Don’t Overthink It

“Tea is nought but this: first you heat the water, then you make the tea. Then you drink it properly. That is all you need to know.” – Sen Rikyu

A week ago, the World Tea Expo’s 2017 “Best Tea Brewing Device” (and 2016 “Innovation Of The Year”) ceased sales, ending one of the most remarkable slides from rooster to feather duster ever.

US$300,000 raised in a crowdfunding campaign to launch, US$1.1m in seed funding and then, precisely 360 days before the announced last sales date ever, US$12m in capital raising.


I’m not sure if the latter was 12 million people all chucking in a dollar or 12 people each coughing up a cool mill, but I do know that if it was 1,754 people contributing US$6840, then they could have used their contribution to place a boxed trifecta over the entire Kentucky Derby 2017 field, and it paid over $75,000 per stake this year. That’s $75k as opposed to flushing their money down the toilet.

And really,  who would have thought the Teaforia could fail? Look at all the cool reasons to think it would succeed:

  • It was designed by the guy who designed the X-Box 360. Great street cred.
  • It only cost between $1000 and $1499, depending on who you ask and when you asked.
  • People spend much more that that on high end coffee machines.
  • It’s got a cool name – which was already being used by a UK-based matcha-type operation, but nobody’s perfect.
  • It makes really, really good tea.

Of course, not everyone can afford that much money, so they came out with a cheaper version, for only US$399. In that version, they took away they option of using your own tea, you have to buy capsules from Teaforia. A bit like the old Polaroid camera marketing ploy of a cheap device sold at near cost with expensive consumables, except the geniuses at Teaforia decided no-one would mind if they also made a heap on the cheap device.

At the end of the day, you can use a $5 Kmart teapot and make a really great cup of tea with minimal technique: boil filtered water and time your steep. Anyone who uses milk or sugar will lose any complexity that a 15 second steep difference makes. Anyone who drinks it black, like myself, will probably enjoy the variation that 15 seconds makes.

Compare that to coffee, where even a shoddy system such as Nespresso delivers a cup that is far closer to “perfect” than most people have the time, energy and technique to make themselves. Personally, I pan roast green (raw) coffee and use a manual, single group espresso machine worth about $1000 (add another $300 for the grinder) but the reality is any idiot can use a capsule machine to make a coffee that is 90% as good at only nine times the price per cup. Cheaper options such as french press and drip filter make a different and inferior product. And a Nespresso clone from Aldi is worth about $70.

I don’t think all high-tech wi-fi enabled tea making machines are doomed to fail. Right now there is a a tea maker on Indigogo that sells for US$289 and you can use your own tea. It is currently 273% subscribed. Possibly one of the reasons is that in creating the $1499 tea machine, Teaforia made selling a $289 one considerably easier. And I’m sure sales of Breville’s $200-$300 teamakers that have been around for about five years would have also been boosted, simply because many reviewers, who cooed over the Teaforia also mentioned that there were cheaper options and the Breville was normally the example.

Myself, I’ll be sticking with my collection of teapots. Sure, I’m a gadget kinda guy, but I’m also someone who enjoys the simple pleasure of hand crafting a cup of tea for one or 40 using a teapots. I don’t think the hum of an electric motor can compete with the tinkle of teaspooons and the sloshing of water.

I’ve made many of problems for myself over my life by overthinking things. Not this time.

Additional Note: I first learnt of the Teaforia via the TeaBlogger’s Round Table, a great ‘secret society’  for tea bloggers where we compare notes and they all tell me off. First amongst equals is the NYC-based blogger Jo Johnson who corrals what is clearly a herd of very disparate cats. This week, we were saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Jo’s husband Peter, a remarkably accomplished man in his own field. This post is dedicated to the memory of Peter V. Johnson.

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