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 about $85 to about $250) 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.