All images: Libby Watson/Gizmodo
When people are trying to rib me for being British, they tend to go for at least one of three jokes. They act like I love or have an intimate knowledge of the royal family, which I don't; they mention terrible British food, which is fair; or they will bring up tea. Haha, uh, cup of tea much, you limey?
Well played. I do love tea. I drink at least two cups a day, and I'm quite particular about it. If offered Lipton, I will politely decline, while privately cursing and probably composing a tweet about how outrageous it is to be presented with that weak shit.
The Teforia Leaf, with its Carafe and Infusion Globe.
So imagine my joy when I received a pitch email from the "groundbreaking tea tech company," Teforia, about its newest product, the Teforia Leaf, an automated tea infusion machine. This thing was promising "the perfect cup of tea." Putting aside my immediate scoffing -- an American company telling me, a literal British person, how to brew tea? You havin' a laugh? -- I was a little curious. How does it make a perfect cup of tea without access to my mum? Algorithms, allegedly. It claims to be the only "machine-learning tea infusion device," using "advanced algorithms and encyclopedic knowledge of tea." Its Wi-Fi connectivity means it can be updated with new brewing recipes -- length, water temperature, the number of infusions -- constantly.
The Leaf will only brew Teforia's own teas -- Sips (Selective Infusion Profile System) -- which come in K-Cup-like pods. The Leaf ships with 15 samples, but if you buy them yourself from the Teaforia website they cost between $1 and $8, and only contain about two servings of tea each. For $12 I can go to World Market and buy 80 bags of my precious Yorkshire Gold. Though if I want to brew it in a Teforia, or any other non-Sips tea, I'll have to shell out $1,000 for the Teforia Classic. Other things I could buy for $1,000 include almost all of a Macbook, two Xbox One X consoles, or 1,000 iced teas from McDonald's.
Instead of popping the entire pod into the machine as you would with a K-cup, the tea itself is dumped in the Infusion Globe, which sits in the Nest, into which you slide the Carafe. Yes, every Part is Capitalised. The lid of each Sip contains an RFID tag that the Leaf reads to determine how, exactly, to brew the tea, including the temperature of the water and the amount of water it uses. The RFID chip is scanned on the top of the Leaf, which tells the device what recipe to use.
The exposed RFID component (right) and a Sips lid plopped on top of the system (left).
That RFID tag also complicates the company's claim that their Sips are fully recyclable. The Sips container is compostable, but you'll have to take your Sips lids to an e-recycling center. For a device selling itself on convenience, this is hardly as convenient as my current "dump teabag on little plate and eventually throw out 3 or 4 dry old teabags at the end of the day" method.
Once you've scanned that chip, a glowing Go button appears on the device; for some Sips, a second button appears, allowing users to brew a high-caffeine version.
Water flows in from the reservoir, and it takes four to seven minutes to brew a cup; each recipe is different (different teas brew best at different temperatures). Teforia's brewing method involves three or four "micro-infusions": a series of smaller, shorter brew sessions, instead of one long brew of several minutes.
There's also an accompanying app, which connects to your Teforia via Bluetooth. It wouldn't be a "smart" machine without. The app enables you to run a cleaning cycle, shop for teas, or see how much longer you have to wait for your tea to be ready. It even tells you when you last brewed each type of tea.
The Leaf also ships with a microfiber cleaning cloth and special cleaning brush, which you'll be using a lot: the Carafe and the Globe are not dishwasher-safe, which seems to really miss the point of being rich enough to spend $US400 ($530) on a tea machine. I also found that even with quite diligent and thorough washing, the Globe would sometime retain the scent of the previous Sip.
The brewing process is very impressive to watch, but the Leaf is all about the teas: it will only brew Teaforia's proprietary Sips. Yet the teas themselves were a mixed bag, or box, as it were. Some were truly lovely. Wisdom and Grace, a chai-like rooibos that was, according to its product page, "originally blended for His Holiness the Dalai Lama," was warming and soothing, reminiscent of mulled wine. The Jade Dragon promised honeysuckle in its tasting notes and it delivered. But many of the Sips tasted very under-brewed, and didn't come out hot enough to enjoy for very long. Many of the promised tasting notes were vivid in the smell of the tea, but absent from the actual taste.
The Earl Grey variety presented the perfect opportunity to put a friend and myself through a little blind taste test. My boyfriend, who is well trained from making my daily morning tea, brewed a Tazo Earl Grey while the Teforia micro-infused the Earl Grey Sip. We labelled them A and B and gave them a taste. We were both convinced that A had to be the Teforia, because it was...better, basically. How wrong we were! The watery, over-perfumed B was the Teforia brew. Oops.
My biggest test for the Teforia was tasting the Daybreak, their breakfast tea. English breakfast tea, known as "tea" in the UK, is what I drink every day, and I was excited to try what could potentially be the best cup of tea I'd ever had. A good cup of English breakfast should be strong, with a little milk (preferably whole), sugar if you want it, and very hot.
The best cup of tea on Earth is the one Mum makes when I arrive in our kitchen from the long flight home, or, if that's not in reach, one that reminds me of that. The Daybreak reminded me more of the utterly depressing tea I'd buy at the cafe in Heathrow bus station. It was weak and watery; it mostly tasted like an under-brewed Tazo Awake, Tazo's English Breakfast. It had a nice honey note, but that didn't carry through.
Left, Teforia's Daybreak; right, a much stronger cup of Yorkshire Gold.
As I brewed Sip after Sip of what I felt was basically fine tea, I increasingly wondered if the problem was with me, not the Teforia. As its press release boasts, it brews a perfect cup of tea, every time. Maybe I just don't know good tea? The machine got a great review from World of Tea; maybe it's just meant for people with more refined tastes, people who are really knowledgeable about and super into all different kinds of tea. Maybe I'm simply not good enough for Teforia.
Drop the lid on the tea leaf to scan the RFID.
But wait -- no, fuck that, I'm literally British. I know a cup of weak tea when I taste one, and a lot of this tea tasted like expensive water. A couple of the varieties were really special and delicious, but some tasted actually quite disgusting. The Sencha Origin green tea claimed tasting notes of umami and leafy greens, but the scents I could identify were rotting vegetables, eggs, and grass that a cat had just pissed on; it tasted like a normal green tea, but the smell was so disgusting I had to dump it out. The Ancient Dragon oolong tasted of old burning wood, or maybe hair.
Having used one for a week, I feel confident in saying there is absolutely no need for anyone to buy a Teforia. If you have $499 to piss away -- and I mean really piss away, like if you're an actual millionaire -- I can't tell you it's a waste of money. If you pick your Sips carefully, you'd get a good machine that makes nice tea in a pleasing and largely convenient way, as long as someone else is hand-washing the bits out of the Globe.
Even if it makes good tea, the machine doesn't necessarily make better tea. The Daybreak I brewed in my $9 in-cup infuser was better than the one I brewed in the $499 Leaf.
Teforia is clearly eager to distinguish itself from that other noted home tech company, Juicero: in its press release, it threw some shade at "over complicated, overhyped devices that offer little beyond tech for tech's sake." But like Juicero, and so many other Silicon Valley products, the Teforia is selling a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. It's trying to perfect something that's already very good through expensive, overwrought tech. Like Juicero, Teforia has a bevy of impressive tech specs: it can store 1.7 quadrillion tea recipes, has a 32-bit Intel Quark microcontroller at 100 MHz, and 1GB of RAM. Like Juicero, it claims to make the most perfectly extracted, honed, almost scientific product. And, like Juicero, it's just not that much better than you could get without the $499 bullshit machine.
- The $499 Teforia Leaf brews only the company's own teas, so be prepared to only drink Teforia tea for the rest of your days.
- Can connect to a smartphone via Bluetooth, but the app isn't necessary for day-to-day use.
- The parts are not dishwasher safe, but it's otherwise easy to clean.
- The tea is fine.