A historian would tell you America’s love of coffee traces back to the British monopoly on tea in the western world and the American colonists’ subsequent objection to King George’s related taxes. Yes, we like coffee, but we Americans (and I mean ‘Mericans) also love our tea. It’s one of the most popular beverages in the US, yet I dare you to find a smart teapot to rival the wealth of coffee brewers and espresso makers on the market.
Speaking for the millions of tea drinkers out there, I’m tired of the sad teabag in a scalding hot cup of (likely unfiltered tap) water. Well, so is the founder and CEO of Teforia, Allen Han. The smart infuser he’s launching today is such a perfect complement to tea that Mr. Coffee should be embarrassed.
Methods of brewing tea predate the Internet revolution – by several thousand years. Even for enthusiasts, most of us simply resort to a thermometer and a good clear pot. When we go out, we expect little more than a selection of tisanes and bagged teas, followed by water of unknown temperature to steep it in. No more.
Teforia uses a proprietary Selective Infusion Process to identify varietals and cultivars and get a well-rounded flavor, as well as control the amount of caffeine and antioxidants in your brew. It’s like having tea made for you by a master on a tea estate; precision in the temperature and amount of the water combined with the infusion time make all the difference.
Allen understands a good cup of tea. Culturally it’s important to him, but he also just plain enjoys it. The company has been working with a number of boutique family tea estates in Taiwan for a couple years. One particular journey reaffirmed his mission to up the quality of the flavors and the health benefits that we’re mostly missing in our scalded not-coffees.
“I’ve always wanted to witness the tea-making process from start to finish,” Allen has written. “In spring 2015, during one of my trips to Taiwan, I got a call from one of the tea masters we work with immediately after landing in Taipei from the 12-hour trans-Pacific flight… He said, ‘We started our spring harvest yesterday … this is your opportunity to witness tea-making live!’ ”
The estates are truly rural, in this case seven hours from Taipei. By the time Allen got there it was the middle of the night. In the thick mist of early morning, Allen rose and headed to the fields. “I watched as trucks pulled up carrying 30-40 people and they fanned out into small groups of three to four across the estate, carefully picking only the top two leaves and the buds off the tips of each branch. As I watched them happily chatting away, this was the moment that I truly appreciated how precious each cup of tea is.”
When we take a nice, loose leaf tea (Camellia sinensis), carefully picked, dried, packaged and sent half-way around the world, and plop it into any old water, we are missing not only the connection to community and history so evident in Allen’s experience, but the range of flavors the master intended — and for which you paid.
As Allen puts it, “This further fueled my mission with Teforia to deliver the best experience to tea drinkers, so they could for the first time experience tea as Mother Nature and the tea masters intended.”
Since we can’t all travel on tea tours, Teforia was conceived as the at-home solution. Allen and his team’s respect for tea shows in Teforia’s design. It presents a flawless face like a Wedgwood platter. The buttons for the device are capacitive; you don’t see them until you touch them and they light up. However, since Teforia’s infuser is connected via Wi-Fi you can control it with the app either on your phone or the desktop, without having to touch it at all.
Teforia’s website offers curated single-origin teas that the smart infuser already knows how to brew to a tea master’s specifications. Place the coded biodegradable containers on the infuser’s scanner (also concealed) and it reads the code. Pour the loose tea into the infuser, and Teforia can take over from there. If you have a loose tea or tisane that’s not curated by Teforia, you can teach the smart infuser to recognize it. Enter the size, color, and shape of the leaves in the app, and Teforia will brew it. After a taste, you can adjust the recipe and share it in Teforia’s online community.
Adjusting recipes is not only a simple matter of changing the flavor. You can change the caffeine and even the antioxidant levels. Different types of antioxidants can be viewed and adjusted in the app as well, so you end up with a healthier and better-tasting cup of tea.
The carafe and infuser are dual-layered; the external layer is impact resistant, and the internal gorilla glass is excellent for heat transference and easy to clean. Though it would have been much easier in general from an engineering standpoint to conceal the infusing process, watching tea leaves swirl as the water colors adds to the overall experience. Teforia is an upgrade on and honor to traditional methods, not a heartless mechanical version of what’s worked for five thousand years. If anything, making the process smart — and the well-designed app that comes with — makes tea traditions accessible to more people than ever before.
The app’s design complements the infuser; in its clean interface you’ll find the bulk of the controls that make Teforia special and coffee brewers jealous. Adjust caffeine or antioxidant levels in a given recipe, connect to the community where you can search for and share tea recipes, or read their actually informative tea blog. With the app and the connected properties of the Teforia infuser the possibilities are broad. For example, Teforia could follow your fitness tracker to know when you get up, and brew your tea. Tired from a long day’s work? Teforia could recognize your phone as you come up the stairs and start the brewing process — all you have to do is make sure it has water, and change the filter when the app prompts you — which it will.
Tasting Teforia’s tea when you’re used to drinking loose tea without even knowing your water temp is like going from Shergill IPA to Pliny the Younger — you don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve tried it. Teforia is like the Master Yoda of tea makers, an enigmatic little thing at first glance, but ultimately wise beyond all your years. The regular price for Teforia’s degree of tea appreciation is $1,300, but the company is offering the first 500 Teaforias for $650. By comparison, a fully automated espresso and coffee maker can run as high as $12,000. In any case, $1,300 is a lot less expensive than an overseas trip to a tea estate.
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