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For Christmas 2011, my husband decided to surprise with a teasmade. This was rather a thoughtful gift with my needs in mind as I hate getting out of bed in the morning and I really can't function as a human being without at least one cup of tea when I wake up!
The teasmade he chose was this Swan model (STM100) which is a surprisingly modern version of a traditional product. For anybody unfamiliar with the concept of a teasmade, it is essentially an appliance which cleverly combines the functions of an alarm clock with a kettle. Basically, this machine wakes you up at a set time every morning with a freshly poured cuppa brewing next to your bed. Teasmades have been in use for over seventy years although I think they've had a bit of a resurgence recently, thanks to the appeal of anything perceived to be 'retro'.
Despite being such an old-fashioned concept, this is clearly a modern appliance made from shiny white plastic with a domed lid and large built-in night light. The clock face is an attractive blue colour with an analogue dial, surrounded by a metallic panel, although the images are actually digital (so the time will not be displayed if the teasmade isn't plugged into mains power.)
I do like the appearance of this product but I think the design has been chosen more because it gives the appliance a modern look, with less consideration given to practicalities. The curved top does look impressive and unusual but it is much less functional than the traditional 'retro' style teasmades with a flat top, which act as useful storage space for all the other bits and bobs that are involved in the tea-making process. With this version, there is no convenient place to keep the cups, milk and spoon which is a bit of an inconvenience given the rather bulky size of the appliance itself. When I've got all the other paraphernalia prepared for the morning brew, this takes up the entire space of my bedside table.
Using the teasmade is pretty straightforward and, unlike some other modern appliances, the buttons are fairly self-explanatory. The user manual supplied is clear and helpful, with an easy to read combination of numbered instructions and photographs but, after the initial use and after following the advice around the initial cleaning, I found the teasmade easy enough to use without having to refer back to the manual at all. There are relatively few buttons included but all of them are clearly marked with logical images. The buttons do need pressing in quite firmly, particularly the one that operates the night light feature, but are lit up once pressed so it is clear what has been selected and there are no surprises or disappointments in the morning!
There are only really a couple of days each week when I actually have the need and the opportunity to use this machine so I tend to switch it off between those days. That is partly to save unnecessary energy but also because the light given off from the clock face is quite bright - despite a promise that this 'auto dims' according to the level of light in the room -and likely to disturb my husband who is a very light (and poor) sleeper at the best of times. I only switch the unit on overnight when my husband is away at work and I need the reassurance of this machine to get me up in time for work. (I can guarantee that the kids will be up at the crack of dawn at the weekend but sleep like logs on Friday morning when we all have to be up early!) The light isn't bright enough to disturb my sleep but it might be an issue for other easily disturbed sleepers.
Using the teasmade in this way does mean that I have to re-set the clock each time, which can be a little irritating and time consuming as it needs to be manually set -no fancy satellite technology here- and the hands only move clockwise, so it can take a while to get the time correct. Setting the morning alarm (or brew) uses the same basic principle, with the chosen wake up time indicated by a little mark against the correct time on the clock face. The clock uses a twelve hour setting, so there is no possibility of being super-organised and setting the alarm in the morning for the following day. This is one clock that has to be set the night before.
Obviously, in order to wake up to a morning brew, an element of preparation is needed the night before (especially to avoid having to go downstairs to add milk!) The unit comes supplied with quite a large ceramic tea pot which contains precisely the right amount of water needed to pour into the unit. There are no actual markings within the pot (which I would have found a little reassuring the first time I used this) but filling the pot almost up to the interior spout hole provides just enough water to ensure that it will reach boiling point. The contents of the pot then need to be poured inside a flask-style lid underneath the domed lid. You also need to remember to carry all the other necessary items upstairs too. (Don't forget the tea bag, milk, mug or teaspoon and also remember to place the tea bag in the pot!) Once emptied, the pot needs to be positioned correctly, ready to accept the boiled water. Safety has been considered as the tea will only be made if the pot is in position and leaning firmly against a safety switch, so there is no risk of this machine spewing out boiling hot water without the pot being ready to catch it.
The drawback to this simple design is that there is no means of reducing (or increasing) the amount of tea produced. Even though I'm the only tea-drinker in the household, I have to make an entire pot of tea using this appliance which holds around two full mug fulls of tea. This is usually more than I have time to drink on a busy working morning but there is no way around that. This is, essentially, a glorified kettle that can only boil a pre-set amount of water each time. The advantage to this design is that the machine could also be used to make (instant) coffee too, if that was your morning cuppa of choice, although again you'd need to make an entire pot of the stuff rather than an individual serving. (Personally, I think coffee is a vile substance anyway but each to their own.)
Waking up with this appliance is something of an experience, particularly the first time, as this makes a hell of a noise! I'm rarely fast asleep when this starts to boil, which is fortunate as the sounds builds up quite quickly and the final 'whoosh' as the boiling water shoots straight into the waiting pot would be enough to give me a heart attack! This is not a gentle way to wake up, especially if lying right next to the appliance. The water is directed safely, however, so there is no likelihood of waking up completely scalded (unless the noise sends you into a major panic and you start flailing your arms around wildly, I expect!) The cord length on this appliance is pretty generous, however, so it should be easy enough to cite this next to a convenient plug without worrying about it ending up on your lap.
There is also a 'tea now' option which can be used without any alarm being set, if you need a pot of tea making at any particular point. Using this feature takes around four or five minutes, so comparable to boiling up a standard kettle but just with the added benefit that you don't need to get out of bed.
I don't tend to use a tea pot for my everyday drinks, so I did find the taste of the resulting tea a little strange initially. There is definitely a slight difference in taste when tea has been brewed in a pot, rather than made straight into a mug. I have adjusted to the difference in taste now although I did find that I needed to complete the initial cleaning and re-boiling advice when I'd left this unused for a few weeks as there was an unpleasant tang to the drink. If used on a regular basis, this shouldn't be an issue.
The other features are pretty basic, considering the size of the appliance, it provides a generous light which is strong enough to offer a suitable light to read by, without glaring. The appliance can also be used as a standard alarm clock although I think it is too bulky to be used with this as the primary purpose. It might be useful for the odd occasion when needing to be up without time for a nice cup of tea. The alarm noise is strong enough to rouse me from sleep but not piercing or distressing (unlike the sound of my toddler screaming in the morning, which is how I'm usually woken!) There is, however, no option on this basic appliance to set the alarm to 'sleep' as most electric alarms offer.
My husband purchased this from Argos for around the £60 mark although it does not appear to be currently available from there. It is, however, still widely available from other online stockists for a similar price, including Tesco Direct, John Lewis and Amazon. There is also a version available which has the added feature of a radio (for a higher price tag) although that is not really something that I would be likely to make much use of.
I do like my teasmade and am grateful to my husband for such a thoughtful gift. Sadly, I don't get the opportunity to have a leisurely cup of tea in bed as often as I'd like but that is certainly no reflection on the quality and performance of this appliance. The only aspects to consider before purchase are around the space taken up (considering the lack of storage for the other essentials), the inability to customise the quantities made and the potential irritation of the gentle glow it gives off during the night. That aside, I would recommend this model to anybody wanting something hot and steamy in the bedroom!
The Teasmade just got a 21st century makeover! Invest in this iconic product and you are joining a unique group of people going back some 70 years or more who just have to be woken with a nice, hot cup of tea in the morning / And even if tea isn't your thing and you prefer a cup of that (new fangled) coffee in the morning, not to worry, this modern Teasmade can make that too! But you can't get the Internet on it, just yet / This latest model also benefits from a backlit LCD clock, sleek modern styling to suit any bedroom or living space, 4-cup capacity high quality ceramic pot, and of course the reading light, which no Teasmade would be complete without / Short name: Swan STM100