Alessi "Mami," $135 Boil time: 8:40. (All boil tests were conducted using four cups of water over a gas burner on highest heat. Your times may be quicker if you own one of those bad-ass Viking ranges with the rocket-ship burner flames.)
This is the stupidest kettle ever. Its whistle is a removable part (not a flip-up, as with most kettles). This means: 1) You could easily misplace it; 2) In order to pour out the boiling water you must first remove the whistle, thereby sticking your hand directly in front of the steam blast. Not fun, even with an oven mitt. Also, the whistle had a weak sound and was barely audible from my living room. Throw it all together—along with the highest price tag by far—and you've got a lemon. Admittedly, a stylish Italian lemon.
NEXT TO WORST
Chemex Handblown, $79.95 Boil time: 8:35
I confess I was rooting for this one. It's an elegant piece. Designed in the mid-1940s by a German-born chemist, it is housed in the permanent collection of MoMA (according to Chemex). The clear, handblown glass lets you watch your water as it rolls to a boil, which is pretty neat. Also, the Chemex looks a whole lot like a bong. You might enjoy the subversive thrill of leaving it out when guests come over. Oh, that? No, no, no (laughing slyly), it's just a tea kettle.
Sadly, the Chemex doesn't work very well. For one thing, it has no whistle. That seems inexcusable. Also, the first time I used it, I chipped the glass around its pour spout (through no fault of my own—it was really fragile). And despite the much-touted silicone stopper (meant to divert hot air and keep the handle cool), the Chemex handle got so hot that I couldn't even touch it without using a thick potholder. This once-proud kettle is in need of an update.
Chantal Classic, $110 Boil time: 7:53
This kettle has a metal handle. Metal! That makes zero sense to me. How am I to pick up a kettle safely when its metal handle has been heating over a flame for eight minutes? Ouch! Granted, Chantal supplies a mini-potholder that slips over the handle. But it's a nuisance to find this tiny thing every time you boil water (you can't leave it on while the flame's going or it will ignite), and it's cumbersome to fit it over the fiery-hot handle without scorching yourself. Dumb design.
Other than its appealing palette of colors, the selling point with the Chantal is supposed to be its polyphonic Hohner harmonica whistle. I guess the Hohner is less piercing than a traditional single-note whistle, but it's also louder, decibel-wise. My girlfriend hated it, claiming it sounded like "alien laser beams." (I'm having trouble deciding whether this says more about her or about the kettle.)
Le Creuset Demi, $49.99 Boil time: 9:30. Slowest of the bunch.
It's a cute little kettle with a few fatal flaws. For one, the whistle is meek. It sounds like a kid who hasn't learned how to whistle yet. Totally inaudible if you're more than 10 feet from the kitchen.
But the big problem is that slow boil time. It feels endless when you're waiting on it. The only reason I've ranked this higher than the Chantal is that it costs half as much.