NEW YORK (AP) _ Let's face it. Pouring hot water over a tea bag isn't rocket science.

But Mr. Coffee, which helped make automatic drip machines a fixture of the kitchen and office canteen, is trying to overlook that fact by introducing a $49.99 appliance it calls Mrs. Tea.

Speaking like disgruntled lefties in a right-handed world, devout tea brewers see nothing frivolous about this. To them, Mrs. Tea could remedy what they call a longstanding U.S. bias favoring coffee drinkers.

``Tea drinkers are actually discriminated against,'' said Peter Howell, the British-born chairman and chief executive of Health o meter Products Inc., a scale maker in suburban Chicago that acquired Mr. Coffee last year.

Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Council of the U.S.A., agreed.

``This country makes it very easy to drink coffee, but a lot more difficult to drink tea. Most consumers are used to making coffee by measuring the amount of coffee, pouring it in the machine and walking away.''

Howell dismissed the notion that tea bags are as easy to use as coffee makers.

``If you're going to use loose tea, there's quite a lot of processes you have to go through,'' he said. ``If you want to make a drop of tea the old English way, you've got to warm the tea pot... You've got to boil water you've got to let it steep. It's quite a process.

``There's nothing wrong with making tea with a tea bag or making coffee the old fashioned way boiling it on the stove, but people like the convenience of the machines to do it for them.''

The new machine, unveiled Thursday, resembles most coffee makers in size and format, featuring a steeping basket that takes loose or bagged leaves and filters up to six cups of tea into a ceramic pot.

Health o meter Products began distributing Mrs. Tea to stores last week, hoping to make a splash with holiday shoppers. Although the price is steeper (no pun intended) than many coffee makers, it's reasonable compared to Mr. Coffee's 1976 introduction at $39.99.

Mrs. Tea doesn't know yet who her pitchwoman will be _ Mr. Coffee persona Joe DiMaggio and Rocky III movie star Mr. T are not under consideration _ but expects to have one by next Mothers Day.

The market would seem ripe for innovation.

Although tea has been around for 4,732 years _ legend holds that Chinese Emperor Shen Nung drank the first cup in 2737 B.C. when a gust of wind blew leaves from a bush into a pot of boiling water _ little has changed on the brewing side.

But tea consumption is growing, with sales of traditional and specialty tea reaching about $1.7 billion last year, up from about $1.1 billion in 1990, according to the New York-based Tea Council of the U.S.A.

In addition, tea salons have begun to catch on like coffee bars. Many have begun to increase their selection of teas.

``Tea is a hip phenomena,'' said Veronica McNiff, co-author of The New York Book of Tea, published this past spring. ``It's not the sort of elderly, sedated, dignified, motherly thing it was.''

Even so, the marketing of Mrs. Tea is clearly geared toward women. Health o meter estimates 49 U.S. females drink tea.

``A lot of the people who drink tea are ladies,'' said Howell. ``Tea to them is down time, soft time, relaxing time. This is an emotional product.... That's really how we're pitching it.''