Long Beach, California – While walking the show floor of the 2014 World Tea Expo, one of the movie titles in the Terminator series jumped into my head. This mental association had nothing to do with homicidal cyborgs. The third film in the series was titled “Rise of the Machines,” and new tea machines are certainly moving to the fore. Alpha Dominche, Bkon, and Bunn were displaying their latest in tea-brewing machinery for food service. The capabilities of the Steampunk, Craft Brewer, and Trifecta offer new opportunities for cafes and tea shops.
Why Tea Machines?
Given that these tea devices can brew loose leaf teas in as little as 30 seconds, speed might seem like a primary consideration behind these hi-tech infusion solutions. From a service standpoint, even a hand-filled teabag can be quickly (and cost-effectively) dropped into a cup of hot water. As such, speed alone fails to be the determining factor. The ideal is the capacity to deliver a higher quality cup that can be ready to drink in the same time it takes to wait for the barista to prepare a morning cup of coffee.
One of the main advantages of using a tea machine will be a consistently better cup. All three devices allow for the development of tea recipes for different teas by controlling particular brewing parameters. Through tinkering and experimentation, richer mouthfeel and lower astringency can be drawn from Japanese green teas. The equivalent flavor profile of 3 steeps of a Taiwan oolong can be delivered in a single machine extraction. When optimal parameters are saved as “recipes,” they help assure the next cup will taste exactly the same.
The creation of tea machine recipes may also result customized cups of tea made with from-scratch blends. Instead of buying pre-mixed tea blends with ingredients like hibiscus, mint, and green tea, each tea shop has the power to mix ingredients directly into the machine and develop distinct, in-house blends based on the abilities of the tea machine.
Just as important as overall consistency is the personalization that tea machines offer. Suppose frequent customer Adam and frequent customer Barbara come into the tea shop nearly every morning and order the same cup of Keemun black tea to go. Customer Adam likes his steeped longer for stronger flavor. Customer Barbara likes hers lighter than the standard recipe steeping. By creating and recording these personalized recipes, Adam and Barbara no longer need to worry about the morning staff over- or under- steeping their cup of Keemun. Tea machines allow for consistency in personalized recipes that may differ from the standard recipe.
Differences in Machines
There are some major differences in these machines. They vary in brewing technologies, using either negative pressure (vacuum), steam, or air in the extraction processes. Some machine operational controls allow greater variations in water temperature and agitation during steeping. Differences in the computer software will determine how many recipes can be stored, how easily they can be shared, and how conveniently tea shop staff use the machine. Finally, price of machines vary greatly, from $2,500 to over $10,000.
The rise of these tea machines is not an omen of troubling times, but a sign of new innovation in novel, consistent, yet personalized tea service.