Coffee fanatics are nuts. They’ve developed scanners for maximum extraction, vacuum pots, high-pressure espresso bots, and coffee machines that can grind the beans for you or just fire through a cartridge. Tea, on the other hand, only gets as complicated as setting the water temperature and dunking leaves for a certain amount of time. Most everything else is ornamental and ceremonial. But that’s about to change because of Teforia.
Teforia is a new, network-connected tea brewing machine, designed largely by the company’s CEO and founder Allen Han, who hails from Microsoft where he worked on the company’s acclaimed keyboards and mice, the Xbox 360, and the original Surface.
Inspiration hit when Han, who drank tea, was asked to try a hip new coffee shop by a coworker. “At that time, Seattle was going through the third wave of coffee. A friend said, ‘they make a great cup of coffee, I’m sure they’ll do something great with tea.’ Han explains. “I was pretty stoked, finally, someone’s gonna make a great cup of tea!”
Yet in the land of handlebar mustaches and pourover measured by the gram, what he got was the same spigotted hot water and paper cup experience he got from everywhere else.
“Where was my craft tea? That was the trigger point that I got engaged. As a designer, you get a trigger, then you dig deeper into the core opportunity,” Han says. “I did a study around the business, and ritual, of tea. It’s the second most drank beverage in the world after water! Even in U.S., where consumers spent $30 billion coffee, they spent $27 billon on tea. That was a shocking number for me, because as a tea drinker, I thought it was in a minority in the U.S.”
The market was there, and so was the opportunity to do something new. Han learned that tea hadn’t changed much in 5,000 years.
“I felt was there any way to combine modern technology to use a very scientific method to extract what we want from tea,” he says, “but still get a sense of peace and serenity that they’d get when they went through a traditional tea ceremony.”
The resulting product, developed over two years, was Teforia. To coffee nerds, it might be best described as a Clover crossed with a Keurig. On one hand, it’s networked to a central server to brew various leaves to specific recipes, designed with a bit of theater (that’s the Clover part), on the other, the brewing is as easy as filling the machine with water and dumping in a pre-portioned pod (that’s the Keurig part).
With Teforia, the pods even have a RFID tag containing the brew data so that you don’t need to fuss with buttons. (But you can also use your own leaves if you’re willing to weigh them) It then sets the water temperature to the optimal number, fills a central chamber with water, and agitates the leaves with air. The bubbling effect is beautiful by design, with transparent chambers that allow you to watch the tea steep. But is this production process overkill?
No, Han argues, because the machine actually steeps the leaves several times, potentially at different temperatures, to pull out the hundreds of compounds found in tea. It knows the best recipe because Teforia has worked with suppliers to perfect it, but in the case that you bring home your own exotic tea that’s not in the database, a companion iPhone app asks a few simple questions to ascertain what it might be, then attempts its best guess at a brew.
“We’ll ask three to four questions, ‘What color is that tea? What shape? What size? Based on those things–this is what machine learning and big data comes in–we’ll leverage that info and create a recipe for the tea,” Han explains. “You taste it, and when you go to the app again, this time it will take you to a flavor wheel and you provide feedback. Not sweet enough? Enough earthiness? By coming back and providing feedback on how we did, we’ll try a recipe again. We’re competent enough by the time you give us feedback the third time, we can nail the recipe for perfection.”
The machine allows you to share your brewing recipes with the larger network of Teforia users, too. “You might like matcha to be on a little bit of the sweeter side, so you can customize it, and once you do, you publish it in the community. They can download on it. vote on it.” Whether they like it or not, though, the platform can still provide you with the perfect way of brewing a particular tea to your particular palette.
A limited batch of 500 Teforia units will go on sale today for a pre-order price of $650. The retail price will jump to $1300 when the machine is officially released in Spring 2016. It’s definitely an experience built for the most discriminating (or free-spending) tea nerds, with a boutique scale that seems at odds with its own big data claims. But whether or not the Teforia team can actually pull off all these promises in their shipped product, they are definitely on to something.
Teforia is a vision of a smart kitchen that can constantly grow smarter, wrapped in an appliance anyone can understand. It’s enough to make you wonder: In 50 years, will we still want a full oven and stove? Or will we want just a few appliances that, learning from all of us and one another, can magically just get it right every time?