It went something like this: The Affinitea, the Teapresso, the SteamPunk, the BKon, the Trifecta, and now several more on the way. From big companies to small – not necessarily in chronological order – but close.
All geared toward the commercial cafe market, it seems. All put the tea in – and after about a minute, give or take – out comes tea brewed by the cup. And, all hoping theirs will be the niche leader.
Before we knew of any but the Affinitea and Teapresso – which came late 1990’s/early 2000-ish, we got into the loose tea retail world. Our business worked with loose teas and herbals for long hours – six days a week – in a cafe venue and learned the daily realities of brewing and serving loose leaf tea to go ‘hands on/feet on floor’.
The realities are also associated with common problems in a retail setting. Depending on the venue or need: time is a reality/problem; consistency is a reality/problem; clean-up is a reality/problem. I know there are those here who will disagree with me on some, or all of those realities. But, to us, they were realities we had to deal with on a daily basis. In a venue which offered tea to go, already brewed, it was necessary that the cup arrive without bag or sachet remaining in the cup. Leaving the customer to time the brew and dispose of the ‘sloppy wet casing’ themselves was not going to result in repeat business.
Venues which hand the customer the cup with a bag or sachet still steeping away inside leave the time issue to the customer, which causes the taste consistency problem. It also means that the vendor is limited in what teas can be served: bags and sachets just cannot work satisfactorily with tightly wound or long-leaf teas like Formosa oolong, for example. In my opinion, when space to unfurl adequately is an issue, the brew cannot achieve its potential. Disagree? Fine, we agree to disagree.
Then, there was the cleaning problem. Wet leaves sticking to filters and the inside of pots or brewing vessels are not a big deal when you make a few cups of tea a day. But when you make many, many cups per hour . . . they become a problem. And cleanliness/sanitation issues became apparent quickly. Our health department instructed us that we should put the used, wet leaves in a Cadco (a container with a tightly closing lid). We obeyed. We saw something happening: tiny gnat-like flying creatures arrived and gathered ’round the Cadco, loving wet tea leaves. It wasn’t working. We came up with a second ‘leaf sink’ in the clean-up area, with a large strainer for disposing the leaves – which then evolved into a problem of keeping the strainer and stainless steel sink free of yuck. Oh yes, we lived with the problems. And we had to solve them.
That’s the story of how we came to develop our own commercial loose tea brewing appliance. Most of the tea brewers we’ve seen were developed by companies other than tea companies. Most are manufacturers of coffee appliances, or come from a retail coffee-house background. Although coffee and tea are lumped together in retail venues, the science of brewing a leaf and a bean are absolutely different.
When you haven’t lived retail tea service six days a week for half a decade, your outlook on how to deal with loose tea service is bound to be different. In developing our appliance, we had to address all the realities/problems: time, quality, consistency, and clean-up. And, over time, we were not considering only brewing time, but set-up/settings, tweaking, cleaning.
Our appliance isn’t a sexy beauty, it’s a workhorse. Put simply, our goal was one min, small space, no mess, no waste, best taste and the ability to brew by the cup, in multiples. We have had the technology taste-tested by some of the best palates in the industry, including the founder of a specialty tea organization and two large loose tea company founders/CEO’s. Comment from one: “I don’t know how, but you cracked the code.” Another offered to partner with us at the upcoming World Tea Expo. Bottom line . . . we brewed a Formosa oolong (brought by one expert from his own company so he knew what it should taste like) which he steeped for five minutes while we brewed for one. Ours beat the taste . . . based on their standard. We knew we had a winner!
We also have a different approach in that we attained 5 star Yelp reviews for many years – working the entire time in a retail setting to perfect our brewing. Our appliance comes with years of real-world experience with loose leaf with an attribute we really wanted. Simplicity. You don’t need a barista to operate the appliance.
We didn’t push this appliance out to ‘beat the crowd’ or be ‘first to market’. We took the time to think through and solve all the issues and concerns, and we are now moving forward, hopefully into a foodservice venue near you. Our goal is to make it easy for any foodservice venue to serve any loose tea or herbal consistently, deliciously, and without a post-brew mess – at the touch of a button.
It’s time, don’t you think, that foodservice thinks of loose leaf tea as something as easy to serve ready to drink as coffee or espresso? When was the last time you saw coffee come to your table with a string hanging over the side of the cup? Oh, Please!
P.S. We also felt it was important to be affordable. And it is.