This weekend coming some friends and I will be running a cake stall at a local vintage fare. We would also like to sell hot beverages such as tea and coffee.

How can we cheaply and easily heat water up for tea and coffee without access to a power socket?

  • 3
    After the weekend: Pictures of your choosen solution, please! ^_^ (We are a curious bunch!)
    – Stephie
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 12:42
  • I will supply you with pictures :) It's the least I could do after all these responses.
    – Terry
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 12:06

4 Answers 4


Do as others do and use a camping stove.

They come as gas stoves like this one or even as wood- or charcoal-fired versions (see here). Perhaps an avid camper among your friends could even lend you one, means you'd only have to buy the fuel.

But before you do this check with the local authorities / people responsible for the event whether they are ok with these open-flame stoves at a public event, keep a fire extinguisher ready and ensure noone can accidentally get hurt, especially if lots of people are attending. Ensure the stove is set up properly and on solid ground, not wobbly or uneven. Be careful not to burn yourself or your partner, especially if business gets hectic. You'll also need the corresponding equipment, e.g. a stovetop kettle, a hand-filter or french press for the coffee, and fresh clean water (unless available on-site).

  • 1
    I vote for the charcoal-powered traditional samovar ;-)
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 13:07
  • 2
    There are also specialty camping water boilers that are slightly more efficient on fuel, but will heat water much quicker. Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 13:31
  • If you're going to be under a canopy, you'll want to make sure that it's made of flame-resistant material. (our local fire codes require it)
    – Joe
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 18:14

You need a Thermette (Kelly Kettle or Storm Kettle in North America - they're all brand names). This would match the vintage theme.

Larger ones have taps near the base, and can boil 10 cups of tea in a few minutes.

These were coveted by construction and rail road worker gangs, as they could have a 10 minute break for a cup of tea and a biscuit (cookie in North America), including the time to boil the water.


Storm Kettle

  • Good idea - basically the same principle as a samovar or the camping water boiler mentioned at the other answer. Seems they are stil available today. Putting one on my "wishlist of cooking tools"... Safety precautions regarding open fire remain.
    – Stephie
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 6:33
  • Information only: Water heating takes about 1.1 kWh per 1000 litre-degrees. To heat water from say 20C to 100C = 80C and 10 cups is about 2.5 litres so you want 80*2.5 = 200 litre degrees or about 1.1/5 = 0.22 kWh. To do this is 10 minutes = 1/6th of an hour you need 6 x 0.22 = 1320 Watts. Say about 1500 Watts to allow for some losses or 2000 Watts to give you a bit of time to drink the tea before tea break is over. That's a large stove element or 2 bar heater type heat supply. Definitely doable with a Thermette but a right roaring blaze will be needed :-). Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 12:19
  • @Russell McMahon Theremete by design burn with a roaring blaze, a bunch of twigs are reduced to ash in a minute, I would estimate a large sized Theremete would be burning around the 5Kw mark (based on comparing flame and heat from our 20Kw house fire box)
    – TFD
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 8:01
  • @TFD Yes - they can be enthusiastic. I used them "in anger" long ago when accompanying line gangs during vacation work periods while at unversity (long long ... ago :-).) | Hydrocarbons are good for around 10 kWh/kg and I'd estimate wood with some water content and other than just CH bonds as say 5 kWh/kg. 25% efficiency chemical to thermal into water is probably high. Maybe not. 5 kWh/kg x 25% = say 1.25 kWh/kg. We need 0.22 kWh here so 0.22/1.25 ~= 0.2 kg of wood. That sounds very achievable and lower than I'd have expected. I have a thermette here somewhere - must dig it out and play :-) Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 8:36

Use a Vacuum Flask

An every-day thermos is not big enough for this task, but food service professionals have provided hot coffee and tea with larger purpose built containers.


In China boiling water is often put in large (maybe about 3 liters) vacuum flasks. These are used at tea conventions, on trains, and at roadside stops. The water stays very hot and makes fine tea and instant noodles.


The following images show a couple of the smaller containers suitable for this task. Each of these are about the same capacity. The one on the right is similar to coffee dispensers at bagel or breakfast shops. It has a lever that can dispense the liquid inside.

Large 3.2 liter flask 1 gallon hot drink dispenser


If your event is (a) outdoors (b) in a warm climate... you could have some fun with (and attract a fair bit of attention to your booth..) with a solar heating method. There are several videos available online to show you how to do this, one example is from the king of random but a quick google search will reveal many ways boil water.

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    ... and (c) on a sunny day (d) during daytime (e) not in the shade. (b) actually isn't crucial, btw. But definetively a creative aproach! And in a more serious note, there are solar cookers as well.
    – Stephie
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 18:12
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    "details-details" :)
    – Cos Callis
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 19:15
  • Solar units can also be built, or purchase, these are great alternatives for either camping or areas that lack a power source, allowing for clean water production, cooking, or energy storage (hot water balloons.)
    – wilson0x4d
    Commented Jul 7, 2015 at 20:05

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