How You Drink Tea Matters/Effect of Ritual on Tea ceremony

DURATION/ Jan, 2016 - May, 2016

DELIVERABLES / Research Report, Poster Presentation, Actionable insights

METHODS/ Experimental Design, Questionaire, Statistical Analysis (2x2 mixed ANOVA)

CLIENT/ Colgate Tea Club

PEOPLE / Charlotte Lou, Anthony Guevara, Berit Danis

OUTCOME / Service Approach validated; Insights incorporated into the weekly meetings of Tea Club



I was running the Colgate Tea Club at the time of research, a 300+ member club with weekly cadence and an average turnout of 30. I initiated the research in an effort to understand whether the tea drinking environment affects attendee’s cognitive and emotional experience. The hypothesis was that the environment as a whole - the traditional tea utensils, serene background music, guided ceremony, and friendly social exchange - provides cognitive and emotional value above and beyond the beverage itself.

*This is an exploratory project to validate the value of the current service approach. The service approach can be seen as a ‘prototype’. Please refer to the end of this page for a thought experiment that revamps the study with UX lingo.


From Observation to Literature


We studied the benefit of a traditional meditation.


Then zoomed in on those with a shorter duration


And Identified a gap in the literature

We observed through informal conversations during our weekly tea meeting that attendees seem to feel calmer and more cheerful after each meeting. Anecdotally, there is also a comparison between tea ceremony and meditation. The above two observations give us the hunch that perhaps tea ceremony could offer the same benefits as a meditation.


Psychological benefits such as higher attention, alertness, creativity, cognitive flexibility; and reduced risks for neurodegenerative diseases, stress, and general cognitive decline.


A brief mindfulness interruption throughout the course of the day could somewhat approximate the effect of long-term mindfulness practice.


Nothing on the psychological and cognitive effects of tea ceremony or similar practices. So we decided that the ‘moving meditation’ hypotehsis is worth testing.



Experimental Design

Cognitive Flexibility - The Stroop Test, D2 Concentration Test, Controlled Oral Word Association Test (all of which results in measurable performance as percentage correct)

Mindfulness and Affect - Positive and Negative Affect scale (PANAS) with the addition of mindfulness as the key measure (all of the dimensions rated on Linkert Scale)

We recruited a total of 51 participants from the psychology/neuroscience student pool of Colgate University. The participants are randomly assigned to either condition. The procedure of the experiment is outlined in the following diagram.


Results & Discussion

We conducted a 2x2 mixed design ANOVA to analyze the effect of the tea condition, with pre and post comparison. Overall, the results are very encouraging.

Although cognitive flexibility does not differ significantly between the two conditions (Figure 1), the post test of the tea ceremony condition shows statistically significant increase in mindfulness (Figure 2) and decrease in negative affect (Figure 3).

The general practical implication is that ceremonial tea drinking could be an alternative meditation form or therapeutic activity that leads to lower negativity and higher level of mindfulness. Mindfulness may indeed be incorporated into our life by something as simple as having a cup of tea!


Cognitive Flexibility

Figure 1. No Statistically significant effects were found for main effect of Tea Condition, main effect of Cognitive Flexibility, and any interactions.

Negative Affect

Figure 2. Main effect of Negative Affect, F(1,49) = 33.268, p < 0.001; main effect of Tea Condition, F(1, 49) = 5.373, p= 0.025; interaction between Negative Affect and Tea Condition, F(1,49) = 8.946, p = 0.004.)


Figure 3. Main effect of Mindfulness, F(1,49) = 26.524, p < 0.001; interaction between Mindfulness and Tea Condition, F(1,49) = 11.318, p = 0.001.)


The immediate implication for Tea Club is a validation of the service approach we’ve been using. In a service context, what I did was essentially an R&D exploratory project to validate whether all the thoughts we put into creating the service environment makes a positive impact on user’s cognitive and social experience.

Before moving on to disecting this opporunity area from a UX angle, here’s some general limitations of the study.

  • Baseline Confound - There are considerable individual differences between the two groups’ baseline measure of cognitive flexibility and affect/mindfulness. They might have hidden some of the effect of the tea ceremony.

  • Generalizability - The exact setting of the ceremonies or the way one ritualizes tea can vary widely, which might challenge the generalizability of the findings.

  • Precise Contribution - The study looked at the effect of tea ceremony as an entire package. Futher study is needed on the effect of each individual component (tea, setup, conversation, etc.).

Revamp / A UX Thought Experiment


I see research as a creative endeavor, and post-study reflection/brainstorming allows me to practice assessing a study holistically and continuously improve as a researcher. Here is what my typical thought experiment is like:

  • Did I design and carry out the research the best I could given the research goal (to understand club member need for weekly tea meeting) and constraints (user access, time, budget, resource, etc.)?

  • What would I do differently if one or more of the constraints were to be different?

What if…

(1) There were more constraints on time, lab resources, budget, AND/OR (2) I was equipped with the knowledge and user research skills I have now, I would employ more explicit user studies to understand club member’s behavior and motivation of coming to the tea club. The weekly tea meeting and the club’s marketing email might be a good place to recruit users.

  • I would use survey to gauge the overall experience (net promoter score), how they would rate different aspects of the tea drinking experience (likert scale on taste of tea, social satisfaction, mood changes, etc.).

  • I would conduct contextual observation and interviews to deeply understand how the current environment of the tea club experience makes users feel (peaceful, happy, socially connected, etc.), why they feel that way (personable outreach email, mini tea-knowledge workshop, genuine conversations), what part of the experience matters most to them (the beverage, conversations, cultural exposure, etc.), and so on.

This qualitative data would help us understand the subjective experience of club members, and provide the most authentic data cross-validated by what users SAY and what they DO.




Moving Towards Formal User Research

The club was a huge success despite the lack of formal user research. We used informal methods such as post-event team debrief, informal user feedback through conversation and emails, and a lot of meaningful trial and error. The in-lab experiment allowed us to derive statistical significance (p values!), which helped us make a compelling case on the generalizable benefits of tea ritual.

However, we need formal user research (like the one proposed above) to gather user feedback and contextual insights so that we can better design a social experience that resonates with user needs.

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