Magic Tea v2: Results Usability Test


Magic Tea (MT) is an interactive art installation with which users can prepare and drink tea (Fig.1). It aims to invite self-transcendent experiences (STE) during this activity.

Figure 1 | Overview of the Magic Tea installation

The installation uses tangible connected objects and the users own biometric data to blur the boundaries between the user and the objects used in the installation. The activity itself has been turned into a ritual by manipulating tempo, aesthetics and transparency of all the steps of the activity. The goal is to create a shift in the users’ perception of the world around them and how they are connected to it.

The test of the effectiveness of the MT prototype version 2 is divided into two stages: 1. Test its usability without an STE measure. 2. Test for the occurrence of STE using validated measures. This post describes the usability test and its results. The focus of the test is on the usability of the system, it’s manual and the awareness of the stimuli. The main goal of the test is to find out if the current design and interaction has the right balance between challenge and user-friendliness. A lack of usability may hinder the occurrence of an STE.


After filling in the consent form participants are asked to make tea with MT using the manual. They are instructed to: put their phone in a signal-blocking purse, take off their shoes, put on the wearable, attach the ear clip (for measuring heart rate) and find a comfortable position using the stool or cushion. They are then invited to read the manual and start the process without further instructions. If they get stuck or if a dangerous situation occurs the experiment leader will intervene. The following methods are used to gain insight into the understandability and comfort of use of the installation.

  1. Think aloud. Throughout the activity, users are invited to express their thoughts and associations. The experiment leader will not reply or start a conversation. The main purpose is to gain insight into what goes on in the users head. The experiment leader will take notes.
  2. Checklist observation. During the process the participants will be observed during all eight steps of the intervention: intentions writing, entrainment, water tapping, water boiling, rinsing tea, steeping tea, drinking tea, writing reflection and also the reading of the manual. The focus will be on movements and expressions which indicate understanding and comfort or lack thereof. The experiment leader will take notes.
  3. Semi-structured interview. In the interview users are asked to 1. indicate if they noticed the stimuli during the different phases of the experience: intention writing, entrainment, water tapping, water boiling, rinsing tea, steeping tea drinking tea and reflection writing and how this affected them emotionally. 2. Give an account of their experience and comment on the design. The interview will be recorded with the users’ permission.
  4. System Usability Scale (SUS) (Brooke, 1996). This is a ten-item questionnaire using a 5-point Likert scale from 1: Strongly disagree to 5: Strongly agree. It is used to test various kinds of interactive systems. Although Magic Tea is not designed to be efficient, it should not be so hard to use that it would make users feel anxious or insecure because this might be an obstacle to experiencing STE.

In total 7 participants (M = 4, F = 3, other = 0) took part in the test. The mean age was 38, with a minimum of 22, and a maximum of 56. The test was spread over 3 days and two locations (Fig. 2).

Figure 2 | Lab setup at two locations


Observation, think aloud and interview

Figure 3 | Table layout displaying the steps and objects. During the entrainment (step 2) the light below the objects moves from a to g. During step 1, intention and step 8, reflection an electrical candle burns. Drawings by Elja Rutters.

The Magic Tea ritual consists of eight main steps (Fig 3). The following table lists these steps, the main insights and possible improvements that emerged from user observations, their thoughts and the interviews. For every stimulus, it states how many out of the persons asked noticed it (e.g. 4/6 means, 6 participants were asked about this stimulus during the interview and 4 have noticed it. The stimuli have different aspects e.g. sound may have a rhythm, may change in volume and represent a sound from nature. It will be stated which aspects were noted by the participants.

Table 1 | Summary of results from
observation, think aloud and interview methods
General remarks

Participants found the installation pleasant, calming and friendly to use. They enjoyed the “digitalisation” and the novel tea-drinking process. Positive comments were made on the colour and transparency of the materials used. They enhanced the calming effect of the experience. Participants also enjoyed the diffuse lights. One participant associated the blue light with a laboratory and less with tea drinking.

The interaction was perceived a pleasant, clear and for the most part intuitive. The more the ritual advanced the better user understood the pattern and the trust in the system grew. They understood that the system would guide them but also appreciated the granted autonomy. The system waits for the user to start the next step. They determine the pace of the ritual.

Apart from the omissions and additions mentioned above the manual caused stress in some users. The long text and the detailed instructions felt taxing. The layout which split the text and the images were hard to use. But overall participants did find it helpful and clear. The manual should be used to build trust in the system, explain steps that are less know and be used only as a backup when users fail to understand the interaction signals.

Not all the stimuli are noticed and interpreted correctly with first-time use. 3/7 users pointed out that it is a layered experience that people would like to come back to and discover more each time they use it.

System Usability Scale (SUS)

This scale was included to gain insight into the user-friendliness of MT and its learning curve. A quantitative measure provides another way to learn about how the system is used and perceived. As a ritual MT wasn’t designed for ease of use or efficiency. It should be challenging enough to keep users attentive and engaged. However, if the system should be too cumbersome or stressful to use this might impair the chances for users to experience STE. Therefore the hypothesis was that the score wouldn’t be very high but also not poor. The score was calculated using the standard method (Thomas, 2015).

Figure 4 | Graph showing individual SUS scores. The red line marks the average score.

The mean SUS was 59 which is rated as okay (Brook, 2013). Scores below 51 indicate a poor system, 73 and above indicate good and excellent (Ibid.). These scores confirm the hypothesis: the usability of the system falls between good and poor. This suggests the right amount of user-friendliness.

Question 7 ‘I would imagine that most people would learn to use MT very quickly.’ scored highest. This suggests good learnability. Question 8 ‘I found MT very cumbersome to use.’ scored lowest. This indicates that even though the tea preparation is unusual participants didn’t find it cumbersome.

There are interesting differences between two group characteristics: gender and age. Male participants scored an average of 65 while the female participants only scored 51. The same pattern can be seen with regard to age. Participants aged under 50 scored 63, those above scored 50. But there is an overlap between gender and the age: mean age for the men is 31 against 47 for the women. From this small sample, it is hard to tell if the differences in scores are related to age or gender. However the three youngest participants, all male score 68. One older male scores 55 which is more in line with the female scores. But the sample is too small to draw any conclusions from the data.


In general, the seven participants found using MT a novel, pleasant and calming experience. The interaction was mostly clear and the design was helpful to the experience. This is confirmed by the SUS which was sufficient. Improvements to the electronics and measurements will improve the quality of the experience. The more unusual steps in the ritual will benefit from clearer instructions. An improved manual that will instil trust in the system from the start will help users surrender to the system and stay more focused on the actions.


Brooke, J. (1996). SUS—a quick and dirty usability scale. Usability Eval. Ind. 189(194), 4–7.

Brooke, J. (2013). SUS – a retrospective. Journal of Usability Studies, 8(2), 29-40.

Thomas, N. (2015). How To Use The System Usability Scale (SUS) To Evaluate The Usability Of Your Website. Usability Geek. Accessed 7-8-2021.

Magic Tea, Technology in Rituals: online presentation and panel discussion

This event on June 14th finalized the residency period of Danielle Roberts at Baltan Laboratories. During the residency Danielle improved and tested the research prototype Magic Tea, an interactive art installation aimed at inviting self-transcendent experiences (STEs) during the act of preparing and drinking tea.

The aim of this meetup was to introduce the thinking behind the Magic Tea design to a broader public and to discuss with a group of experts the possibilities and pitfalls of using technology to invite STEs.

Organisers and panel members


The event started with a presentation by Danielle. It was an in depth explanation of her approach on merging the ordinary and the extraordinary through the use of technology. Danielle explained how she came to choose tea as an everyday activity. She elaborated on the role of rituals as a way to make the everyday more meaningful and how the combination of ritualisation and tangible Internet of Things technology may invite an STE and lead to a feeling of reduced self and increased connectedness in the user. The different steps of the Magic Tea ritual were illustrated as well as the promising results of the first prototype. The Everyday Transformative Interfaces Framework is introduced as a tool to help designers create STE inviting interventions.

Presentation slide showing the most recent Magic Tea prototype

After the presentation Rens van der Vorst moderated the questions of the audience and invited the panel members to reflect from their own perspective on what they had heard and/or experienced about Magic Tea.

Panel member perspectives

Somaya Ben Allouch researches the interaction between ubiquitous computing, human-computer interaction and health. In my culture tea (green tea with lots of sugar) is used in various ceremonies e.g. weddings, funerals. There are strict rules on tea recipes for these events they have a huge impact on how people experience them. Magic Tea was interesting because of the devised steps and the role of technology, the interaction design. Some parts were intuitive and others weren’t so much. The order in which to start the boiling process for example seemed illogical and I started thinking about that which took me out of the relaxation mode. The meaning of the vibration in the cup is ambiguous. This took me out of the experience but also increased my awareness and made me reflect. But do we need technology to enhance rituals and who would benefit from that?

Michel Decré is a traditionally trained tea master and technologist and is very interested in how technology may enhance these practices, even the most traditional ones. Because in the 16th century Sen no Rikyū introduced Zen into the tea ceremony and revolutionised is. Challenging traditions is important to keep them alive. Magic Tea succeeded well invoking a flow and it has potential to really work. But once you start thinking about the technology the flow is interrupted and it should support the flow to fully work.

Janienke Sturm works at the intersection of psychology and technology and one of her research topics is human centred design. Janienke sees a similarity with Magic Tea and her own coffee ritual which she has handed over to a modern machine which only requires you to put in a pad. She misses the richness of the experience and stresses the importance of rituals to create meaning and order. She encourages any attempt to introduce rituals. The HCI field traditionally was focussed very much on functionality and efficiency and has moved on to a more experience based approach. Magic Tea is taking this a step further.

Pierre Lévy researches how to enchant the everyday by design which is informed by Japanese philosophy. Routines focus on the result while in a ritual the whole process is important. Japanese philosophy introduces the concept of irregularity (imperfection). Irregularity make us question things and make us wonder about our lives. If things are seamless and perfect one doesn’t question what is going on irregularity however, can start a transformation process. This is a first person experience as an onlooker you will perceive it differently.

Presentation slide showing the differences and similarities between the Japanese tea ceremony and Magic Tea.

The discussion

Michel: the Japanese tea ceremony framework states that every ritual has to have at least one imperfection, by design. Within the rules every ritual is breaking at least one of those rules. Even the most formal one needs imperfection to be perfect.

Pierre responds to a question from Sietske (in the audience) about how different perspectives could influence the way Magic Tea works for users: behavioural economics research shows that the first person perspective is unique, one can gain insights you can’t get any other way. Observing during a tea ceremony is still part of the ceremony and therefore first person engagement. Second level perspective requires a form of communication. Magic Tea is a small, personal ritual, not a social one. How can even more people enjoy it? (third person perspective). How is what you created received by others? You never get what you want because people appropriate. It will be a different experience for everybody but as long as it is in some way enjoyable you have succeeded. Sietske: The experience can be considered a gift. Pierre: The maker is embedded in the installation and can therefore be thanked for the experience.

Janienke: who is the owner of the traditional tea ceremony? Is it the tea master, the visitors or both? Michel: In Zen they say: no host, no guest. Which is about non-duality and unity which is the main goal of STEs. Janienke: Does the introduction of technology instead of a tea master change that? Does it increase the gap between the first and second person perspective? Michel: there is growing evidence that current technologies (e.g. gaming) have a similar effect on the brain as certain brain altering chemicals. We just have to get used to the new role technology can play. With more knowledge of their effects they can be conducive to these types of mental states.

Somaya: the current technology used in Magic Tea is very transparent for the user. What if there was an algorithm to create the perfect tea experience (with irregularities) using large datasets and AI? Could this type of technology improve the chances of experiencing an STE? Danielle: would Magic Tea be perfect if everybody always had an STE while using it? STEs can only be invited and the unexpected is part of that experience. Pierre: if we only look at the results of a ritual that it becomes a routine again. The process should remain interesting for the user in order to have the benefits of the ritual. Looking at an activity through the lens of the result or the experience are two completely different things. If were are interested in the latter it is dangerous to make everything opaque and ungraspable.

Rens: Danielle, you are interested in supporting ordinary people reach their exceptional potential. How do you envision this? Is there a way to stop the de-ritualisation in our lives? Danielle: I could tour around with Magic Tea (like the Spacebuzz project ) and I train designers to help turn our environments into Transformative Interfaces which could be experienced throughout our day. Janienke suggests a pocket size Magic Tea experience. She sees opportunities for a number other returning everyday activities all of which could be turned into potential STEs with a suit of devices. Pierre: routines are important for our mental health and structuring our lives. They give you time for daydreaming. If we question all the aspects of everyday activities we open up opportunities for ritualising routines. But we don’t want everything to be a ritual because it would be to effortful.

Closing remarks

Michel: after a lot of training and repetition it is the unrepeated that triggers the transformative. Can we create a space for that?

Janienke: I gained insight into how to invite transformative experiences into my life: by looking at what can be done differently so they can be invited. But do we need digital technology to do that?

Somaya: tech can make us look differently at everyday activities and it can serve in a reciprocal relationship between you and the world and challenge existing relationships. The Everyday Transformative Interfaces Framework is a useful tool to explore this further.

Panel Members

Prof. Somaya Ben Allouch – Leading expert on the interface of ubiquitous computing, human-computer interaction and health.

Dr. Michel Decré – Decré is an official tea master for Japanese tea ceremonies with a background as physics engineer.

Dr. Pierre Lévy – Lévy is interested in applications of philosophy on interaction design, especially of applying embodiment theories and Japanese philosophy and culture to the everyday.

Dr. Janienke Sturm – Sturm is a language and speech technologist with an expertise in the field of user-oriented design, playful interactions and influencing technology.

Rens van der Vorst – Van der Vorst runs the platform and researches ways to make people think about their relationship with technology.

Supported by Baltan Laboratories and Avans University of Applied Sciences, Centre of Applied Research for Art

Self-transcendence and technology pilot workshop

Self-transcendence toolkit

The Transformative Interface Framework (TIF) is a tool for designing self-transcendent experiences (STEs) (fig. 1). It aims to support designers in creating interventions that invite STEs during everyday activities using (tangible) interactive technologies. The framework includes questions to guide thinking and decision making. To make the framework more accessible for students without a design background the idea for a toolkit emerged. It should help framework users to explore and design its three main components: the STE, the activity and the technological system (fig. 1). Because the main audience at this moment are students a course was considered a logical and accessible format for a toolkit. To reach students from different departments and years a blended learning paradigm is the starting point for the course.

Figure 1 | Transformative Interface Framework showing the main components and design questions

The final toolkit will consist of eight workshops covering the three main Transformative Interfaces components. This blog describes the outcomes of a pilot workshop that introduces STEs and the possible role of technology to the students.


The design and development of the course is an iterative process. For over a year various lectures, workshops and course materials have been developed and tested with third-year bachelor students from the Communication and Multimedia Design department at Avans University of Applied Science. For the first workshop the theoretical background on STEs was recorded in four short knowledge clips with embedded questions (fig. 2). A custom worksheet helps them to translate this knowledge into a concrete, personal experience. For the pilot, a visual interactive template was developed to aid participants to create a scenario for inviting an STE using existing e-Health applications.

Figure 2 | Screenshot of video

Pilot with GET-lab

GET-lab is a workshop (Wmo-werkplaats) at Avans University of Applied Science that enables healthcare professionals and students to practice and experiment with e-Health applications to further professionalise the field and stimulate critical thinking about the use of technology in this domain.

GET-lab was approached to try out a part of the toolkit. The pilot had two main aims. 1. Test the blended approach and learning materials with a multi-disciplinary group (design and health domain). 2. Let students explore the possibilities for using existing e-Health applications as part of an STE intervention.

Pilot design

The pilot consisted of four parts:

  1. Individual preparation: watch the knowledge clips
  2. Online group meeting: introductory presentation to GET-lab and office hour
  3. Online group meeting: completing and discussing the worksheet for describing an STE
  4. Online group meeting: translating one STE into a technological scenario using the visual collaboration tool Mural

During the meetings a GET-lab employee and the author we present for moderation and support. The main aim of part three is to make the abstract concept of STEs concrete and personal. This personal experience was the starting point of part four. Here the group chose one experience and explored ways to re-create or enhance this experience. The collaborative template provided means to think about the scenario and the use of technology.


Participants were recruited from the authors’ network through an email invitation. Five students from three different art and design departments responded. One teacher also participated in part one and two. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, GET-lab didn’t have access to students from the healthcare domain so none were invited.

Table 1 | Overview of participants background and attendance

Table 1 shows the background and attendance of the six participants. All of them watched the video’s and were present at the online presentation and office hour. Participants outside of Avans didn’t have access to the interactive video’s (i) due to technical restrictions. They watched the video’s but without the questions (s). During part three and four, five and four participants were present respectively.

Results worksheet

The STE worksheet invites users to recall a recent, positive STE. It can be an experience during any kind of activity and of any intensity as outlined in figure 3. The experience should be recent enough to recall rich detail. The document consists of a template with six questions about the STE:

  1. When (did the STE take place?)
  2. Description (what happened?)
  3. Name/title (how would you frame the experience?)
  4. What instigated the experience? (Suggestions: vastness, unity, feelings of wholeness, etc.)
  5. What (possibly) hindered the experience?
  6. How could this be helped?

Four out of five participants handed in a completed worksheet. The occasions described were very different ranging from contact with a deceased parent to a daily commute on a pedelec bike. Looking at the spectrum of STEs as defined by Yaden et al. (2017) the experiences are spread out over the spectrum (fig. 3).

Figure 3 | Mapping of individual STEs.

STEs may have a transformative effect in the sense that they can permanently change ones’ worldview (Gaggioli, 2016). This is said to depend on the intensity of the experience (Ibid.). During the discussion, it became clear that for participant E the mindful experience was transforming and lead to some radical new life choices. So intensity as a factor for transformation as mentioned by Gaggioli may be pointing to the lived experience instead of its position on the spectrum. Participants were very open in discussing their experience. This made it possible to map the experiences in retrospect and gain more insight into their nature and effects.

Results Mural

Figure 4 | Schematic used in presentation to explain the components of an interactive system. Senses (Zintuigen) and Experience (Ervaring) were added for the purpose of working with STEs.

The final session started with a presentation that introduced the components of an interactive system (fig. 4). Participants then decided on one of the experiences and started creating a scenario in which technology. The four participants worked as a group. The goal was to envision a scenario that would enable or enhance a similar experience. They used a custom template build with the visual collaboration tool Mural. The template outlined a high-level interactive system with input that is manipulated in some way and leads to output that can be experienced. The author made a selection of 19 e-Health applications available at GET-lab. They were presented as draggable images with a short description. Participants had been encouraged to take a look at the available technologies before the start of the workshop.

Figure 5 | Screen capture of the final Mural

The group decided to work on the experience from participant G. This is the most complex (fig. 3) because it included three types of STE. Considerable time was spend discussing the workings of the various technologies on the list. Less time was spent on actually building the system and reflecting on the scenario of the STE. It resulted in three scenarios (fig. 5). In two of the three scenarios, the input device was also the output device. The third focussed on devices that captured and emulated breathing. The scenario’s focussed mostly on what happened with the body and less on the mental or emotional effects. The context of the system wasn’t discussed. Instead of a lengthy description, the group captured the experience in one sentence which made it very abstract. The actual workings of the hypothetical system, therefore, remained vague.


After the workshop, all participants anonymously filled in a short survey about the workshop experience. The following lists the questions and a summary of the answers.

Which part of the workshop did you enjoy most and why? 3 out of 5 participants chose the introductory presentation to GET-lab and office hour. However, the explanation for this choice by one of the participants made clear that the reason was “sharing the STEs”. So presumably they meant part three: completing and discussing the worksheet for describing an STE. One participant chose the video’s and also recommended explaining the technologies this way. One person chose “working with the Mural” because it gave insights into using these technologies.

What did you learn from the workshop? The main take away was learning about the technologies and connecting them to experiences (three mentions). Exchanging and being open-minded (two mentions). Learning about STEs and how to invite them (one mention).

How did you experience using the worksheet and Mural? Not all participants took part in the sessions in which we used these tools. Those who did were satisfied working with them and one participant mentioned enjoying working on the Mural together.

What was hard for you? Two participants mentioned the group experience: opening up and staying patient. One person found it hard to create the actual link between the technology and the experience. One person wondered about the applicability and next steps. One person didn’t find anything hard.

Tips and remarks. Two participants mentioned the speed of the meetings. Especially the introductory round in part three: completing and discussing the worksheet for describing an STE. (It took so much time that we had to schedule an unplanned meeting for working with the Mural.) The others were satisfied with the workshop or didn’t comment.


The workshop aimed to test the blended approach and course materials with a multi-disciplinary group and to let students explore the possibility to use e-Health applications as part of an STE intervention. This aim can be translated into the following questions and conclusions:

Can the blended approach and the course materials be applied to and used by a multidisciplinary group of students?

Figure 6 | Example of a scenario created by one of the participants to practice with the Mural template.

This appears to be possible. The videos were well received. Participants found the content clear (none of the participants had any questions about the main concepts introduced in the video’s) and pleasant to watch. The questions included in the video’s helped participants to think deeper about the content.

Participants were able to fill in the worksheet and use it as a basis for sharing their experience. Two participants completed a personal case study to practice with the Mural template (fig. 6). During the session, most participants actively contributed to the scenario building process.

Is it possible to develop scenarios for repurposing existing e-Health applications to invite STEs?

Yes, three scenario’s were build. However, the elaboration remained rather superficial. It appeared hard for the participants to judge what input and output would match the desired experience. The latter wasn’t described in much detail. From the short descriptions, it remains unclear how effective the use of the technologies was deemed to be.

Discussion and future work

Creating and experiencing impactful STEs is the overarching goal for developing the toolkit. Mapping the STEs after the workshop has made it clear that students from different backgrounds can describe meaningful and rich STEs. Judging from how they were used in the Mural session their value may be underestimated by the students. By immediately moving on to a technological adaptation the quality and richness of the experience are lost. To explore their full potential more time should be spent on reflection and interpretation. Two possibilities emerge for resolving this issue:

Repurposing the workshop. The evaluations made clear that among some students the aim was to swiftly work towards and through the technological scenario’s. Working with the students has shown that their experiences have much more potential. In a short workshop like the one described here, more focus should be on the STE. This can be achieved by allotting more time to this part and help students interpret their STE.

Make the STE worksheet more actionable. The gap between the experience and the technology is big. Introducing additional questions may help students to reflect more deeply about their experience. These questions could be about sensory experiences, the transformative potential of the experience and the sense of well-being experienced. These questions also make the experience more concrete in terms of input and output. This will allow for easier mapping to an interactive system.

Having participants introduce themselves takes time but is a necessary step. It creates the trust needed to share (sometimes very personal) STEs. A solution could be to let participants record and share an introduction before the start of part three using an online tool like Flipgrid.

As one participant suggested it would be helpful if the technologies were also introduced by video clips. This however would be very time-consuming. Participants were invited to use the GET-lab app and their virtual tour to explore the technologies. An overview of the suggested technologies was also shared. It seems that non of the participants made use of this opportunity. This might be because it was a voluntary assignment. Stating a clear homework assignment such as: Choose three favourite technologies from the list might have been more motivating.

Covid-19 restrictions prevented a hands-on workshop with the actual technologies and also the ability to reach out to healthcare students. Both may have impacted the choices for the technologies and the scenario outcomes.


Gaggioli, A. (2016). Transformative Experience Design. In Human Computer Confluence. Transforming Human Experience Through Symbiotic Technologies, eds A. Gaggioli, A. Ferscha, G. Riva, S. Dunne, and I. Viaud-Delmon (Berlin: De Gruyter Open), 96–121.

Yaden, D. B., Haidt, J., Hood, R. W., Jr., Vago, D. R., & Newberg, A. B. (2017, May 1). The Varieties of Self-Transcendent Experience. Review of General Psychology. Advance online publication.

Supported by: Avans University of Applied Sciences, Centre of Applied Research for Art, Design and Technology (CARADT), VONK onderwijsinnovatie.

Slow breathing through entrainment

Magic Tea is an interactive installation aimed to invite transformative experiences during the everyday act of preparing and drinking tea (fig. 1). The first design included several instances of entrainment to promote slow breathing. From previous user tests, it became clear that many participants didn’t notice the entraining stimuli or that the stimuli themselves were unclear.

Figure 1 | Magic Tea installation. Photography Frits de Beer

The experiment described in this blogpost explores how this mechanism can be more effective in the next design. Use of the entrainment mechanism to induce slow breathing may better prepare the mind and body of the participants for transformative experiences.

Defining entrainment

Entrainment refers to situations where two or more oscillators in the same field adjust to a common rhythm [1]. The human body also contains oscillators. Two of the most obvious are respiration and pulse. Breathing is part of the autonomous function of the body but can also be controlled voluntarily. Slowing down and deepening the breathing (paced breathing) can reduce stress and increase well-being. [1]

Why entrainment?

Numerous studies have shown that the body is inclined to synchronize with external rhythms induced by for example music [2] or even a tapping sound [3]. This way the body effortlessly and even subconsciously attunes to a slower rhythm which has a beneficial effect on body and mind. However, lowering RR has proven difficult and a drop of one cycle is considered significant [4]. A feeling of relaxation is a requirement for entering altered states of consciousness [5]. Through the mechanism of entrainment, relaxation will follow as a result of reducing the respiratory rate (RR).

Entrainment implementation in the first design

Pirhonen and Tuuri [1] describe various schematic movement patterns which are associated with the kinaesthesia of breathing. For example, ascending and descending reflect the rise and release of tension in the breathing cycle. The first model used the rising and falling of the volume of an audio track to mirror this pattern. A field recording of the sound of the wind blowing through pine trees was manipulated in such a way that the sound increased for 5 seconds and decreased the next 5 seconds, mimicking a slow breathing rate of 6 breaths per minute which is considered to have optimal effects on reducing heart-rate [6]. The looping sound was continuously playing in the background while users prepared tea. Interviews with participants made clear that the sound was hardly noticed: users were too busy preparing the tea and the sound was drowned by other sounds coming from the environment or the preparation process. It is therefore hard to determine if this intervention had any effect on the mind-states of the participants.

New design

Because entrainment is shown to be an unobtrusive and effective way to induce relaxation as a result of slow breathing [1] it will be implemented in the next design iteration. As in the previous version, the main aim of the breath entrainment is lowering RR in users because this promotes relaxation which may improve the effects of the installation. The following improvements will be explored:

  1. Its place in the interaction scenario. Instead of inducing entrainment through a background sound make the entrainment phase a dedicated part of the scenario and allow the user to focus on it.
  2. Use a multi-modal approach to strengthen its effect.
  3. Use a sound which has more relation to the tea preparation process.

This post describes the exploration of the last two improvements (the first improvement will be tested with the next prototype.)

Entrainment experiment

Participants were invited to take part through a personal email message and posts on social media platforms. The email explained the protocol (below) and the privacy policy.

The experiment aimed to answer the question: Does listening to slow rhythmic sounds entrain the listener and slow down normal breathing rate? The hypothesis was that:

a. Entrainment will be stronger with multiple stimuli.

b. This will result in a lower respiratory rate compared to baseline.

To test the effect of this multi-modal approach without having to build a new installation a set of videos with different stimuli was designed. For four days participants would watch and listen to four different videos. After watching the clip participants were asked to count their breathing cycles (breathing in and out counted as one breath). The videos were embedded in an online form, one for every video, where participants could fill in their RR and make optional remarks. At the start of the day instructions and a link to the online form were emailed to each participant.


Instead of using the sound of wind the sound of ocean waves was used. Water is one of the two ingredients used for making tea and sounds relating to water have more connection to the actions performed. A field recording of a single wave was manipulated in such a way that the sound increased the first 5 seconds and tapered to silence in the last five seconds. This sound clip was looped for 3 minutes.

Figure 2 | Screen shots from video with instructions (top) and two pictures of the blue screen fading in.

The visual stimulus consisted of a blue coloured screen which faded in from black to blue in 5 seconds and back from blue to black in the next five in more or less in sync with the sound. The control condition consisted of an existing recording of monotonous chanting by Buddhist Monks. The tones last for 15 seconds at the same volume and are repeated.


Day 1

  • 1 minute breath count (baseline)
  • 3 minutes blank video with no sound
  • 1 minute breath count

Day 2

  • 3 minutes blank video with looping wave sound
  • 1 minute breath count

Day 3 

  • 3 minutes looping wave sound plus pulsating blue light animation
  • 1 minute breath count

Day 4 

  • 3 Minutes blank video with Buddhist Chant track (control condition)
  • 1 minute breath count


On the first day, 14 participants took part. Three participants dropped out resulting in 11 data sets (F=10, M=1) which are described in this section.

Table 1 | RR resuts of four days. Top row: average breath rate per day, middle row: drop in breaths per minute, bottom row drops in percentage compared to baseline.

The first thing to note is the very low average baseline value of 10,36 breaths per minute (min 6, max 20). In the general public, this average lies between 10 and 20 breaths per minute [5]. Even so, RR dropped by 1.72 breaths after the first intervention which consisted of a three-minute blank, silent video.

Day two and three have the same results for average RR. Compared to baseline there is a drop of 2.45 breathing cycles. Both days show a 7,1% greater drop in breath-cycles per minute compared to the silent condition. At 7.55 breaths day four shows the biggest drop in RR (2.81) compared to baseline.

Figure 3 | Results for individual participants

Comments on the audio tracks and the combination with the pulsating light were mostly positive. One participant found the sounds of the waves too rough and another disliked the repetitiveness of all the sounds. The act of counting one’s breath was reported as a bit stressful. Participants also found it hard to continue to breathe normally while counting. One participant reported the tendency to deliberately breath more slowly.

Follow up questions

Because the control condition turned out to produce the lowest RR two follow up questions were posed to the participants in an online questionnaire to which all participants replied:

  1. Which video did you find the most relaxing? (Pick one of four days, optional comments)
  2. What did you feel about the length of the video? (Choose either: too long, too short, exactly right, optional comments)
Figure 4 | The most relaxing video

Figure 4 shows that even though the RR wasn’t at its lowest participants experience the multi-modal condition as the most relaxing with the wave sound condition as second most relaxing.

Figure 5 | Video duration

Most participants found the length of the intervention just right (fig. 5), some found it even too short. It should be noted that preferences of duration did vary between stimuli for some.

Conclusion and discussion

This experiment looked at the effect of various stimuli on respiratory rate. Even though the baseline rate was already below average every intervention caused a clear drop in breathing cycles. Three minutes of just sitting and listening to environmental sounds caused a drop in respiratory rate. From that, we may conclude that just sitting quietly and attentively has a positive effect on reducing RR. 

There was no difference in breathing rate between the audio and multi-modal stimulus using the wave sound. Judging from comments made on the latter condition this might be because the visual stimulus caused some distraction for some while it was helpful for others. However, in neither of these conditions did their RR rise above baseline (fig. 3). The follow-up questionnaire made clear that the subjective experience of relaxation was highest in the multi-modal condition. Together with the 23.7% drop in RR, this stimulus seems most suitable for implementing in the installation.

The lowest breathing rates were scored during the control condition on day four. The main differences between this sound and the waves were that it was human-produced and that individual sounds lasted longer. Also, there was no change in volume during the sound. The simplified soundscape may have contributed to the lower RR values and participants found it aesthetically pleasing. One user associated the sound with breathing which may have made entrainment easier.

Counting one’s breath was not part of the intervention but did have a big influence, of which the low baseline values are an example. Comments indicated that it made participants highly aware of their breathing and some forced their breathing, trying to slow it down. To get more accurate results the counting should best be done without the participant being aware by using a sensor for example.

The distress caused by the blue light might be caused by the display medium. In the installation, the light will be integrated into the objects on the table which may reduce the glare. A video recording of the blue light in one or more of the objects may have resembled the intended application better and produced more accurate results.


[1] Pirhonen, A., & Tuuri, K. (2011). Calm down – Exploiting sensorimotor entrainment in breathing regulation application. Lecture Notes in Computer Science (Including Subseries Lecture Notes in Artificial Intelligence and Lecture Notes in Bioinformatics)6851 LNCS, 61–70.

[2]Larsen, P. D., & Galletly, D. C. (2006). The sound of silence is music to the heart. Heart (British Cardiac Society)92(4), 433–434.

[3] Bardy, B. G., Hoffmann, C. P., Moens, B., Leman, M., & Dalla Bella, S. (2015). Sound-induced stabilization of breathing and moving. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences1337(1), 94–100.

[4] Czub, M., & Kowal, M. (2019). Respiration Entrainment in Virtual Reality by Using a Breathing Avatar. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking22(7), 494–499.

[5] Cosimano, M. (2014). My Experience as a Guide in the Johns Hopkins Psilocybin Research Project. MAPS Bulletin Vol. 24, No. 3

[6]Russo MA, Santarelli DM, O’Rourke D. The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe 2017; 13: 298–309.

Supported by Avans University of Applied Sciences, Centre of Applied Research for Art

Magic Tea design iterations

Magic Tea version 2

During the previous experiment with both the interactive and analogue installation users reported obstacles which took them out of the experience and hindered a fluid interaction with the objects. Some of them were technology-related others might be solved at the analogue level. These were

  • Fear of spilling (water, tea), solution: using a genuine teapot with a spout
  • Fear of making a mistake or forgetting certain steps, solution: using affordances and position to clarify the use of objects (teapot, sieve on the cup, in a second iteration sieve on rinse bowl), reducing the number of objects (just one teapot, not a “kettle” and a “pot”).
  • Wondering about protocol (what is allowed?), solution: make clear there are no rules, they can take their time for all the activities
  • Fear of burning something with the immersion heater, solution: stabilise heater
  • Uncomfortable sitting position, solution: a new stool with adjustable height, higher table
  • Some objects are user-unfriendly, solution: rendering the construction for water decanter unnecessary

In general: make the appearance installation less alien, more friendly and survey-able. (The aim was to create a sense of safety.) Reduce the use of colour, harmonise materials. Figure 1 shows a comparison between the two versions.

Figure 1 Changes to the design. Version 1 is on the left


The main question for this experiment was: Does modifying the Magic Tea objects and interactions take away certain obstacles for experiencing a self-transcendent, mystical experience? In total 10 participants (2 male, 8 female, mean age 36) took part in the second experiment of the analogue design. Seven of them were first-time users three were returning participants of the first analogue version. The experiment design (fig. 2) was identical to the first run, only the duration of the “cooling down” period was shortened from five to three minutes. In total four research methods were used to get insight into the user experience:

  • Two types of questionnaires:
    • The validated Revised Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ; 30 items)
    • The non-validated 5 point Likert scale Factors for Awakening, stress & relaxation.
  • Observation during the activity
  • An interview after the activity. The starting point for the interview was the feedback capture grid (fig. 7) by Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation.
Figure 2 Experiment protocol



The main observations during the tea preparation were: the success at tapping the water is mixed. Some participants succeed the first time, some had to try a couple of times, one participant couldn’t tap the water in as prescribed. But all the users remained calm and asked for help if necessary.

It was notable that users moved the objects a lot more frequently compared to the first version where all the utensils had a designated position.

The immersion heater caused participants to burn their hands on the steam from the pot. This was prevented by an explicit warning during the instructions.

Some participants shifted positions on the seat and some had problems squatting to sit down.

Factors for Awakening questionnaire

Factors for Awakening are derived from an ancient Buddhist text. They describe the conditions for arriving at awakening and can therefore be seen as factors which may promote transcendence. Mind-states stress and relaxation have been added to the original list of factors.

Figure 3 Pre and post activity measures

For all ten participants, scores on all factors are higher compared to baseline (fig 3). Except for interest (-1.3). This is a recurring phenomenon in the Magic Tea experiments and probably due to the experiment setting in which participants are curious about what will happen.

Figure 4 Comparison between post activity scores for the first and second version

When comparing version 1 with version 2 (fig. 4) the latter scores slightly less on relaxation (-0.2), attention (-0.2), interest (-0.2) and concentration (-0.1) and slightly higher on joy (+0.2). Stress, energy and calm scored more or less the same in both versions

MEQ30 scale

Figure 5 Comparison of the Mystical Experience Scale scores for the first and second version

The MEQ30 is a validated scale developed to measure the mystical experience effects of hallucinogenic drugs (Psilocybin). These are comparable to non-drug induced experiences which is why it is used in this experiment. The scores of both versions (fig. 5) follow mostly the same trend but the most recent version scores lower on all factors (total means 72) except for positive mood which is similar to the previous outcome (total means 84). Especially the unity factors and noetic quality and sacredness score lower. There is however a big difference between the first time users and the returning participants (view below).


In the new setup participants still like the activity and the calm, focus and fascination it brings. They enjoyed handling the artefacts, their appearance and liked the taste of the tea. The improvements worked, there were fewer questions about the steps and users expressed less anxiety. The objects were easier to handle except for the heater. After adjustments to the handle, this was no longer an issue.

Figure 6 Magic Tea table and custom seat

The seat (fig. 6) was controversial, on the one hand, participants liked the way it supports attention and has an unusual height, some people found it comfortable. On the other hand, many people complained about it being too low, uncomfortable and unstable.

The environment plays an important role in the perception of the experience. The silent, bare-floored, windowless cellar improved focus for quite a few participants while others found it cold and uninviting which took away some of the enjoyment.

The experiment setting also interfered with the experience. Some users were very conscious of being observed. Others didn’t feel like finishing their tea because the experiment setting provided no context to drinking tea. The feedback grip below lists an overview of user comments.

Figure 7 Feedback collected during interview split into four themes: likes, criticism, questions and ideas

Additional insights from the interviews

People commented on their personality and the experience. Personality traits influence the way users approach and experience the installation. Comments like: I tend to adhere to instructions, I am a thinker, not a doer, I can become fascinated by small things and I am down to earth determine how and if users handle the objects and how they experience them. This varies a lot from person to person.

Users comment on the sharp contrast with their usual mind-state. They feel calmer, more attentive to the activity, more present. They consider it a nice break from their day to day way of doing things. They enjoy the sensory experience (sight, smell, taste).

Returning participants

Because the main goal of this experiment was to verify whether the changes to the installation are an improvement, the response from the previous users of the analogue installation was crucial for determining success. The results and reactions from the returning participants were mixed and also deviated from the general findings on some crucial aspects.

Table 1 Results for returning users (A, B and C) on Factors for Awakening (FfA) and the MEQ30

Factors for Awakening

In line with the general trend returning participant scores for the Factors for Awakening questionnaire were lower for the second version compared to the first version of the installation. (Table 1, column 1)

When comparing the baseline and post-intervention scores for this measure (table 1 column 3 and 4) we see a similar pattern in both instances. User A displays a higher positive effect, user C showing a lower but positive effect and user B going from no effect to a negative effect (-2.0)


They found the experience still pleasant and calming but two out of three (B&C) commented on the new table and layout of the objects which they found interfered with the intensity and pleasantness of the experience. User A, however, found the new setup less intimidating and therefore more relaxing. For all users, the changes to and selection of the utensils was perceived as positive and aesthetically more pleasing. This mostly correlates with the Factors for Awakening outcomes.


The scores on the MEQ30 questionnaire (table 1 column 2) did not align with the above findings. All participants scored higher on this scale, also the critical users B (+5.0) and C (+1.0). The results going up also contrasts with the general score which was 12 points lower overall. The hypothesis for these results was that filling in the questionnaire for the second time had made it less alien and easier to answer. A follow-up interview was conducted to test it. User A (+7.0) explained that the second experience was more meditative for him which could explain why he could relate more to language and themes of the scale. User B found that she was in a very different mind-state the second time. Due to tiredness, her feelings were blunted. Her results indeed show fewer extremes which results in a higher total score. Participant C (+1.0) found that the second time she had to think harder about the answers. Her feelings were less obvious to her. To comply and give valuable feedback she felt she had to dig much deeper. The underlying reasons for the contradictory scores appear to be very individual and don’t match the hypothesis.


The main question for this experiment was: Does modifying the Magic Tea objects and interactions take away certain obstacles for experiencing a self-transcendent, mystical experience? Looking solely at the results from the Mystical Experience Questionnaire the answer is no. The experience was perceived as having less mystical properties.

There were three main changed made to the design: the objects, the seat and the shape and size of the table and the way the utensils were laid out. Reactions to the objects were positive both from first-time and returning participants this applies to the usability as well as the aesthetics. The seat was found to support attention but many users also found it uncomfortable. The layout and size of the table were considered less positive and supportive of the activity by 2 returning participants. This is reflected in the lower Factors for Awakening scores. But it didn’t impact the MEQ30 scores as both scored higher as did the one returning visitor preferred the new table and scored 11 points higher on the MEQ30 scale but also lower on the Factors for Awakening. From this experiment, it doesn’t become clear what caused the big difference in the MEQ30 results.

One reason for the lower MEQ30 scores maybe the big difference in mean age, 48 for the first experiment and 36 for the second. Older people may be more familiar with the language used in the questionnaire making it easier for them to score on abstract concepts like holiness, reverence and the absolute. The Factors for Awakening scores seem to correspond more with the users’ experience. The way the questions are perceived should be explored in the debriefing interviews.
For the design, the main insights are that the preference for the height and type of the chair are very personal. There isn’t one size that fits all. The next design will allow participants to choose from three options. The next iteration will combine the usability and aesthetics from the second version with the more procedural table layout of the previous version. The process should be challenging in the right way: through intriguing interaction and not by discomfort. More attention will go to the environment of the installation to make it feel more safe and relaxing.

Supported by Avans University of Applied Sciences, Centre of Applied Research for Art

Magic Tea Validation

After conducting the Magic Tea demonstrations it became clear that the intervention had potential for promoting the right mind-states towards a self-transcendent experience (STE). A Wizard of Oz technique was used to simulate automated interactions. Over the past months the system has been prepared to allow users to operate the installation autonomously. This blogpost describes the system, its use, its support of the Factors for Awakening. And finally, the results of the measurement of perceived mystical experience.

The installation

Figure 1 Magic Tea installation: table with utensils, apron, cup.

The main purpose of this prototype was to answer the question: Can an interactive system using bio-data and wholeness-inducing design invite an STE during the act of preparing and drinking tea? The Magic Tea installation (fig. 1) consists of three main parts: an apron, a table and a cup. All the parts are Wi-Fi enabled. They are connected to an Internet of Things platform where rules determine how the devices interact depending on the users’ and systems state. With the installation, users can make a cup of tea and every part of the process has been modified and technically enhanced.

The apron

Apron with ear clip
Figure 2 Apron with ear clip.

This wearable device (fig. 2) is used to measure pulse via a clip attached to the earlobe and breath flow at the chest using a resistive stretch sensor. It is worn throughout the experience.

The table

The table design (fig. 1) applies some of Alexanders 15 properties to promote a sense of wholeness. It is designed to support and augment the steps of the process. The steps have been laid out on a custom table in a half circle to create a sense of unfolding. The tables houses sensors which detect the actions and system state. Two sets of bright, full-colour LEDs pulsate during the boiling and seeping phase following the breath flow of the user. An immersion heater for boiling the water is also attached to the table. An interactive audio server provides environmental sounds. A speaker is placed under the table.

The cup

Figure 3 Stacked bowls.

There was no clear preference for a type of cup from the tea scenarios experiment. But a small, white bowl was deemed suitable for a special taste experience. Stacking two of these bowls (fig. 3) was a practical way to create space for the electronics and to prototype the interaction and actuators. The main focus was on the interaction and experience design not the aesthetics. The cup houses three actuators: two blinking white LEDs and a pulsating mini vibrating motor. Both represent the users heart-beat. An MP3 player plays a wind sound to the rhythm of the users’ breath flow.

Making tea

Figure 4 Tapping water.

The four main steps of making tea: tapping and boiling water, seeping and drinking the tea can all be preformed with the installation. The who process takes about 15 minutes. The steps have been modified in various ways to support appropriate mind-states included in the Factors for Awakening. Transparency for example, has been used in the first thee steps to create interest and a sense of wonder and awe. The processes of tapping and boiling water have been slowed down using unfamiliar techniques and equipment like siphoning (fig. 4) and an immersion heater. De-acceleration should promote relaxation, attention, concentration and calm.

The transformative process

During the whole activity live bio-data from the users was reflected in different objects using the media of light, sound and vibration. The main aim of this output is to augment bodily self-consciousness through extending the body in the objects. This may create a disequilibrium in the user and cause a shift in world view (Gaggioli, 2016). While drinking the tea the user may become aware of a match between their physiological processes and the stimuli presented in the cup. The boundaries between the user and the object are blurred. This experience presents the user with a new narrative about reality: the cup I am drinking from isn’t a static object completely separate from me. It is alive, constantly changing and interconnected with my living processes. Whilst I am drinking the tea, I am drinking myself.

The installation also uses entrainment: whenever two or more oscillators in the same field are pulsing at nearly the same rate, they tend to lock in and begin pulsing at the same rate (Heather, 2007). A soundtrack of wind blowing through pine trees is manipulated in such a way that it reflects a slow breathing rhythm. By using this technique users may subconsciously adjust their breathing. Slow breathing decreases heart-rate and promotes relaxation (Zaccaro et al., 2018). The installation stacks different interaction and design elements and maps them to the transformative process. This may promote associated mind-states and invite an STE.

According to the classic Buddhist text Himavanta Sutta, there are seven factors at play to arrive at awakening which is characterised by a state of equanimity (Access to insight, 1997). This is the traditional path when practising formal meditation. After intense and lengthy practice one may acquire equanimity. This project is interested in awakening and its accompany transcendent experiences outside formal meditation. Throughout this project the Factors for Awakening and the mind-states stress and relaxation have been tracked to determine the presence of these factors during interventions. These factors can been seen as factors which may promote transcendence.

The experiment

Figure 5 Full experiment protocol.

The goals of this experiment was to provide proof of concept: Magic Tea has a positive effect on the Factors for Awakening and invites a self-transcendent experience. The hypothesis was that the Magic Tea installation without technology will have a less transcendent effect than the technologically enhanced version. The two conditions used both validated (Revised Mystical Experience Questionnaire (MEQ; 30 items)), and non-validated 5 point likert scale (Factors for Awakening, stress & relaxation). Observation and an interviews gave more insight into the way users experienced the system and the feelings and associations it triggered. View fig. 5 for the full protocol.


Figure 6 Activating the boiling process by striking a match.

Two groups of five volunteers were invited to join a session one of two test days. By picking one of the days the participants assigned themselves randomly to one of the conditions. The first day the volunteers used the installation with all the sensors, actuators and media activated (fig. 6). The second-day participants performed the process and used only the analogue interventions of the prototype (e.g. tapping water and the immersion heater).

Perceived mystical experience was measured using the revised Mystical Experience Questionnaire. The MEQ30 is a validated scale to measure the mystical experience effects of hallucinogenic drugs (Psilocybin). These are comparable to non-drug induced experiences (MacLean & Griffiths, 2013. p. 12). MEQ is composed of four factors: Mystical (Internal Unity, External Unity, Noetic Quality, Sacredness), Positive Mood, Transcendence of Time and Space and Ineffability. Earlier research considered a mystical experience complete when a score of 60% of the total possible score on each dimension of the Mystical Experience Questionnaire was reached (Barrett & Griffiths, 2018).


Figure 7 Combined results on Factors for Awakening.

Fig. 7 shows the results for the Factors for Awakening measurement of both conditions combined, the results are positive compared to baseline. All factors increase except for interest which was the highest baseline score at 4,2. Stress decreases with 1,1 point and relaxation increases by 0,7.

Figure 8 Comparison between two conditions on Factors for Awakening.

The two conditions differ very little (fig. 8). In the tech version attention scores 0,2 points higher, joy and concentration 0,2 lower than the analogue version. Both the analogue and the technologically enhanced version have a positive effect on the Factors for Awakening, stress and relaxation.

Figure 9 Comparison between analogue and technological condition on perceived mystical experience.

Results from the MEQ (fig. 9) show that the differences between Magic Tea use with and without technology are small. Out of a maximum score of 150, the tech version scores 81 (51%), the analogue 84 (56%). The tech version scores higher on Positive Mood (57%) and External Unity (57%). The latter correlates best with connectedness which was the purpose of boundary blurring between object and self. The hypothesis: A Magic Tea ritual without technology will have a less transcendent effect then the technologically enhanced ritual is false. The analogue version scores slightly better on the MEQ, just under the complete mystical experience of 60%. In the tech version non of the factors reach 60%. But scores just below 60% are promising for a prototype.

The main insights from the interviews and observations for both conditions:

  • Participants find the experience very pleasant and relaxing.
  • They experience a learning curve and wonder if they are doing it right. This takes them out of the experience.
  • Most participants need time to get into it, once they arrive at the seeping and drinking they feel more present.
  • The unfolding of the tea leaves is often mentioned as a highlight.
  • They like drinking experience, the tea taste and the bowl.
  • A heightened sense of awareness of body, thoughts and the contrast with the usual fast pace.

In the tech condition, users aren’t always aware of all the presented stimuli. Only some participants related the light and sound phenomena to bio-metric data, none of them recognised their own bodily processes. One explanation is that the breath data was only partially represented in the objects due to technical and design issues. However, participants did experience moments of awe and magic. As one participant explained: “I was truly affected by the transforming processes” and “for the first time in my life I experienced drinking something that felt like it’s alive.


In neither conditions a full mystical experience was reached. However scores on the Factors for Awakening questionnaire and the MEQ30 show the design promotes relevant mind-states and has potential for inviting an STE.

Strengthening the self-transcendent effect of the installation is the main point of improvement. This may be achieved by following two trajectories:

  1. Reduce the cognitive activity during use:
    1. flatten the learning curve (clarify the way to operate the installation)
    2. reduce distractions during the interaction (e.g. avoid technical hiccups, fine tune timing of media events) 
  2. Optimise the inner state of the user before using the installation (creating a sense of inner and outer safety through optimising the space and regulating physiology by stimulating slow breathing for example). 


Access to Insight. (1997). Himavanta Sutta: The Himalayas (On the Factors for Awakening). Retrieved from
Barrett, F. S., & Griffiths, R. R. (2018). Classic Hallucinogens and Mystical Experiences: Phenomenology and Neural Correlates. Curr Top Behav Neurosci., 36, 393–430.
Gaggioli, A. (2016).Transformative Experience Design. In Human Computer Confluence. Transforming Human Experience Through Symbiotic Technologies, eds A. Gaggioli, A. Ferscha, G. Riva, S. Dunne, and I. Viaud-Delmon (Berlin: De Gruyter Open), 96–121.
Heather, S. (2007). What Is Sound Healing? Wholistic Healing Publications, 7(3).
MacLean, K. A., & Griffiths, R. R. (2013). Factor Analysis of the Mystical Experience Questionnaire: A Study of Experiences Occasioned by the Hallucinogen Psilocybin. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 51(4), 721–737.
Zaccaro, A., Piarulli, A., Laurino, M., Garbella, E., Menicucci, D., Neri, B., & Gemignani, A. (2018). How Breath-Control Can Change Your Life: A Systematic Review on Psycho-Physiological Correlates of Slow Breathing. Frontiers in human neuroscience, 12, 353.

In collaboration with: Avans University of Applied Sciences, Centre of Applied Research for Art, Design and Technology (CARADT)

Tasting tea

Fig.1 Experiment setup: tasting on the left, preparing tea on the right.


This experiment aims to clarify which tea is the most appropriate for use during the Magic Tea ceremony. Earlier research by the author has resulted in the following the design criteria for the tea to be used: as natural and unprocessed as possible, aesthetically pleasing, evoke curiosity, may be unfamiliar. In collaboration with a trader of Chinese teas three possible candidates were picked. All three teas are quality teas but with very different characteristics (Fig. 2). The research question is: which of the teas scores best across multiple senses (smell, sight, taste, feeling) in relation to 6 factors of enlightenment (attention, interest, energy, joy, calm and concentration), relaxation and wholeness? The hypothesis was that the Jade Oolong matched the criteria best and would receive the highest score.


The experiment follows the procedure of a tea tasting but is extended to seeing and feeling as well. Participants are invited to look, feel and taste the tea at all phases of preparation. Three teas were tested:

  1. Taiping Houkui 2019, China
  2. Zhu Ye Qing roasted, China
  3. Jade Oolong from Nantou, Taiwan
Fig. 2 Four teas used in the experiment

All are premium quality and exclusive teas available only from specialist shops. The fourth tea was Yen Bai Green from Vietnam which acted as a control tea. This is a medium quality tea, suitable for non-seasoned drinkers.

The brewing of the tea took place behind a screen so as not to distract the participants from experiencing the tea (Fig. 1). Of every tea type 250 ml was made using one gram of tea for each type. Fresh filtered (Zero-water filter) and boiled water was used for every “pot”. Each tea was severed in a 125 ml white bowl. Surplus tea was put in a glass and could be consumed it needed or wanted (Fig. 3). Eight people took part in the experiment including the author.

Fig. 3 Bowl to taste from, glass with surplus tea

Experiment design

The tasting of each tea was accompanied by a set of questions and the possibility to make remarks both written and aural. Fig. 4 depicts the experiment design which started with a baseline measurement followed by the tasting of all four teas in random order. After each tea participants we invited to neutralise their taste buds by taking some water.

Baseline measurement followed by four tea tastings.
Fig. 4 Experiment protocol

For every tea participants were asked whether smelling, seeing, tasting and feeling this tea evoked in them feelings of: relaxation, attention, interest, joy, energy, calm and concentration. These are six of the seven factors of enlightenment. The stress level was put in as a control variable. All could be scored on a 5 point labelled scale ranging from Not at all to Very much.

Finally participants were asked about their feeling of wholeness using Christopher Alexanders’ Mirror-of-the-self test: When I am drinking this water/tea, I feel completely human. Should reincarnation exist I would like to reincarnate as this beverage. How much do you agree with this statement? People could again score of the 5 point scale.

In a free form text field people could write down comments if needed.


Fig. 5 Combined results for four tea types and water

Fig. 5 shows the outcomes for the tea types. Stress was calculated by taking the means of stress for smelling, seeing, tasting and feeling. The four sense outcomes were calculated by taking the means of the six factors of enlightenment (attention, interest, energy, joy, calm and concentration) for each sense. Wholeness was just one value for every tea so no further calculation was needed.

The baseline used water as the input for wholeness. The six factors were not coupled to a sensory experience but applied to how people were generally feeling at that moment, so it is a more general measure. Stress was highest during baseline but all other scores are more positive then the tea measurements, including wholeness.

The Jade Oolong tea scores highest of all the teas for all the senses and wholeness (Fig. 5, light blue line). Stress values are also low. The tea with the least positive effects is the Taiping (Fig. 5, orange line). Especially taste and feeling are low compared to the other teas.

Fig. 6 Detailed graph of Jade Oolong scores

The sense contributing most to the success of the Oolong tea is sight (3.63). Across the senses attention, interest, calm and concentration score high (Fig. 6).

Participants commented on the beauty of the tea, the dynamic process of the leaves unfolding and the pleasant taste.


From the design criteria formulated earlier it was clear that users preferred natural looking tea leaves. In collaboration with a trader of Chinese teas three possible candidates were picked. These were supplemented by one control tea. The Oolong tea from Taiwan was hypothesised to be the most suitable. The results from this experiment confirm this hypothesis. From all the teas tested the Jade Oolong tea scored low on stress level and high on six factors of enlightenment in relation to smell, sight, taste and feeling. The wholeness score was also highest of all teas. However non of the teas surpassed the baseline measurement in which participants were asked the current status on 6 factors of enlightenment and were asked to do the mirror of the self test (wholeness) on a glass of water. All teas did score more favourable on the stress value.


The outcomes may have been influenced by: 1) the setting. Some participants indicated that the setting caused them stress. Some worried about having enough time. 2) The tasting process. People indicated that there is a learning curve in tasting and felt they hadn’t done justice to the first tea they tasted. While two participants indicated that they found the smell much more prominent then the taste and couldn’t really differentiate between the tastes, another participant indicated that the taste was the most prominent sense. So the ability to taste differs a lot between participants.

Looking back the question on wholeness could have been posed more correctly if it had mentioned the whole process instead of just the tasting of the tea.

The Yen Bai (control tea) scored high. This was the least extreme looking and tasting tea. It was easier for participants to relate to as is indicated by the low stress score and the high scores on taste and feeling. But the aim of the experiment wasn’t to find the most pleasant tea but to find the one most supportive of the aim of the whole ceremony: create a transcendent experience

Almost all participants had strong associations with and expectations of what they were going to taste from smelling and seeing the teas. This definitely influences the taste. Participants for example reported a salty taste for tea that looks a bit like seaweed and reported bitterness in the most mild tasting tea where they expected a citrus taste. However these expectations and associations are not problematic, the aim was to gather information on the experience of the teas on all of the senses. The surprise element might be helpful in inducing awe and wonder during the whole process of making tea. An unexpected taste might strengthen the disequilibrium needed to create a transcendent experience

The general aim of Magic Tea is to reduce suffering through insight and transcendence. But providing tea which reduces stress, generates calm, interest, wholeness and other positive mind states is already a very valuable step in creating a positive change in peoples lives.

In collaboration with: Avans University of Applied Sciences, Centre of Applied Research for Art, Design and Technology (CARADT)

Magic Tea demonstrations


During the Cultuurnacht (Culture night) of this year Awareness Lab demonstrated for the first time the Magic Tea prototype. Technical difficulties made it impossible to have a fully automated ceremony. Instead Emanuela Slanzi was asked to perform the ceremony while designer Danielle Roberts manually operated the system. This way the audience could experience Magic Tea the way it was intended despite the technical issues.

A peaceful crowd

Fig. 1 Magic Tea demonstration timeline with feedback from the audience and the tea master

The feedback collected is presented in two different ways: timeline based (Fig. 1) and in a feedback capture grid (Fig. 2). This is designed by Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation to facilitate product testing. The feedback was captured using manual note taking and a video recording. The timeline is meant to give more context to the feedback. The grid shows all the collected feedback divided into different categories. The main conclusion which can be drawn from the feedback is that the ceremony creates mind-states like relaxation, calm, interest, attention and concentration. These are some of the 7 factors of enlightenment which may lead to a transcendent experience which is the main aim of the ceremony. The feedback shows the design has potential. This is especially true because the demonstrations were part of a busy cultural event. Yet the audience was able to find calm and concentration while watching the tea ceremony.

Fig. 2 Feedback capture grid of the Magic Tea demonstrations

Next steps

The criticisms concerns three issues:

  1. Speed of the performance. This will be solved if the system is fully automated and the water has the right starting temperature.
  2. Executing the steps. Users will need some sort of manual which is currently being designed.
  3. The feedback in the objects. The heart and breath data of the tea master was transferred to different objects, for example as light (glassware) and vibrations (tea cup). The prediction is that users will find it easier to recognise their own bio-data in the objects.

This design has made the personal bio-data key for experiencing a transcendence. This will be tested once users can start operating the system independently which is the next step in the development.

In collaboration with: Avans University of Applied Sciences, Centre of Applied Research for Art, Design and Technology (CARADT)

Exploring the aspects of preparing and drinking tea


This post describes an experiment which explored how the different parts in the process of making and drinking tea can become an activity which promotes wholeness and in how far this modified activity evokes factors of enlightenment (attention, interest, energy, joy, calm and concentration). The result are translated into design criteria for the Magic Tea tea ceremony and prototype.

The contemporary tea drinker

From earlier research it has become clear that the way people make and drink tea already holds a lot of potential for this practice to be linked to transcendent experiences. Some of the factors of enlightenment are already present when people prepare tea the way they usually do. It became clear however that in some contexts making and drinking tea was less wholesome. This had to do with, among other things, the way the tea was prepared, how much time was available, the quality of the tea and the tableware. The participants found that making tea is time consuming. They used shortcuts and practical tools like teabags and water cookers. As media philosopher van der Hoek summarises Marshal McLuhan’s take on technology: besides being extensions media also work as amputations of the senses. If a certain medium strengthens one sense, something else moves to the background. (Wetzels, 2014). This is in sharp contrast to the way the Japanese tea ceremony is experienced. This ceremony has strong links to nature and the seasons, it stimulates all the senses. This way of enjoying tea aims at being a transformative practice rather than an efficient and functional one.

The wholeness of tea

By its very nature natural elements are already embedded in the preparation of tea: water, heat and the tea plant. Are there methods in our culture to bring these elements to life and strengthen them? Can we recreate these implicit qualities in a way that fits our society and technologies? For inspiration we may look again at the work of Christopher Alexander and more specifically at his pattern theory: “Each pattern is a rule which describes a type of strong center that is likely to be needed, on a recurring basis, throughout a particular environment or class of environments.” And “…a system of patterns describing centers which can form the backbone of a new wholeness in a new society.” (Alexander, 2004a). So according to Alexander using patterns appropriately may influence the lives of individuals and society as a whole. From his book A Pattern Language the most suitable patterns for the tea ceremony are: The fire, Pools and Streams and Garden Seat. (Alexander, 1977)

Research questions

This experiments tests if it is possible to strengthen both wholeness and right mind-states (factors of enlightenment) in users during the act of making and drinking tea. The research questions for this experiment are:

  • Which actions and objects create more wholeness?
  • Which actions and objects best facilitate the factors of enlightenment?
  • Is there a positive correlation between these two measurements?

The hypothesis is that the more natural and embodied the method or object the higher the wholeness score. The expectation is that wholeness will correlate positively with the factors of enlightenment.


The experiment looks at four main aspects of making and drinking tea: tapping water, boiling water, the tea itself and the tableware. Participants are presented with scenario’s. To make the scenario’s more embodied video fragments and real life object are used. For each of the aspects they are asked to rank them according to the amount of wholeness the scenario created. For their most favoured choice they are asked to score their mind-state. Comments are optional for each aspect.


Fig. 1 Overview of the experiment protocol

At the start participants fill in a baseline measurement which assesses their current mind-state. This includes most of the factors of enlightenment (attention, interest, energy, joy, calm and concentration) and the control variables stress and relaxation. They can score on a five point likert-scale ranging from 1 (not at all) to 5 (very much).

The first scenario is tapping water. The scenario consists of a video compilation containing seven clips with an average length of 20 seconds. The clips contained footage of tapping water from a source, a well, a pump, a bowl, a bottle of mineral water, a decanter and a tap. In every clip running water was clearly visible.

Fig. 2 Example of the cards to sort the water tapping scenario’s

After watching the compilation participants sorted cards containing a screenshot of the video. (Fig. 2) They were asked: Which of the examples of tapping water made you feel a complete human, gave you the strongest feeling of liveliness? They could make a remark or continue to score the factors of enlightenment (mind-state). They were asked: Imagine that you are going to tap water in you most favoured way how much of each mind-state do you expect to be present when you tap water in that way? They could make a remark or continue to the next section.

The next scenario is boiling water. The scenario also uses a compilation video but with six clips with a duration of around 25 seconds each. The different boiling methods presented were: fire, a gas stove, an immersion heater, an electric kettle, a Quoocker tap and a vending machine. Participants had to sort the cards again and fill in the mandatory questions.

Fig. 3 Participant sorting the types of tea. Tableware is visible in the lower left corner.

For assessing the types of tea participants are presented with six samples of tea. The tea is displayed on a cardboard plate. They are arranged in a circle and participants had to sort them by moving the the plates into a line (Fig. 3). Participants are invited to touch and smell the tea. The options are: ice-tea, a tea stick, Puerh (pressed tea), Matcha (powdered tea), teabags (containing organic tea), tea leaves. After sorting they answered the same questions.

The last scenario tests the tableware. Six types of tableware are arranged in a circle (Fig. 3). All items are either white or of colourless glass. Presented are: a traditional cup and saucer, a small bowl, a big bowl, a mug, a heavy glass and a thin glass. Participants are again invited to hold the objects and pretend to drink from them. After sorting they answered the questions.
A final question to the participants is to imagine and describe their most ideal tea moment. Their story was written down by the experiment leader to make it easy to visualise and associate.


In total eight participants took part including the designer/researcher. The group consisted of six women and two men with ages between 19 and 60. The results are assessed in a quantitative way: which methods and objects created the most wholeness and which was the prevailing mind-state when imagining making and drinking tea in this way. But also in a qualitative way by analysing the remarks for each scenario. For analysis a word cloud was generated (Fig. 4) and a word count was used to define the main themes.

Fig. 4 Word cloud from the remarks on tapping water

To determine the scenario’s which created the most wholeness in participants all scores were recalculated: the first choice got 7 or 6 points, depending on the amount of choices, the last 1 point. The points were then multiplied by the number of votes. The results for each aspect are shown in graphs below.

Tapping water

Fig. 5 Graph showing the wholeness results for tapping water

Water from a source created the most wholeness in the participants. Some participants were worried about the safety but eventually the purity and naturalness of the tapping water (source, well) was more important to them. Practicality and hygiene were reasons for the tap, bottle and bowl to score relatively high. The actions executed also play an important part in determining wholeness. They may be more ritualistic (bowl, well), calming (source) or be too active (pump) or too elaborate (bowl).

Boiling water

Fig. 6 Graph showing the wholeness results for boiling water

All participants choose boiling water on a fire as the most wholeness inducing scenario. There is a clear downward trend where the vending machine scored lowest. The immersion heater came second because participants enjoyed the slowness and the transparency of the process. Again participants found it hard to make a choice between the know and practical (electric kettle) and the adventurous and pure (fire).

Types of tea

Fig. 7 Graph showing the wholeness results for tea types

The tea leaves are rated highest on wholeness. Again the trend clearly shows that the more processed and unnatural the product the lower the wholeness score. Participants were unfamiliar with the more exotic teas (Matcha, Puerh) but they still ended as second and third choice because they looked natural and unprocessed. The origin of the teas (is the tea organically produced) is also deemed important. The visual aspect of the tea is very important. The unknown is fascinating to the participants.


Fig. 8 Graph showing the wholeness results for tableware

The scores on the wholeness of the tableware are very mixed. The heavy bowl for example is chosen three times in the top two but also three times as the last choice. The small bowl, the complete opposite to the heavy glass with regards to material and the way it feels came in second. There is no clear difference in naturalness between the items as was the case with the other scenario’s. Participants explained that associations, the weight of the object, container size, safety (fragility, heat) and transparency (seeing the colour of the tea) were the most important considerations.

Factors of enlightenment & mind-states

Fig. 9 Graph showing the factors of enlightenment for all aspects and the baseline

The baseline measurement (in grey) shows the highest stress values compared to the other aspects of the activity and objects (Fig. 9). Highest because contrary to the other aspects 1 stands for very much and 5 indicates not at all. Interest is also high. Participants are excited and curious to start the experiment.
Tapping water using the method which creates the most wholeness (top 3: source, well and pump) doesn’t show any extremes but is the most influential after boiling and higher on all factors then the baseline except for interest. Energy, joy and calm show the biggest difference to the baseline.

Boiling water using fire has the most effect on wholeness compared to baseline and overall. Participants do find it more stressful then tableware and the tea and also less calming then tapping water and the tableware. Fire can be dangerous so those scores are understandable.The type of tea (top three: tea leaves, Matcha, Puerh) are relaxing and spark attention and interest but scores below baseline on energy.The results for the tableware (heavy glass, small bowl) are comparable. But it does create more feelings of joy and calm compared to baseline.


Participants made a lot of remarks on all the aspects. Those were used above to explain the scores. Due to lack of time only six of the eight participants were asked to describe their ideal tea moment. The main themes were: a sense of comfort, the warmth of the tea, connection with nature or cocooning indoors and the pleasant way in which the senses are stimulated.

Design criteria

Both quantitative and qualitative data were used in formulating design criteria for each of the aspects of making and drinking tea.

  • Tapping water Water should flow, it should be still, safe and visible. Tapping the water should require some quiet action. Water shouldn’t be wasted.
  • Boiling water The process of boiling water may take some time (more then a Quooker) but not too much (fire). Water should be visible while cooking, the process of cooking must be transparent (no black-box). The process should be natural and smooth but not too slow (is stressful).
  • Types of tea Tea should be natural (organic and unprocessed), should be beautiful, may be unknown and evoke curiosity. A practical way of preparing tea is preferred.
  • Tableware The container should allow one to feel the warmth (feedback) but not to hot to handle. One must be able to enclose the whole cup with your hands (no handle), tea colour must be clear, some weight is preferred, a small cup may be used for a special taste experience.


This experiment explored if the different parts in the process of making and drinking tea can become an activity which promotes wholeness and in how far this modified activity evokes factors of enlightenment. The experiment looked at four main aspects of making and drinking tea: tapping water, boiling water, the tea itself and the tableware. Users were presented with more of less embodied scenario’s. Wholeness and the factors of enlightenment were assessed using questionnaires. Optional comments gave more insight into the motivation of choices and the participants’ ideal tea moment.
For most aspects it was clear which scenario created the most wholeness in the participants: the source for tapping water, fire for cooking and tea leaves for making the tea. As hypothesised those were the actions and objects which were most natural and pure. Because there was no such distinction in the tableware the scores were mixed and depended on other, more embodied factors. The two opposing high scores (heavy glass and small bowl) may both be used to start prototyping. When asked to imagine making and drinking in the way that created the most wholeness almost all the favoured scenario’s ended above baseline with regards to the factors of enlightenment, stress and relaxation. This seems to indicate a positive correlation between the two. Only interest scored below baseline for some aspects but interest was very high to start with. 
From the clear results design criteria were created. Ways will be explored to implement them in a safe and practical way which also honours the participants ideal tea moment.


It became immediately clear that participants found it hard to understand what was meant by the question which probed wholeness. Throughout the experiment they found it hard to separate the wholeness from the fact that the method or object was practical and well-known. The experiment leader had to explain and give examples on several occasions. An alternative could be a step by step mirror-of-the-self-test (Alexander, 2004a) in which participants keep comparing two scenario’s the until they find the most wholeness promoting option. This would give them more time to reflect and look into themselves.

Even though the results were mostly clear presenting the scenario’s in a more embodied and multi-sensory way might have had stronger effects. In the case of the tableware tea could have been served. Adding for example a disposable cup would have introduced the element of unnaturalness and made the choice of scenario’s more in line with the others.


Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa, Murray Silverstein with Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King, Shlomo Angel. 1977. A Pattern Language : Towns, Buildings, Construction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Alexander, Christopher. 2004a. The Phenomenon of Life (Book 1). The Center for Environmental Structure, California. Chapter 8
Alexander, Christopher. 2004b. The Process of Creating Life (Book 2). The Center for Environmental Structure, California. p. 345
Wetzels, Hans. 2014. De extensies van de mens. De groene Amsterdammer (accessed 15-3-2020)

In collaboration with: Avans University of Applied Sciences, Centre of Applied Research for Art, Design and Technology (CARADT)

Embodied aspects of drinking tea

Data on drinking tea is not rare, branch organisations often interview the general public on their tea habits and consumption (Dutch National coffee and tea survey, 2018). This may give us information about taste preferences, perceptions and consumption behaviour but it doesn’t give much insight into how the actual act of drinking tea is experienced as part of the lived, everyday experiences and contexts. The aim of this project is to change the everyday act of drinking tea into a insight experience. To be able to do this in a way which will be accepted and hopefully welcomed it should be grounded in the lived everyday tea practice of people who play an active role in today’s busy society. The main goal of the interviews was to gain insight into the embodied aspects of the way in which the participants usually prepare and drink tea.

People, activity, context and embodiment

Fig. 1 Overview of PACE model

The PACT (People, Activity, Context, Technology) framework is a common approach for designing human-centred interactive systems. It starts from the idea that if technology changes it will change the activities people perform in a certain context. Hugo van Roy (CMD Avans) has iterated on this framework and intentionally left out technology and replaced it with embodiment (Fig. 1). This encompasses the whole of the context, activity and the individual. As a designer/ethnographer we look from the individual towards the embodiment. In this adjusted model one tries to describe the embodied experience from feelings, associations, actions, goals, etc. By dissecting the experience and linking it to the context and inner experience one may analyse how the embodied experience is structured. Depending on the meaning people attach to an experience the designer may then change the context and activity and through that the entire (embodied) experience. 

From embodiment to enlightenment

The ultimate aim of Magic tea is to generate (or at least invite) an insight experience during everyday life. Insight is usually acquired over many years and involves a set of mind states which are called the seven aspects of enlightenment. These include: attention, interest, joy, calm and concentration. The PACE model is useful for either filling the gaps or to enhance useful mind states and emotions already present. Basing the interviews on this model could also generate knowledge on how the tea practice is embedded in daily life and what circumstances may create the most fertile opportunities for a Magic Tea intervention.


Six semi-structured interviews were conducted with 1 male and 5 females between the ages of 19 and 52. As a basis for these interviews the four context domains were used:

  • Time (e.g. Do you drink tea on set times?)
  • Social (e.g. Do you mostly drink tea alone or in company?)
  • Objects (e.g. What objects to you use for making and drinking tea? Including the type of tea)
  • Location (e.g. What differences do you experience when drinking tea at different locations?)
  • Cognition and emotion were added to take into account things like associations, sensory experiences, memories.
Fig. 2 Observation of a participant

Before the start of the interview participants were asked to make and drink tea the way they would do usually. This process was observed (pictures of this process were taken for 3 participants, Fig. 2).

Fig. 3 Visual Analogue Scale containing 5 factors of enlightenment and stress and relaxation

At the end of the interview participants were asked to fill in a Visual Analoge Scale (VAS) (Fig. 3) containing 5 factors of enlightenment and and the amount of stress and relaxation they felt during their favourite tea moment.


The interviews were annotated using a different colour for every domain. The annotated notes were transferred to an Excel sheet for easy access and comparison. Input from the cognition and emotion domain was processed using word counting. From this list 17 main themes surfaced. The most relevant findings were translated into three data visualisations.

PACE findings

Fig. 4 Diagram summarizing the main findings using the PACE approach

Fig. 4 shows the main findings from the interviews with regards to time, location, objects, cognition and emotion and the social aspect of drinking tea. Most participants drink tea in the morning, mid afternoon and before going to bed. The preferred location is at home using they own teas and utensils. Drinking tea at work or school is considered a less pleasant experience. People drink mostly herbal tea (dry herbs and mixtures) followed by green and black tea. When making tea people find convenience very important: they use tea bags and water cookers to speed up the process. People often drink alone but do enjoy drinking together with family and friends. A sweet to go with the tea is appreciated.

VAS outcomes

Fig. 5 Summary of the VAS results

Five participants filled in the VAS. Participants could score up to 7.5 on the mind state aspects of the scale. When imagining they favoured tea moment stress is very low. People find drinking tea calming (6.24) and relaxing (5.86). To a lesser extent it sparks attention, interest and concentration and is also associated with feelings of joy.

Interview themes

Fig. 6 Main interview themes and quotes

The time aspect is very important in the whole tea ritual. People use it, or want to use it to structure their day, it slows them down and sometimes they have to speed up the process in order to be on time. A lot of enjoyment and satisfaction comes from teas’ ability to support connections. Be it with others or a (quiet) part of oneself. Participants also enjoyed the way all the senses are involved in making and drinking tea. It is often beautiful (colours, table ware) and pleasant (warmth, taste). Tea is associated with health and sometimes used for cleansing purposes. Tea is often mentioned as something which extends the good things already present (company, beauty, seasons, peacefulness.)


Drinking tea is about much more than quenching a thirst. It is a way for people to structure their lives and create meaningful and pleasant moments. Drinking tea connects people to what they value: their friendships, health, inner peace or taking care of themselves. Drinking tea creates pleasant bodily sensations. People enjoy the warmth, taste and colour. Tea supports quiet activities like reading or just staring out the window. It can also comfort and relax. All those qualities make tea a good candidate for an everyday activity which may lead to a transcendent experience. This is underlined by Fig. 5 which shows that stress is low and factors of enlightenment are present, especially calm and relaxation.

Thanks to: Wendy Lafarre & Pietertje Westerink, Paul Neervoort, Hugo van Roy. In collaboration with: Avans University of Applied Sciences, Centre of Applied Research for Art, Design and Technology (CARADT)