Inspired by long lines at a tea shop, two engineers found a solution: a robot that custom blends loose leaf tea. TeaBOT tea kiosks make brewing personalized single-serve loose leaf tea efficient.
Toronto, Canada-based teaBOT was founded in 2013 by Brian Lee and Rehman Merali. Merali was pursuing his doctorate in aerospace robotics and Lee earned a master’s degree in engineering design. Together they designed an automated kiosk to serve the masses. It all began when Lee noticed long lines forming at his parents’ popular tea shop in Sudbury, Ontario. This lack of efficiency caused the loss of customers. Lee and Merali decided to leverage technology to make the custom blending of loose leaf tea more efficient and thereby eliminate long lines. They wanted to figure out how to get the tea into the cup faster and they achieved their goal, as teaBOTs can custom blend a 16-ounce cup of loose leaf tea in under 30 seconds.
Their prototype featured a series of dispensers that fed loose tea into a silo, then into a funnel, then into a cup. From there, they decided to finish the process by adding water.
In summer 2015, Lee and Merali went through Y-Combinator’s three-month business boot camp then did a 3-minute pitch in front of investors. Y-Combinator is a Mountain View, California-based company that provides early-stage funding to startups.
Today, two versions of teaBOTs automate tea making: the teaBOT Mega and the teaBOT Discover. A teaBOT Mega uses 18 components, including flavor profile and temperature level to make each customer’s ideal cup of tea. People can customize the ratio of each ingredient and the accompanying teaBOT mobile app allows them to share their blends.
TeaBOT Megas serve high-traffic locations. The teaBOT Discover is a smaller countertop unit that has similar functionality but incorporates seven components. The teaBOT Discover is meant for offices that want to provide loose leaf tea for guests in a clean fashion.
“The personalization side of teaBOT is a nice entry point for many people into tea and to learn about flavor profiles,” said Nolan Schachter, teaBot’s director of user experience and marketing. “They can mix and match and figure out what they like.”
He pointed out that teaBOTs reduce the barrier of tea market entry to new customers who might be too shy to talk to a barista or sommelier about custom tea blending. “It’s a learn at your own pace sort of thing,” Schachter said.
TeaBOT also shows a live list of the most popular or trending blends from all of its machines in different cities for those who might not want to custom blend their tea.
Currently, a total of 50 teaBOTs are deployed on college campuses and in offices across the United States and Canada. The demand for teaeBOTs continues to build. Clients say tea consumption increases when a teaBOT is present. People like the accessibility and variety offered by a teaBOT, which can produce thousands of blends. One 16-ounce cup of tea costs $2.99.
The teaBOT Discover is sold through distributors and the teaBOT Mega is available as a monthly rental or through a revenue share.