CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
Making delicious tea is challenging, especially if you stray beyond basic black leaves. You must account for tea type, steep time and water temperature to produce the best flavor possible. Luckily, there's one kitchen gadget which does an admirable job of automating these tasks, the $250, £375 (on Amazon), AU$300 Breville One-Touch Tea Maker.
Priced as much as premium drip coffee brewers, this machine is certainly no impulse buy. Of course no other electric tea brewer offers the same level of sophistication and controls, either. Besides preset modes for popular tea types, the machine can brew using custom parameters for target temperature and steep time that the Breville handles with robotic, motorized precision. In addition, the appliance is attractive, thoughtfully designed and easy to operate and clean. All these abilities uniquely qualify the Breville Tea Maker as the perfect, though expensive, kitchen companion for passionate tea drinkers.
From the moment I laid eyes on the Breville Tea Maker, I knew that I gazed upon a pricey appliance. Clad in a skin of shiny stainless steel with sections crafted from tempered glass, plus a touch of tasteful grey polycarbonate, this machine strikes quite a handsome profile. Like the Mr. Coffee Tea Maker and Kettle and other similar products,the Breville's tea brewer consists of two main parts: a "power base" platform and an electric kettle carafe (Breville calls this a "Jug"). This jug sits on top the base and rests inside of a special cradle the platform's center. So positioned, the jug draws electricity from the base to power its internal heater.
Unlike the Breville appliance, the body of the less expensive Mr. Coffee machine is constructed from cheaper plastic materials. Another difference between the two tea makers is that the Breville's base features a small LCD screen that displays pertinent info such as water temp, and brew time. By contrast, Mr. Coffee's gadget communicates its status merely by blinking lights and emitting cryptic electronic beeps. It's a design approach that's less than ideal since it's harder to tell what the device is doing at any given moment. On many occasions I lost track of exactly where the Mr. Coffee tea kettle was in its brewing process which is critical since you have to remove its tea basket yourself.
In terms of physical footprint, the Breville and Mr. Coffee products have practically the same compact dimensions. The Breville Tea Maker stands 10 inches tall by 6 inches wide with a depth of 8 inches (25 by 15 by 20cm). The two devices share an identical tea-making capacity as well, maxing out at 40 ounces (1.2L). Keep in mind that Breville's machine can ultimately boil more water when acting as an ordinary electric kettle (51 ounces, 1.5L).
The world has yet to see a totally automatic tea brewer, but the Breville Tea Maker is pretty darn close. Because it does much of the work for you, using and operating this gizmo is dead simple.
The first step is to remove the kettle's lid then pull the stainless steel tea basket out from inside the jug. The basket sports a handy ring on top to make the task painless. And instead of being physically fastened to the jug, the basket clings in place thanks to its own magnet and one inside the kettle's long post. It's a very slick touch that makes the basket a cinch to remove yet firmly stay put during brewing.
Next comes the most manual aspect of using the Tea Maker, loading its basket with tea and its kettle jug with water. Decant your desired amount of water into the jug using the handle's volume markers as a guide. While these labels are nice to have, they're listed in mL units only -- which is fine if the metric system floats your boat.
I wish I could see the water level in ounces too since I'm more comfortable with these measures. To add tea simply scoop tea leaves into the basket (don't forget to remove and replace its lid) using the included spoon. With the ingredients present, you're ready to start brewing.
All the machine's controls reside on the base in front of the kettle's socket. Hit the "Tea Type" button to cycle through the Tea Maker's six brewing modes: Green, Black, White, Herbal, Oolong and Custom. Once you've made your selection, just tap the big Tea button to kick off the brewing cycle. Depending on the mode, the Tea Maker will then heat its water supply to the matching ideal temperature: 212 degrees Fahrenheit for black and herbal (100 Celsius), 195 degrees F for oolong (90.6 C), 185 degrees F for white (85 C), 175 degrees F for green (79.4 C). To accommodate unusual blends, use the custom mode to adjust the brewing temperature and steep time manually. There are dedicated keys for this on either side of the LCD screen.
When the kettle's contents hit the correct temperature, you're in for a show. Magnetically attached, the brew basket slowly and automatically lowers into the hot water bath to soak. Tea leaves then infuse flavor into the water for the allotted steep time, after which the basket raises back out of the water of its own accord. This action not only precisely controls tea infusion, but also means the machine can operate unattended.
Additionally by filling the machine the night before, you can program the Tea Maker to prepare a fresh morning pot. To that end the brewer also features a "keep warm" function designed to keep your tea nice an hot for as long as 60 minutes. For safety reasons removing the carafe will also deactivate the feature so remember to re-engage it when you're done pouring.
Breville makes a point to explain in the manual that Tea Maker is "not calibrated for commercial or scientific use," but my thermocouple tests confirmed the device was quite accurate. Temperature readings I logged were within 1 to 3 degrees off what the Tea Maker displayed them to be. Of course, the Tea Maker lagged a few seconds behind the more sensitive thermocouple device.
Tea I brewed through the Breville Tea Maker was consistently quite good, though I admit I'm much more of a coffee guzzler than a chai swiller. I also prefer my tea strong; thankfully the appliance also allows you to tweak brewing strength separately within each of its brewing modes, essentially by increasing its steep time. I'm also fond of the Breville's basket agitation function which will raise and lower the basket during brewing to further concentrate the final product.
Of course, the Breville's robotic brewing abilities can't bend the laws of physics and make pots of tea faster than traditional tea kettles. The machine still has to boil its pot of water first before steeping which, depending on how much liquid you're brewing, requires about 6 to 7 minutes. Add to this a standard soak time of 3 to 4 minutes and the whole process demands on the order of 10 or 12 minutes of your time. It's just as easy to make single or double cups with the Breville Tea Maker, however, and the less volume of water you use, the faster it will come to temperature.
Is the $250 Breville One-Touch Tea Maker for you? If you're the type who's devoted to the art of home tea brewing and seek a machine that's very capable and highly automated, without a doubt this appliance will satisfy. Of course not everyone can or should spend this much just for a quality domestic cuppa. If cash happens to be tight but you still crave a flexible tea brewer, another fine option is the $100 Mr. Coffee Tea Maker and Kettle. While it lacks a robotic basket for trouble-free steeping and less deft temperature control, Mr. Coffee's more affordable tea machine offers similar presets for specific tea varieties.
Those who require a kitchen device that can brew coffee and contains an electric kettle able to heat water accurately within a wide temperature range, look no further than the $300 Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup brewing system. It may cost an extra $50 but the Oxo's hybrid abilities will appeal to both coffee and tea addicts alike.