I can't hide the fact that I love to drink coffee -- a lot. Of course, this doesn't mean I can't appreciate a quality cup of tea. Compared with making acceptable drip brew, however, correctly brewing tea is a lot more complicated. Aside from a wide range of recommended steep times, proper tea creation also calls for different water temperatures depending on the type of leaf you're using. Here to help is the $100 Mr. Coffee Tea Maker and Kettle. Equipped with intelligent modes for preparing popular tea varieties, this machine simplifies this tricky process and for less than many competing products.
Going beyond the basic on-or-off function of budget electric kettles, the Mr. Coffee Tea Maker has an integrated steep timer and metal infuser basket for loose leaf teas. Both features transform it into very user-friendly device, more so than even the impressive $300 Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup Brewing System . Of course, for serious tea brewing technology at home, you can always splurge on the $250 Breville Tea Maker. Fully programmable, Breville's fancy tea machine also targets the chai set with its motorized steeping action and adjustable water temperature.
The Mr. Coffee Tea Maker and Kettle bears little or no resemblance to a drip coffee machine and as such doesn't require bulky hardware for flushing hot water through coffee grounds. Neither does it use separate containers to hold water and brewed liquids, nor does it have any kind of display.
As a result the gadget is quite compact, measuring just 10.1 inches tall by 6.8 inches wide and 7.8 inches deep. With these pint-size dimensions, it certainly won't be hard to find a spot on your kitchen counter for the Tea Maker.
The uncomplicated appliance consists of just two main parts: a flat base and an electric kettle which rests on top of it. Vaguely square-shaped but with softly rounded edges and curves plus a sloped underside, the base has a decidedly artful appearance. At the center of the base's top surface you'll find a circular socket that serves as both a cradle for the Tea Maker's glass kettle and the power source for the carafe's internal electronics.
This glass container is on the small side, with a maximum recommended water capacity of 8 cups (40 ounces). Next to the gargantuan Oxo Barista Brain 12-cup brewer, which maxes out at a sizable 60 ounces, the Tea Maker seems practically lilliputian. Breville's own Tea Maker device can hold slightly more water as well (51 ounces).
Despite being petite, the Mr. Coffee Tea Maker packs in plenty of brewing capabilities. Placed in a ring around the kettle and running along the front edge of the base are a series of six buttons. These circular, metallic keys either command the Tea Maker to heat its water supply to the boiling point (212 degrees Fahrenheit) or to hit a variety of temperature presets.
Specifically, they include "Black/Herbal" (205 degrees F), "Oolong" (195 F), "White" (185 F), and "Green" (175 F). All these buttons, with the exception of the "Stop/Off" key, glow or flash in a cool hue of blue when activated. The Stop button also shines red when any of the water-heating modes is engaged.
In theory, using the Mr. Coffee Tea Maker is straightforward. Simply fill the glass kettle with fresh, cold water and decide which tea leaf you'd like to brew. For instance if you're in the mood for the caffeine and flavor punch of black tea, press the appropriately labelled button. The key will then glow a solid blue while the heating element inside the kettle base switches on. Simultaneously the Stop button pulses red, letting you know it's there to shut the heat off if necessary.
Once the machine detects it has hit its target water temperature (205 F, in this case) it emits a high-pitched beep and quickly flashes the tea preset button you've selected.That's your cue to add your dry tea leaves to the metal infuser. Next, twist open the kettle's lid from the locked position and remove it, then place the infuser basket into the kettle's supply of hot water, easy since the infuser sports a long, flat handle for the purpose.
Once that's done, hit the brew button again to activate the default steep timer for your chosen tea variety. In this case, Black/Herbal for a steep time of two minutes. You can also select a custom steep time of one, to four minutes, in one-minute increments. The Tea Maker beeps and flashes its light yet again to remind you when it's time to remove the infuser basket from the kettle.
Pressing the brew button a final time engages a "keep warm" mode that cycles the heating element on and off to maintain a proper drinking temperature. It'll stay in this holding pattern for one hour unless you hit the Stop button.
As you can probably guess, all this beeping and button blinking does become annoying and potentially confusing especially if you're interrupted during the tea brewing process. I often found it hard to remember if flashing lights meant the machine was in full heating mode, steeping, or merely keeping its tea warm. I feel that even some backlit text or other rudimentary icons would go a long way to indicate exactly what the gadget is doing at any given moment.
Thankfully, the Tea Maker displayed decent temperature control. Using a thermocouple, I confirmed that the machine is adequately accurate, beeping within about a second or so of its targeted brewing temperature. This happened regardless of which tea-brewing preset (and default temperature) I chose. Be advised though, that the Tea Maker does tend to overshoot its ideal temp by a few degrees after it beeps, but it also cools back down in 3 to 4 seconds. If you're fast at placing your tea into the kettle for steeping, you may expose your leaves to hotter water than you'd like, at least initially.
And while the included metal infuser basket is a snap to pull in and out of the kettle, its cylindrical shape makes clean up frustrating. Long and narrow with a small opening, scooping spent tea leaves out of the container is challenging.
The $100 Mr. Coffee Tea Maker and Kettle is a capable little appliance which takes much of the guesswork out of whipping up quality tea at home. Its temperature presets for careful tea brewing function as advertised. Likewise, the Tea Maker's ability to time how long your leaves should steep is a further boon to creating proper tea beverages.
That said, while the Tea Maker usually hits its target brewing temperatures, it sometimes overshoots them slightly. And the machine's lack of a screen or other clear status indicators make it confusing to operate at times. This is no automatic tea brewer either, since you have to manually add your tea leaves, then remove them from the kettle. A true tea robot like $250 Breville Tea Maker, though certainly more convenient, is also more expensive.