Over 10 Years - UNITEA Vol. 2

“Over 10 Years” is a series focusing on KINTO’s collections that have been around for more than a decade, bringing you the story behind their creation. For this edition we sat down with product designer Fumie Shibata and KINTO’s Sayaka Nishinami, who worked on the development of UNITEA which was first introduced in 2006. We take a look back on the beginnings and the evolution of the collection.

A Companion to Joyous Tea Times

- How do you usually use UNITEA?
Fumie: I use it both at work and at home. I think we all have cups and plates that are always within easy reach – for me, that’s UNITEA. I have about ten of them lined up on my shelf, and I use the UNITEA cup small all the time whether it’s to drink water when I wake up or to take tea or coffee during the day. For guests I add a coaster. I like using the stainless steel coaster because it creates an elegant look. When I want a single cup of tea I use my UNIMUG, and when I want to sit back and enjoy my tea time, I use the teapot with a plastic strainer. The one touch teapot is also so handy, I find myself using it all the time now.​
Sayaka: Me too. I usually use the UNITEA cup small when I drink hot tea. It’s bigger than you think, and is perfect for a few hours at the desk.
- What sort of tea do you normally drink?

Fumie: Generally I prefer English tea to coffee, so I keep a variety of teas in my office. Just the other day I was in Taiwan and came back with some lovely Chinese tea.

Sayaka: I normally have coffee in the mornings at the office, but when I want to take a break in the afternoon, I make myself a cup of English or herbal tea. At home I also use the UNITEA one touch teapot that has a strainer built into the lid when I have fresh herbs; it looks very pretty.​

Fumie: It’s ideal for fresh herbal teas isn’t it, because you can see through the glass.​

Sayaka: Yes, blooming teas like Jasmine tea balls look stunning in the UNITEA teapot.​
Fumie: The pear shape is based on a trapezoid motif which allows the tea leaves to circulate. It’s a beautiful process which also releases the aromas.​

Sayaka: I love watching the tea leaves dance around while I wait for it to brew.​ ​

Teaware that Becomes Part of Your Lifestyle​

- What sort of everyday scene did you have in mind when you designed UNITEA?

Sayaka: When we started working on UNITEA, tea was generally associated with elegance, but we wanted tea time to be an everyday occasion that could be enjoyed casually. Our goal was to make UNITEA unpretentious and easy to use, and to give it a presence that would suit a modern, simple lifestyle – something that you would want to use when you are relaxing with your friends and family. Where a ceramic mug may be too casual for your guests, UNITEA sets the right tone. My guests are always impressed because the glass shows off the colors of the tea and illuminates the table.

Fumie: When we started working on the project I wanted to challenge people’s assumptions, to make people say, “wow I never thought of that!” It may sound rather grandiose, but I wanted to change people’s perspectives and values, to change the existing hierarchy. I wanted to go beyond the idea of an “elegant glass teacup” and create a casual, gender-neutral tea set. Then and now, the idea that I want to offer a sense of enrichment has been consistent. This summer we added a tea warmer to the UNITEA family. I think that people today seek a kind of enrichment that is unhurried, that comes with a sense of warmth; and that includes making a cup of tea with a tea set.​
- Can you tell us your thoughts on UNITEA today?

Sayaka: The tea scene is changing with time. We see stylish “tea bars” offering quality tea to-go and specialist tea shops are popping up. More people are now choosing their tea leaves based on the origin or the farmers; others may try a cold-brewed iced tea with highly prized first flush Darjeeling. I really feel the horizons are expanding in terms of enjoying tea. I believe UNITEA has a timeless design and has the versatility to adapt to ever-diversifying lifestyles, and that is why UNITEA continues to be such a favorite.​

Fumie: I can’t believe it has been twelve years. It began with KINTO giving me the keyword Kocha (“individual tea” – a term created by KINTO to express the idea of each person having their favorite tea in their favorite teaware) . This idea just made a lot of sense to me. I felt the lifestyles were changing. It was becoming quite normal for a family to be sitting around the table with the mother sipping coffee while the father nurses a cup of tea. And now they have changed even further: glass is a perfectly normal choice for a teacup.​
The KINTO members are always thinking about how the UNITEA collection should evolve as people’s lifestyles change, and from that we have been able to come up with new products such as the one touch teapot and the tea warmer. In the past there was a clear distinction between the everyday and the special occasions, but I feel the boundaries are dissolving. It’s a strange sensation when I walk into a cafe overseas and they happen to serve me tea in a UNITEA cup.​
I had wanted to create something that would be widely accepted. And I see now that the neutral character of UNITEA is what allows it to accommodate various lifestyles. It blends effortlessly into your new routine as the context of tea continues to evolve.​

(Interviewer: Koji Kato)