Kicker Tea Project: Changing Concepts

For the past two months, we’ve been racing forward on our tea project with a concept we dubbed The Hourglass. The Hourglass Concept is basically this: In our combination tea kettle and pot, water was heated on the bottom of the device while tea leaves were placed into an infuser at the top. Once the water heated to the right temperature for the type of tea, you flipped the pot over and the water landed on the tea leaves. When the tea was done steeping, you flipped the pot back over and, removing the cap, you could pour the tea.

We met with a professional glassblower to discuss how the glass body could be made. We made several rounds of prototypes, from rough plastic bottles to a printed 3D model to an Arduino with a tilt sensor taped to a glass tea jar.

As we discussed in the last post, we even solved the tricky engineering problem of how the steam from the heating up water got released from the cap. All in all, it was a considerable amount of work.

But during testing, we discovered several flaws that, while functional, don’t make for the best experience.

First is that, despite the glass body being double-walled and being able to take the heat of boiling water, after sitting for several minutes while filled with hot water, the glass body was simply too hot to reasonably assume anyone could handle it easily, much less flip it over twice. To fix this, we’d have to add a handle or some kind of sleeve (plastic or fabric). The second problem is that the caps also get extremely hot to the touch. Accidentally touching or trying to remove the cap to pour the tea out would be painful. A cap that was useful enough for our purposes and maintains the overall integrity of the design would always heat up. We could add things like a rubber sheath to the cap to fix it, but it’s simply not nice.

More important perhaps than either of these is the (not unjustified) psychological fear that the top cap might not be put on completely, so that when the pot was flipped over, 16oz of scalding water would gush out, perhaps right onto your lap.

So, despite the months working on this concept, we’ve switched to other concepts. But not without learning some valuable lessons, like that before you can have a good experience, you need to have perceived safety and trust. We’ve also realized what we really liked about this design is the physical interaction with the pot, so we’re trying to retain that feeling in the new concept. Luckily, we still have our design principles to work from, and we’re forging ahead.

The benefit of doing rapid iterations is clear: better to find out your flaws now, before production and manufacturing, than later, when someone is suing you for a lap-full of tea.