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Tea Machines

Published January 2015

How we tested

Tea machines are designed to automate tea making by adding a removable brew basket to an electric kettle. After the kettle heats water to a specified temperature, a removable tea basket is lowered into the water to steep and then raised once the tea has brewed. Some models also include extra features like a programmable timer, adjustable temperature settings for different teas, a keep-warm function, and automatic steeping.

We brewed black, green, white, herbal, and oolong loose leaves in three models (priced from $86.44 to $249.99) and found that the quality of the brew depended largely on the design of the brew basket. Two models made excellent cups, thanks to their fully perforated baskets that allow for thorough infusion, while the weak brew from one machine can likely be attributed to its inadequately perforated brew basket that sits inside another chunky plastic basket, preventing good infusion.

Our winner, however, stood out for being fully customizable. Users could program any temperature between 120 and 212 degrees and steep times from 0 to 10 minutes—a major advantage compared with the other machines, which offered just a handful of fixed settings that sometimes fell far outside our tea’s steeping directions. Plus, once our winner's brew basket was magnetically snapped into place, it lowered and raised itself automatically based on an internal timer and thermometer. Baskets on the other two pots had to be carefully inserted into the neck of the kettle (or they’d release before the water was ready) and then lowered and lifted manually by twisting the baskets’ lids. A loud beep and clear time display on one model made it easier for us to ensure that we removed the basket at the right moment; the other required us to use a separate timer, making it no more convenient than a regular electric kettle.

THE BOTTOM LINE: Our winner is a worthy splurge for tea aficionados, while at less than half the price, our runner-up makes a good Best Buy.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*