This week, I learned something new: I've been doing tea all wrong. When I opt for an herbal beverage, I typically stick a tea bag in piping hot water, let it steep for a couple of minutes, and then the sipping begins.
But that, says Allen Han, the CEO and founder of Teforia means I'm getting a bastardized tea-drinking experience. His solution to the tea troubles I didn't know I had? A $1,300 glowing "smart" tea infuser that, Han says, coaxes out tea leaves' spices, flavors, nutrients and antioxidants by subjecting them to the perfect infusion time, temperature and number of brew cycles.
Han had me try a green tea brewed two ways: in a typical countertop infuser and on the Teforia. (Get it? The tea will be so good it'll cause euphoria.) The tea in the cheap infuser just sat there. The Teforia put on a show. I watched it spurt water into a glass tea-containing orb. The tea bubbled up and bounced around a bit. It was beautiful. (For $1,300, it better be.) When it was ready, it dripped down into an insulated carafe.
The tea brewed with the Teforia had better coloring and the flavors were richer. I'm just not sure I'd dish out $1,300 for exalted tea. But Han is adamant that there's a market for it. He compares fine tea-drinking to the way wine connoisseurs relate to wine.
Winos talk about the vintage, year, varietals and terroirs of their wines when describing them. It should be the same for tea, Han says, because the beverage is as nuanced and complex as, if not more than, the best wines. For one, it's grown year-round. So even the same variety of tea can taste different depending on the time of year. Most tea shops you visit, he says, won't know that.
And that's something the Teforia does have a handle on. It comes preloaded with recipes meant to maximally highlight a tea's flavor profiles and its seasonality. By varying parameters like infusion time and temperature, Teforia can also adjust the caffeine level of your brew to match the time of day. In the morning, it might extract all its caffeine to help you get going; in the evening, it might tone it down so that you can get your 💤💤💤. In case you don't like their recipes, you can create your own, or tweak the built-in ones, through an app.
In 2014, Americans drank roughly 3.6 billion gallons—or 80 billion servings—of tea, according to the Tea Association of the U.S.A. The American tea market is worth a whopping $11.8 billion. By comparison, the U.S. coffee market is worth $30 billion, according to Forbes. But tea sales are expected to double in the next five years, thanks in part to a growing emphasis on healthful foods and beverages, and a concern over the impacts of caffeine on the body.
Han wants to capitalize on that, while providing people with a tea experience unlike any they've had before. This tea machine is part of a growing line of internet-connected kitchen appliances that aim to sell the affluent on the promise of better tasting food through a combination of science, machine learning and design. They're cool, but not accessible to the masses at the moment—though Han argues that if you use it daily, the price per cup becomes minimal.
The smart Teforia tea-infuser will cost $650 for the first 500 devices sold. The non-early birds will have to dish out the full MSRP of $1,300. That's a lot of money, almost as much as the June smart oven that was released earlier this year. That contraption, which retails for $1,500, can cook your food perfectly, thanks to company-crafted recipes, image recognition, and a layout that optimizes heat distribution.
In theory, I'm a fan of these devices (though I will say I can't afford them), but I just wonder how much of a market there is for them. Are gadgets like this mainly solving the first-world problems of the first world's elite? Probably. Is that the best use of our intellectual resources? Probably not.
Daniela Hernandez is a senior writer at Fusion. She likes science, robots, pugs, and coffee.