A Mechanical Tea Ceremony

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A mechanical tea ceremony is conducted by an apparatus that was designed to brew tea in a deliberately slow and aesthetically pleasing process.

Instead of simply spitting out hot liquid from an anonymous black-box, the machine retains all sensual components and affective qualities of the tea-making process. It assists the user only by taking care of the objective technical variables such as ensuring the correct brewing time and the water temperature, that could compromise the quality of the product. Thus, it removes the tedious aspects of the tea-making process, such as timing and anxious waiting, while emphasizing the sensual aspects.

The result is a mechanical tea ceremony that does not simply provide good tea, but also creates the right mood to fully appreciate it.

A Mechanical Tea Ceremony - Kristian Gohlke

To make tea, the user simply fills the strainer with tea leaves and places the packaging on top of the machine. Then the teapot has to be filled with fresh boiling water the thermometer must be inserted into the nozzle.

Once the user presses the ‘play’ button, the machine takes over.
The device reads RFID-tags embedded in the packaging of the tea, to set the appropriate brewing temperature and brewing time for a given tea. Once the water has cooled down to the desired value, the strainer is positioned above the teapot and lowered into the water.
(Update: Yes, an automatic water supply that pours the water over the tea-leaves is scheduled for version 2.0.)

The remaining waiting time is unobtrusively indicated by an LED that softly pulsates at a gradually increasing rate.

After the set amount of time has passed the tea leaves are removed from the water and the machine announces the feshly made tea by playing a soothing rhythmic soundpattern on a real wood block.

A semi-automatic control mode that that allows the user to manually set a desired brewing time and a temperature is also available. As a brew can be precisely reproduced, users can play with the parameters to find their perfect brew. Connoisseurs of high-quality green teas found this particularly appealing and embarked on a journey to find the ideal parameters for each specimen from their expensive tea collection. Once a good setting has been found it can be associated with any available RFID-Tag to be preserved for further use.
Full manual control of the strainer is also possible by connecting any classic arcade-style joystick.

The choice of materials also reflects the aspired affective qualities. The wooden housing and the metal control knobs of the device were scavenged from a classic 1962 kitchen radio manufactured by Nordmende in Bremen, Germany that went by the beautiful name “Regina ST”. The teapot shown in the picture was manufactured by Kockums Malmö, Sweden, most probably in the late 1960ties.

The tea machine was built as a hands-on project to accompany my B.Sc. thesis “Apparatus and Pleasure – Interaction Beyond Functionality” at Bremen University.

I designed and built the machine in early 2007.
As of 2010 the machine is still operational and being put to daily use.

September 2007