Monday, August 13, 2007

Tea Maker Showdown: TriniTEA Electric Maker vs. Zarafina Tea Maker Suite

Another long-post…get comfy with a cup of tea. Without further ado, let the showdown begin!
On the left (as you see it) we have the TriniTEA Electric Maker, sold for $99 from Adagio Teas. Disguised as a large coffee-maker, it has a serious presence on the counter, and sports just three buttons on the front – one for steeping time, one for temperature choice, and one for power. It’s a simple machine to use: just add water to the top chamber between the minimum and maximum fill lines, replace the top, add tea to the second steeping chamber, choose the water temperature and steeping time, and flip the power switch. An audible “beep” lets you know the machine is on, and subsequent beeps signal the start of each part of the process (it will beep before the water is released to the steeping chamber, and again before the steeped tea is decanted to the warm carafe below). Three beeps means the process is complete, and a warming plate will keep the tea hot until you turn the unit off. The TriniTEA will brew up to 32 oz (4 cups) of tea at a time.

And on the right sits the sleek, European style Zarafina Tea Maker Suite, which retails for $149.99. Small and petite, it’s anything but dainty as you can feel when you take the steeping chamber out of the main machine to rinse out. It boasts a whopping 10 silver buttons on the side for you to choose tea type, style (loose or bagged) and steeping time), as well as another button on the other side to power up the machine. It is also simple to use: you simply add your tea to the steeping basket, fill the chamber with water to one of two fill lines, float the steeping basket in the water, put the top on, use the selector buttons to reflect your choices, and flip the power button up to turn the machine on (the button will slide back down). When the tea is done, the machine will decant the tea automatically into the included teapot, and turn itself off. The Zarafina will brew up to 2 cups at a time (about 16oz).
For this showdown, I’ve chosen three teas: Black Rose from Teas, Etc, Gyokuro (Japanese green) from Adagio, and Rooibos Creamy Caramel from Dragonwater. As you can see, I’ve pre-measured them using a teaspoon for the TriniTEA, and the included scoop for the Zarafina. For purposes of this test, I’m brewing just one cup at a time per machine. And I brought in a “blind taster” for the green and rooibos teas, my husband, who came home and was interested in what I was up to. For the record, his favorite teas are English or Irish breakfast blends, brewed hot and strong, no additives. I had him sample the teas without knowing which came from what machine and give his opinion. He wasn’t home for the black tea tasting, unfortunately.
Black Rose: Both machines were clean and ready to go when I started. I put the tea in the steeping chambers of each machine, added water, and set the TriniTEA parameters at II (for boiling water) and the timer to 5 min. I set the Zarafina parameters to “black tea, loose, and medium steeping”. Then I flipped both power buttons to “on” simultaneously, and stood at the ready with paper and pen. The TriniTEA took 4 minutes to heat the water, and 5 minutes to steep the tea. Zarafina took 2 minutes to heat the water until the basket “sunk”, and 3 minutes to steep. The tea in the Zarafina was foaming a bit during the occasional bursts of heat through the steeping process. The flavor, color and scent of the two cups were basically the same, with the Zarafina tea being slightly weaker (perhaps the “strong” setting might have been better). I rinsed out all main parts of both machines using a small amount of baking soda, as suggested by Mary R., which seemed to work well.
Gyokuro: I followed the same set-up procedure as before, this time setting the TriniTEA parameters to “I” for lower heat, and the timer to 3 minutes. I set the Zarafina to “green, loose, and medium” settings. The TriniTEA again took about 4 minutes to heat, and 3 minutes to steep, the Zarafina took 2 minutes to heat and 4 minutes to steep. At that time, I was talking with my husband who had just gotten home, so the tea sat in the two pots for around 5 minutes after the brew cycles were completed. This is when he decided to join me, and see if he could guess which cup came from which tea maker.

When I poured the cups, I was shocked at how cloudy the Zarafina tea was. In contrast the TriniTEA tea was clear and crisp. I did my own tasting, and thought the TriniTEA cup was much better…not only was the color clearer, but the flavor was crisp and sweet as it should be. The Zarafina cup was flatter, and more vegetal.
I handed the clear cup to my hubby first, and he tasted thoughtfully, then took the other cup. He is not normally a green tea drinker – he prefers strong, bitter, black teas. But he pronounced the clearer cup the “winner”, as it was not only sweeter and flavorful, but also warmer (a function of the TriniTEA pot warmer). The cloudier Zarafina tea was more “alfalpha-y” in his words, and too cool as well. I did let him know which had come from which machine then.

Rooibos Creamy Caramel: After another baking soda rinse of both machines, I poured the rooibos into the steeping chambers, and set the steeping parameters. TriniTEA: 5 min. at temperature “II”, and Zarafina settings: “herbal, loose, strong”. The TriniTEA took 4 minutes to heat, and 5 minutes to steep, while the Zarafina took 2 minutes to heat, and 5 minutes to steep. I poured the cups right away, and both brews were dark red and very clear, as they should be.

Interestingly, the TriniTEA Rooibos was too hot this time, bringing out the sharp, biting notes rather than the mellow sweetness that the Zarafina showcased. We both preferred the Zarafina-brewed rooibos, my husband not knowing until after he’d made his choice.

After finishing up the tastings, there’s only one thing left to do – cleaning. The TriniTEA’s steeping chamber, basket, lid, carafe, and lid all simply go into the dishwasher with the rest of the day’s dishes (including the two mugs I used for tasting) after I dump the used leaves down the garbage disposal. Mission accomplished. The Zarafina’s pieces and parts must all be washed by hand…and I decided to leave them for the next day rather than spend the time at the sink just then.

The Breakdown (one point each):

Heating time: Zarafina wins – 2 minutes compared to TriniTEA’s 4 minutes per session.
Steeping times: A tie, since both machines are “adjustable” to different brewing times.
Taste: Each machine wins 1.5 out of three (black nearly equal, green to TriniTEA and herbal to Zarafina), so a tie (point to each).
Quantity: TriniTEA wins – able to make from 1 cup to 4 cups, vs. Zarafina’s 2 cup max.
Ease of use: Tie - both are simple to use – follow the directions, and adjust for personal taste (point to each).
Ease of cleaning: TriniTEA wins big – everything pops in the dishwasher for no fuss cleaning.
Cost: TriniTEA wins - $99 for a great machine, very affordable vs. $149.99 for the higher maintenance Zarafina.

Total Points - TriniTEA: 7, Zarafina: 4

Winner of my Tea Maker Showdown is the TriniTEA Electric Maker! Congratulations, Adagio!


  1. Excellent review! Nice and fair--even though you'd admitted your partiality to the TriniTEA!

    I've noticed that every time Adagio releases a new bunch of TriniTEAs, their forums go nuts with a bunch of people asking for comparisons with it and the Zarafina. I bet you'll see a traffic boost next time that happens. :)

  2. Well, I wouldn't be very credible as a reviewer if I let my personal bias actually get in the way too much, so I try to be as objective as possible. I didn't assign or count up points for either machine until the review was completely written, so that even I didn't know which one "won" until I counted everything up.

    I hope it helps someone else make thier decision on which to purchase - I know it solidified mine!

  3. Great review! My wife and I purchased the Zarafina the other day (The TriniTEA is not available in Canada) and so far I have to say our greens and white teas have been really good also our red tea on the white tea setting was perfect. We ended up going with the white tea setting for reds because when we compared our adagio tea tins for temp and steep time the white and red were the same.

    Going back to the greens, so fare out of 6 cups none of our green teas had any hint of cloudiness... could it be that some baking soda residue stayed in the tank?

    Again thanks for the review, keep up the great work!

  4. I love the review, I would go with the trinitea but due to the drastic price difference (zarafina is currently about $50 new) I had to go with the zarafina for now... maybe the office will purchase a trinitea ;)


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