Sage Tea Maker (by Heston Blumenthal) review
How important is a good cup of tea to you? Are you one of those people who boils a kettle, dumps in a teabag, squeezes it a few times with your teaspoon before slashing in some milk and maybe adding some sugar? Or are you a bit more refined than that?
The Sage Tea Maker is part of a new range of kitchen gadgets designed by Heston Blumenthal which, as you might imagine, come with exacting options while at the same time making an event out of the whole thing. So we invited the local vicar around to put it to the test.
There are two parts to the Sage Tea Maker: the standard jug and a base station that houses all the controls. The jug is large, see-through and holds up to 1.5 litres for boiling water or 1.2 litres for making tea.
Made from plastic, the jug is fairly light, easy to clean and comes with a magnetic rod inside it, allowing you to attach the tea basket.
The idea is that you can load the tea caddy, or basket, with your favourite tea and have it automatically lowered and raised at the right time to make the perfect cuppa. This raising and lowering is done according to a number of pre-set settings via a simple to use button control panel on the base of the unit.
Other points worth mentioning include a lengthy cable hidden in the design which means you don't have to place the kettle right next to a plug socket for it to work.
Making a cup of tea
This is a precision-based affair designed to tickle and delight the fancy of anyone watching. It's also a little bit more involved than throwing a PG Tips pyramid into a cup of warm water.
The first step is to choose your tea. Once you've got your Assam, Oolong, or maybe your English Breakfast Tea you're ready to start. It's at this point that you load the tea caddy with the correct amount, using the provided measuring spoon.
The caddy itself comes out - for cleaning - and it's held in place magnetically. That's handy, because it means there is nothing to clip into or on to and saves you from breaking something within the first 24 hours.
Once you've loaded your tea you can do a number of things, such as set the timer to wake you with the perfect cup of tea in the morning or greet you when you get home from work - or get to work - or decide on your settings for the tea you are making.
We've tried the Tea Maker over a couple of weeks with a number of different teas, but for our vicar we went with a traditional Twinning's English Breakfast tea "loose leaf" option.
The Tea Maker lets you set six different tea types for boiling, including green, black, white, herbal, Oolong, and custom if you want to refine the experience even further.
The whole concept of the Sage Tea Maker is that different tea varieties are better at different heats. Green tea at 80C, black tea at 100C, so making sure you don't overheat the water is important. The other element here is how strong you want your tea: strong, medium, mild or "custom" and what you choose governs how long the tea is allowed to brew.
Press go and the kettle starts to heat up, something that you can clearly see, thanks to the clear jug. The monochrome LCD also gives you instant feedback of temperature - in 5 degree increments - and once peak temperature is reached the basket starts to descend into the water.
"The basket's lowering!" we tell the vicar - much to his amazement, having never seen anything like this before - it's normally a chintzy tea set or a Tetley teabag.
The timer kicks in. We've gone for medium and that means 2 minutes. At the end the basket raises back out of the tea it has created and a beeper sounds three times to let us know it is done.
We pour, a little bit of leaf still manages to make it through the mesh basket and the mesh covering the spout, but this only enhances the reality that we've been using loose leaves rather than a standard bag.
The tea poured and we sit down to enjoy the fruits of a "so called" labour. It tastes good and the vicar agrees. Black tea is an easy option of course, and where the Sage Tea Maker really starts to come into its own is when you opt for green or white tea. Heating water to 80C is hard in a standard kettle, but this makes it a doddle.
Coming back for more
There's a 60-minute "keep warm" feature that our vicar loved - well, certainly the idea of - and if you've made a big pot of tea this is certainly handy for those long breakfast sessions with friends when you want to keep coming back for more.
Think of it like a filter coffee warming tray, but with the knowledge that beyond an hour you aren't going to have tea that's stewed because you forgot to take the teabags out.
A chocolate teapot?
It's not all perfect. The minimum amount of tea you can make is 500ml (two cups) and the measuring line isn't easily visible when you are filling the jug. Furthermore, you can't make multiple different types of teas at the same time like you can by simply boiling a kettle. That's not a deal breaker, but if you like green tea and your friend likes white tea you are going to have to revert to either just boiling a jug of water or waiting your turn.
This is the perfect tea maker for those who are very precise about how they like their tea and, like Heston Blumenthal, are keen to turn it into an art form. At £200 it is not cheap, and not for the faint hearted, however if tea and how it tastes is important to you, then this is the gadget for you.
And once the first cup was drained, we got to ask: "More tea, vicar?" And that, friends, is priceless.
The Sage Tea Maker by Heston Blumenthal was kindly lent to us by John Lewis.