The first thing you notice when drinking a chai tea latte made with the Chime is how complex and robust the flavor is, and that all those chai tea lattes bought at chain coffee shops mostly just taste like . . . sugar.
But no matter how good the Chime’s chai is (and it is very good to my taste buds), it’s still a big ask for consumers to spend $200 on a device that takes up precious counter space and only does one thing. So, is it worth it?
Let’s step back and walk through the machine itself. Crowdfunded via Indiegogo, the Chime is just starting to ship its first batch to backers this month. It’s roughly the size of a coffee maker and has three main columns: a water tank, a control panel, and a steeper that empties down into a separate carafe. The controls are all on the device, which is something we like here at The Spoon (no WiFi to connect or account to set up). While there is a Chime mobile app that will connect via Bluetooth, it’s mainly for storing customized recipes, using those recipes on other Chimes, and re-ordering loose leaf tea pods ($10 – $12 for a ten-pack).
Yeah. Sadly, the Chime uses plastic pods to make its delicious tea. This is the main bummer with the appliance. Using a plastic pod each time feels wasteful, and locks you in to ordering your tea through Chime. And the machine knows whether you’ve put a pod in, and won’t start brewing until you do.
I’m not going to fault a company for trying to get some recurring revenue via tea sales, but Chime is a startup that built this machine through crowdfunding. If they go under for whatever reason, you’re left with $200 brick.
There were other problems I encountered with the pods as well. The foil covering the pod is thin, and one broke open inside the box in transit spreading loose leaf tea everywhere. Also, on more than one occasion, when I smashed the pod down in the machine to release the tea into the steeper, a fair amount of leaves were still trapped in the pod, dry as a bone. So the tea wasn’t brewing to full strength. Finally — and this is a real nit-pick — but in the Chime variety pack, each flavor has a different color. But all the colors are flat, muted earth tones, and it can be difficult to tell the bright orange cap from the more subdued orange cap.
If and once you can get past the pods, the Chime is actually very straightforward and easy to use. The main control is a jog wheel/button that you use to select your drink size, tea strength and how much milk you want to use. The screen then tells you how much milk to put in the carafe.
Put the carafe in the machine, smash the pod down and push the button. Water trickles into the steeper where it is heated to the right temperature and for the right amount of time. The milk in the carafe is heated via induction burner and frothed with a clever little circular spring that spins at the bottom of the basin. There is a circle of lights around the knob that countdown how much time is left and after 3 – 5 minutes a gentle chime (natch) lets you know your drink is done.
I realize my American tastes may not be expert at identifying “good” chai, but I tried every flavor in the variety pack and all were excellent. One was a plain black tea, one had cardamom, another had ginger. Each had a distinct flavor and were delicious. And while the Chime relies on pods, you can add your own ingredients into the steeper to customize your drink. So if you wanted to ratchet up the ginger, you could shred some into the steeper before smashing the pod.
While the drinks were uniformly excellent, there were some hangups that illustrated how this is a crowdfunded machine that hasn’t quite scaled up and perfected its manufacturing. In addition to the pod problems mentioned, the pod smashing mechanism wassn’t smooth. It doesn’t neatly lock into place and you have to give it a little extra push.
Then one time, the water lever in the brewer got so high that it leaked out of the locking mechanism. And there was the time the steeper didn’t drain (though to be fair, I “hacked” the machine by leaving an empty used pod in and poured powdered tea into the steeper, this may have clogged the drain).
So, chai lovers, is the Chime worth it?
If you consume a lot of black tea or chai and have some extra counterspace, then yes, for sure. It’s not just the convenience of making a frothy latte with the push of a button in minutes, it’s also the fact that the tea Chime offers is really tasty.
If you’re more chai-curious, I would say wait until the company can get the appliance into more of a mass-production mode. I’ve chatted with Chime Founder and CEO Gaurav Chawla, and he’s aware of the pod problem, and at least from how he runs his crowdfunding campaigns, Chawla puts his customers first. Trusting the founder goes a long way towards trusting a startup, but right now there are enough little hiccups with the machine, and the bigger question of spending $200 on a crowdfunded device that may or may not be around in five years, that should give most people pause.