A tea blog where the kettle is always on.
Hello to all you tasty tea people. As we slowly steep into conversation I’d like to inquire not about your tea, but rather, what makes it?
You see, I was recently surrounded by friends, both new and old, where such a topic was made to be the center of that evening’s discussion. Crowded around a black rectangular table at Infuse Café a tea shop built upon the brick foundation at 354 Yonge St. Toronto, several teas were tasted. No, not with the store’s iconic BKON brewers, although that it in itself is a wonder in tea brewing technology, but something intended for your very own humble abode.
This is the World Tea Podcast, and today we take a look at the Qi Aerista Brewer.
Let there be no illusion, there are many tea makers, brewers, kettle, and pots on the market. As consumers in our free-market economies, we have a a steady drip of new products making their way to store shelves.
A quick search on the information super highway reveals the following:
The Teavana Perfect Tea Maker, a simple device to brew your tea. It steeps and releases the liquor while retaining the leaves for future brews. Retailing for an affordable $30 it makes for an easy choice for those who dislike the mess of a more traditional setup.
The Smal WK 8016, offers a superior upgrade albeit an unintuitive name. A powerful 1500W kettle readily heats the water while the leaves are encased in steel container. Solid glass makes for a visually appealing barrier and the price tag of $150 is relatively affordable compared to the other items on our list.
The Breville Tea Maker, retailing for $349.99 also accompanies a 1500W heater. I cant stress this enough as many kettles offer much less in this regard. Patience is a virtue but I’d much prefer to have my cup before I clean my house, not after I’m done. Again, a glass outer wall permits the viewing of water boiling, much more entertaining than watching grass growing. Unique to this device is the ability to set the tea container to dunk the leaves continuously. Now there is a discussion to be had on dissolution, but that is for another time.
Teforia has recently released its own infuser. Indeed the design alone is worthy of praise, smooth edges, spherical implements, it all catches the eye, and so does the price tag. $1499 is beyond my comprehension and ability to discuss here. Although I will say, I revel at the chance to try it.
So where does the Qi Aerista brewer fall into this mix? Well the price is affordable as its retail price, as Rick Ha the creator of the brewer tells me. A modest $249.99 is actually rather affordable. Certainly it may seem a large sum up front, but the features that this device delivers are beyond the competitions. If I were a betting man I’d wager this is why the Qi Aerista met it’s Kickstarter goal in under 30hrs. And there is still another 14 days to go. Better yet, many of the deals offered give you a 50% discount on the price, that’s less than the Smal WK and for a machine with much better capabilities.
I mentioned that friends new and old had joined me at this event and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Sarah Zinmen for putting me in contact with Rick, Glen the owner of Infuse Café for allowing us to demonstrate the product, and Linda Gaylard, author of the Tea Book, for joining in and asking all the pertinent questions as I constantly adjusted the microphone to account for the noise. My humblest of apologies for the less then stunning audio. But on the bright side, a busy café means good business and we can all take pleasure knowing that the tea crowd is thriving in Toronto’s downtown core.
Insert first clip of Rick/Linda explaining operation
In case you didn’t catch that, the Qi Aerista takes a different approach to brewing than your standard kettle. Where most kettles submerge the leaves into the water and the breville dribbles the leaves like a basketball, the Qi Aerista keeps the two separate. Rather, the Qi Aerista pumps the water up to the leaves and thuroughly douses them for the duration of the brew. The infused liquour then pours down into the kettle only to be sucked up and again poured onto the leaves. Afterwards the kettle keeps the liquor warm so you’ll always have a ready cup of tea. However, what struck me as different was that you are in fact using steeped liquor to brew the leaves with,
Insert clip on TJ asking about double infusion
So yes, you can control the time used to brew, and after tasting the teas they were quite well done, but I couldn’t shake the notion of using already steeped liquor to brew the tea with. The water constantly cycles through and the leaves never really stay submerged. Again I bring this up only to highlight the difference in method, it’s something I found very interesting, it didn’t detract from the teas as far as I could tell, and was an innovation that I’d like to experiment with more.
The Qi Aerista’s base is quite large. It’s a circular pad that the kettle sits on and so you’ll need to have some space to dedicate to this machine on your counter. The kettle itself, aside for the technology, is more or less your standard glass pained kettle. However, every part that comes into contact with the water is either glass or stainless steel save for a small seal of food grade silicone. This is great news in a time when people are wary of plastic utensils and leeching.
While manual buttons exist on the kettle’s base, everything can be controlled by the Qi Aerista App. This is something that I was immensely intrigued about. Finally we’re starting to live like the Jetson’s. A few simple buttons on your phone lead to a fully customized tea. Temperature and brewing length can be catered to your liking and most importantly saved to the app for future use. Most other brewers only allow you to save on the kettle itself or have preset temperatures which, sometimes, don’t even correspond to the appropriate teas. Here, if you want to brew your Wuyi Yancha at 90C, you brew it at 90C. You want to cold brew your Gyokuro for 10 minutes, toss in a few ice cubes and cold water and you’ll get a 10 minute cold brew. Oh, and you’ll never forget either as the App will send a notification when the brewer is complete.
Now, stepping back from my amazement in the thought that went into this product, I had to ask the question, “Who is this product designed for?” Is it for the experienced tea drinker who is looking for a vessel that will brew more tea for larger groups? Is it for restaurants that want quality tea while maintaining consistency? Is it for those who want tea in the morning instead of a pot of coffee? Does the beginner or average tea drinker find this many functions appealing? Linda and I discussed,
Insert TJ/Linda discussion “talk prices”
So, does the Qi Aerista become a “lifestyle” as opposed to your run-of-the-mill brewer? I don’t think so. Having given it some thought, and seeing how the ready-to-serve and quick-serve markets are gaining ground but not transforming people into hot beverage gurus, I see the Qi Aerista as a way for those interested in tea to experiment and develop.
There are a group of people who enjoy tea and its ritual and who will invest time in learning gong fu cha, cha do, and brewing in different utensils. These people have a passion for tea and the Qi Aerista offers a great way to spread this passion. Many people hold events and when attendance increases having to pour numerous cups becomes a trouble as traditional vessels only hold a few cups. Having a fully customizable device which holds up to a liter is much more efficient.
Insert “Linda sees an advantage in Qi”
On the other hand are a group of people who want a good cup of tea but do not care to invest in the ritual. They desire quality but lack the passion and there is nothing wrong with this. Can the Qi Aerista ignite a passion, perhaps? I’d be hesitant to say yes and reckon people in this category to simply take a step beyond the dusty teabag and into loose leaf teas. I’m fully aware I’m ignoring a debate over teabag vs. loose leaf quality here, but I need some way to phrase this. The Qi Aerista’s tea tray, where you place the leaves offers a sizable amount of space. Brewing a Pheonix Dan Cong oolong Rick utilized 500ml of water with 10g of tea. A 1:50 ratio. These leaves had more than enough room to expand. We later brewed Hong Kong Milk oolong with a customized Ceylon black tea blend comprised of dust, fannings, and other grades. These were placed into two large bags so as to save on the cleaning and fit comfortably.
Both teas turned out great, which impressed me as I’ve heard rumors of how difficult Dan Cong can be to brew. Being so fruity and floral, it was delicious. Tying this into my previous point is that if the literal space for loose leaf teas exists to brew in, and the machine alleviates (and this is key) any fear of screwing up, coupled with marketing that presents the brewer being used with loose leaf teas, it is not too much to assume that people would be prone to purchase loose leaf teas to experiment with as opposed to tea bags, which hopefully, but not certainly, will enable people to gradually learn more about tea.
Speaking of which, teas have many different flavors. This can be the result of cultivars, processing, agricultural practices, weather, but also from flavorings and oils. It’s not uncommon to see teas blended with strong scented roots and bark such as ginger, cinnamon, or turmeric. And it is common practice to utilize scented oils for additional flavouring. Being that I don’t often drink these myself, it was Linda who brought up an insightful topic,
Insert “on not brewing flavoured”
As with any device, upkeep and maintenance are crucial for consistent performance. The scale from water is constantly sticking to my own kettle, and while I’ve been advised not to remove it as it apparently puts minerals back into the water, I don’t want to have my kettle breakdown from corrosion and wear. Seeing Rick disassemble the Qi Aerista and easily put it together again is a reassurance I didn’t expect but am glad to have.
The Qi Aerista has come a long way since its inception. Rick notes that appliance giant Philips was shuffling around some research but never really pulled through. Pushing his vision forward Rick has moved through several prototypes to arrive where he currently stands and highlights several qualities he was looking for.
Insert “TJ asks about prototypes”
And the work is still not over. When asked what work still needs to be done Rick says that starting the manufacturing is the next big step.
Insert “big hurdle MOQ and Manu”
As of today Rick and his team have successfully raised in excess of 950,000HKD, which is approximately 120,000USD, from over 900 backers. And there are still several weeks to go. Regardless this is 1.5 times the goal of $600,000HKD originally set.
While we were brewing away a backer of the project stopped by Infuse Café to take a look at her investment, seeing the smile on her face, I’m sure she is happily awaiting her returns. The release of the Qi Aerista brewer is scheduled for 2017 pending an on-time manufacture. There are still many steps ahead, such as engineering validation tests, app developments, safety certifications, and of course the mass production in Shenzhen/Hong Kong. The brewer comes in Black and Grey, apparently white stains too easily and there are still many backer deals available on the kickstarter page.
While I don’t like to play favourites, I must admit the willingness of Rick to showcase his product and seeing his enthusiasm garners my interest. Comparing the Qi Aerista to the competition also highlights many of its positive aspects: the fully functional app, a unique brewing method, and large volume are all positive notes. I don’t quite like the size of the base and that the kettle is fixed in position when it is on it. I’d prefer it to be able to swivel. Being left-handed a fixed based kettle this always results in being backwards for me.
Still, the price is affordable, especially with the kickstarter discounts, and seeing it in action I can say that it does make a good cup of tea. For those of you, who like me, have a penchant for Japanese teas and Pu’er, you’ll want to know that the minimum time setting on the Qi Aerista is 1 minute. So you’ll be unable to do 5, 10, 15, or 30 second brews. I brought this up with Rick and as a testament to his with, he proudly exclaimed that the Qi Aerista is still a great kettle on its own. That it is Rick that it is.
Thank you once again for listening to the World Tea Podcast. I am TJ Williamson your host and as soon as exam season is over I’ll be back at the podcast aiming to get out more and more tea podcasts for your listening pleasure. I’ll finally have some time to work on transcribing my past podcasts into text as there has been interest in having something to read and follow along with. Additionally if you have an interest in supporting the podcast, I’ve now a Patreon set up. Simply click the link on my homepage and you’ll be taken there. Of note is the $15 subscription. Here you can order wholesale teas. A great deal to be sure.
If you want to learn more about the Qi Aerista, be sure to follow the links provided to the kickstarter and Facebook page, the Qi is spelt with a q and not ch for anyone who may be confused. You can also contact Rick directly at email@example.com.