had no other function. It just boiled one cup at a time. And that, in fact, is what makes it pretty great. By separating water storage from water heating functions, it’s efficient. Not just energy efficient, but when we temporarily replaced it with the Bosch, we had to fill up the bloody Bosch every single time we boiled the kettle

Then we decided to try a cheap alternative. Except that “cheap” now feels like cardboard. I don’t know how capitalism manages to keep prices going up and quality keep going down (wasn’t global capitalism supposed to fix this), but the Von Shef feels like it was put together with chewing gum and cardboard. And recycled paper socks.

I don’t know why they call it a Von Shef. Did they mean “Chef”? It doesn’t feel very cheffy. It doesn’t feel very Sheffield either, if by “Shef” they were somehow alluding to Sheffield steel. Von Shite might be more accurate. What’s wrong with this pretender then, given that the price wasn’t too bad at about £27 incl. delivery
– It beeps all the time. Nobody understands why, but we’re all tired of our gadgets beeping at us for no obvious reason all the time
– The temperature control is on the handle. It’s impossible to work out
– It took me three attempts to work out how to actually start boiling the kettle. You know, kettle on/off, which is kind of important, is next to impossible to figure out. WTF?
– It has weird lights that light up for no obvious reason. They look cool, but I can’t figure out how to use the kettle half the time, which is the bit I wish they’d focussed on.
– It feels cheap AF. Our last kettle was half the price of this one, and felt more solid. I feel the guilt of Fitzgerald when he realises he’s been found out. I feel the urge to run, because now there is no turning back.

But what about the Bosch before the Von Shef? What was wrong with the Bosch?
– It felt cheap and tacky. If you’re going to spend £70 on a kettle, it should feel solid. By making it plasticky and cheap looking, you, Bosch, I’m talking to you, all of you, have crushed my childhood dreams
– The fill indicator is almost impossible to read and stupidly placed
– It has temperature control, but the UI took me five botched attempts to work out. It doesn’t make sense. No matter how many times I use it, I’ll never understand it.

The Von Shef is going back, it’s too cheap, it’s UI too perplexing.

The Bosch is no longer a Bosch. At a glance, it still looks cool, but the brand has lost its soul, its heft, its appeal and turned me into a cynic about everything else I aspired to in that St. John’s Wood melting pot. Even McDonalds didn’t misplace Pret A Manger’s soul when they bought a 25% stake. McDonalds did better than you Bosch. How low have you sunk?

Our search for a kettle goes on. We had hoped that Global Capitalism would be able to deliver on this most basic appliance, but we’ve found it strangely lacking.

We want:
– Quality
– Solidity
– Temperature Control
– Energy Efficiency
– Totally transparent UI
– Decent looks

If you’ve seen something like this, let me know. Meanwhile, I’m off to burn my childhood vision boards.


  1. Also from Amazon, our distiller was the single best thing we ever did for the quality of our tea and coffee. 

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