It’s rather funny how I, as a self-proclaimed tea snob, didn’t realize until recently that automatic loose tea makers do exist. All this time, I’ve been futzing about with tea infusers and French presses, not knowing about the fantastic world of tea making machines.
If you’re like me -- or if you’re already in the market for a tea brewing upgrade -- then you’ll enjoy this exploration into the world of high-end mechanized tea making. For our purposes, “high-end” will be anything that normally retails for $80 or more.
Looks Like a Kettle
If it looks like a kettle and acts like a kettle, then it’s probably a kettle. Right? Well, yes… but it might also be so much more. These automatic tea making machines are like electric kettles with extra bells and whistles that can make your loose tea brewing experience that much simpler. They all have a similar setup -- heating element, water reservoir, and tea steeping basket -- but each has its own charms.
The KRUPS FL700D51 Electric Kettle (list price $99) and the Cuisinart PerfecTemp Tea Steeper & Kettle (list price $129) are extremely similar; both have tea baskets that can be raised and lowered manually with a simple twist for proper steeping, and both have a “keep warm” feature. The biggest difference is that the Cuisinart has six temperature settings to the KRUPS’ four, and it also has a handy programmable timer.
The SMAL WK-0815T Tea Maker and Electric Kettle (list price $119) is similar, with raisable tea basket, but it only has one button/temperature setting. Its bigger sibling, the SMAL WK-0816 (list price $199), has four temperature settings and a “keep warm” button, similar to the KRUPS machine -- but it’s in Celsius. It should be noted that, while the tea steeping basket on both models can be raised or lowered, it operates more like the plunger in a French press. Neither model has a timer.
For an an interesting take on temperature selection, check out the Chefman RJ11-17-GP Precision Electric Kettle (list price $99.99): the temperature can be raised or lowered in 10-degree increments from 120 to 212 degrees. That gives you quite a few options! However, the tea basket doesn’t seem to raise or lower, meaning you’ll have to remove it with your fingers or tongs so the tea doesn’t over steep. It also lacks the timer that so far has made the Cuisinart PerfecTemp stand out.
But wait! Here comes the Breville BTM800XL One-Touch Tea Maker (list price $249). While this machine is by far the most expensive, it also does everything -- and I do mean everything - for you. It has a timer as well as customizable temperature/steeping settings, raises and lowers the tea basket automatically based on what kind of tea you are steeping, and even monitors the freshness of your brew. Oh, and you can set it up the night before and program it to start steeping just in time for breakfast. I’ve seen this baby demonstrated, and please, dear tea gods, I want one.
Looks Like a Coffee Maker
The machines in this category tend to look and behave similarly to your standard coffee maker, but with a tea-centric twist. They have four basic parts: a water reservoir, a heating element, a steeping chamber, and a pot for the final brew. The water is heated in the reservoir, then released into the steeping chamber below it. After the proper amount of time has passed, the tea is released into the pot for serving -- no worries about removing the leaves.
While these tea makers look neat and work off what I think is a very good concept, they don’t have quite enough options for me. The Gourmia GTC8000W "Tea Square" Brewing System (list price $149.99), for instance, with its square shape and two color options, has one of the sleekest designs I've ever seen. However, its brewing options are limited to "light," "medium," and "strong" with no ability to further customize temperature or steeping times.
The GCM3600 3 in 1 Coffee & Tea Maker (list price $199.99), also by Gourmia, is a handy machine that allows you to brew loose leaf tea, coffee, and K-cups, but it's even more limited: Your brewing choices include "coffee" and "tea." That's it. If your household enjoys a mix of beverages and isn't much into white or green teas, it might be a great space-saving investment.
The Nesco TM-1 Tea Maker (list price $81.99) is also pretty basic; while you can adjust the steeping time to anywhere from 2 to 16 minutes, you can’t control the temperature at all. If you live in the Himalayas, though, you may want to consider it; it’s billed as “the only tea maker currently on the market that works at high altitudes.”
Whatever tea making machine you choose, go for what works best for you, your budget, and your personal tea lifestyle.
Photo Credits: author, ario, and Nesco.