I will probably update/edit this as time goes on given I’ve only had my Breville less than a week (eeee!), but I’ve made a lot of tea for a lot of different situations now so I feel comfortable piecing together some thoughts. Keep in mind, this is hyper personalized in terms of my quirky tea making preferences and needs.
First off, I am as impressed as everyone else about how nice the quality of the parts are. The kettle does not feel flimsy or especially breakable despite being glass. I was a little nervous the magnet mechanism would seem overly delicate, fragile and fiddly, but it’s sturdy and straightforward. I also like that the countertop real estate this takes up feels pretty small but the kettle houses a surprising volume of water (1.5L, I think). The brew basket is even roomier than I expected, so I don’t think I’ll ever have to worry about fluffy teas feeling cramped even when I’m putting in enough for 5 cups of tea.
As for all the programming stuff: it works as described, intuitive and easy with a straightforward interface (the “program the night before for fresh tea in the morning” has a few more steps, but if you don’t plan on unplugging your kettle much that shouldn’t be a big deal).
This is also the first glass kettle I’ve ever had, so I can watch the stages up to boiling (which hopefully will help me get better at eyeballing without tech/thermometers some day).
Now for some kinda-cons. The issue I’ve seen hinted at here and there but rarely explicitly described about the tea tasting differently—it seems pretty clear to me this is because of the design of the brew basket (it’s not a million little holes all around like mesh but solid metal with relatively few holes on the bottom, so the degree of direct contact between leaf and water isn’t what I’m used to) combined with the fact when the basket lowers into the tea and it’s steeping the temperature remains constant, at the prescribed brewing temp, as opposed to pouring leaves in an infuser basket or tea pot, pouring the water over them, and letting the tea steep in cooling water. (By the way, I know there’s a difference because I made a point to brew staple favorites the first few days I had it.) My quick fix for this is to adjust all the steeping parameters down from what I’d use if I was making tea traditionally—if I’d normally make a tea at 212F for 4 minutes, in the Breville I set it for 200F at 2 minutes. I’m going to do a side by side soon with all different types of teas to get my adjustment scale down for good; I’ve kind of been winging it so far with good if not always stellar results.
More problematic, the tea continues to intensify even after the basket lifts out of the water, and even if the keep warm setting is not used. I know this because you can see the tea get darker and darker in the kettle as it sits, and when you pour a second cup it’s noticeably darker (I can compare my cup when I go for seconds to my husband’s still-half-full first cup of tea) and tastes different, usually more bitter. There is an obvious solution to this—remove the basket from the tea maker completely once it’s done steeping—but that’s a little tricky given the hot steam, and also, the whole point of having it brew the tea for you is not having to do something like that, something akin to just using a finum or forlife in your cup in the first place. Ah well. My theory about it is that somehow just being amidst the hot steam in the kettle leads to condensation and dripping more tannin out of the tea. I will note that Breville admits this happens, too—I can’t remember if it’s in the manual or maybe the Amazon description or Breville website, but I know I’ve seen a one sentence mention from the horse’s mouth somewhere. So there’s that. I was prepared for it.
The other thing is, and this is understandable, the Keep Warm function is really only for tea; what I mean is, it works well if you’ve brewed tea and just want a pot of it to stay drinkably warm for a while (it will keep it warm for 1 hour; by the way, the count up as soon as it’s done making tea, so you know how long it’s been sitting, is a nice little touch). If you use the Breville as a variable temp kettle (something that was essential to me given the price tag since I knew the aforementioned cons would mean I’d still be doing things the usual way a lot of the time), the Keep Warm function won’t keep the water at the programmed temp for an hour or at all after the right temp is reached and it beeps (granted, this is a lot, probably too much, to ask of a kettle as opposed to a sealed water heater—I have a cheap variable temp kettle that does this hypothetically, but at higher temps it doesn’t take long at all for the water to completely steam away). I have had a desire for a while now to have a set up (probably in my living room) so I could sit on the couch reading or watching TV with a pot or gaiwan of green or oolong tea and just keep resteeping from a generous source of constantly maintained appropriate temp water without having to go to the kitchen; the more experience I get with tea gadgets the more I realize the two best options for that sort of thing are a variable temp kettle whose contents are then poured into a preheated vacuum sealed thermos (my current method) or one of those fancy Zojirushi variable temp water heaters (maybe someday—was really hoping the Breville and that, both biiiig ticket items, would overlap more in their uses but alas).
As for maintenance/cleaning/upkeep, I—knock on wood—foresee this being pretty great in that regard. Like any electric kettle you can’t immerse the base in water, but the mouth of it is much more open than most kettles I’ve had, and the glass means you can see what you’re doing inside it as you clean it. It definitely retains odors—I made Queen Catherine in it one morning and everything smelled like QC for the next couple days until I did a thorough baking soda clean—so you might want to watch out for that. The basket and lid can apparently go right into the dishwasher, though so far I’ve simply been rinsing them clean. The interface on the dock seems like it’d just need the occasional wipe down to stay clean (I hope).
So. I’m quite pleased with the design and quality of this thing, how much thought and care went into it. That said, I don’t feel this takes the place of other ways of making tea at all—I still find you get a better experience with appropriately hot water and a set-up that lets you smell the brewing process and all that. And it definitely doesn’t take the place of something like the Zojirushi heaters, which seem better suited if the majority of your tea drinking is gongfu style or generally Eastern (like using a kyusu and resteeping greens a zillion times) as opposed to “set it and forget it” big pots of tea Western style. But the “wake up to freshly brewed tea of any kind, nice and warm and ready” feature, and the freedom of knowing when I want to make tea for my husband and myself I no longer HAVE to do the whole “5 minutes to boil, then 5 more minutes steeping, and don’t walk away lest you forget it and it gets cold” hover-dance—I can set it up, walk away as long as I like (within an hour), and it’ll be ready for me—is super duper welcome. I think the Breville’s going to be go-to for teas I don’t think of as precious or finicky—first-thing-in-the-morning brisk blends, the flavored treats we share for afternoon tea, no-caf tisanes right before bed. And for everything else, it makes a good variable temp kettle. I’m definitely happy I’m lucky enough to have it now (best Christmas evar), I just don’t think it is the last word in tea making set ups, especially if you like resteeping/gongfu/Eastern style prep.