East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

Making tea and magic


japanese-tea-ceremony1Doing research is always a source of delight.
In a true zen way, sometimes we don’t find what we are looking for, but we do find what we needed to find.
For reasons long to explain, I’m reading a few articles about tea – its history and diffusion.
And I chanced upon an article published in 2013 in the magazine Explore :

Metaphisics of Tea Ceremony: a randomized trial investigating the roles of intent and belief on mood while drinking tea.

… By two researchers called Shiah and Radin.
Strong stuff, eh?

The idea the two researchers that authored the paper wanted to test was, is there a connection between the preparation of a cup of tea and the enjoyment and mood effects that drinking that tea has?
In other words – is a cup of tea prepared according to a strict ceremony better for the spirit than one, say, brewed while listening to the news and trying to decide what to get for dinner?


To see whether the intentions of the person preparing the tea or the belief of the tea-drinker somehow influenced the effects of the brew, the researchers led a straightforward, double-blind statistical test, like the ones that are routinely done for testing drugs.

Each evening, for seven days in a row, volunteers recorded their mood using the Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaire. On days three, four, and five of the test, each participant drank 600 mL of oolong tea in the morning and again in the afternoon. One randomly assigned group blindly received tea that had been intentionally treated by three Buddhist monks; the other group blindly received untreated tea from the same source. On the last day of the test, each person indicated what type of tea he/she believed he/she had been drinking.

It’s not as weird as it sounds.

Now, I’ve worked as a statistical data analyst and as a teacher of statistical data analysis, and therefore I find the subject doubly interesting – and the paper is to me a fun read.
I realize some of you out there might be less than thrilled at the somewhat dry exposition, at the tables and the graphics.
But this is really a great source of inspiration.

Consider the last paragraph of the article

A future experiment might test whether intentions influence the chemical composition of food or beverage, but beyond the underlying mechanisms of this phenomenon, the empirical results of the present test suggests that mother’s soup tastes better because it does contain a secret ingredient: loving intentions.

This is indeed a statistical study in magic.


Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

6 thoughts on “Making tea and magic

  1. Couldn’t resist and I read the whole article. 🙂
    It’s so full of ideas for stories.
    I love articles like this because they are really inspiring and, you know, I’m always looking for intriguing news about tea and coffee. 😀


  2. Would it work the other way too, you think? I mean, should I make tea for someone with the worst intentions…


    • It’s called poisoning.
      It’s another literary genre.


      • No, no, no. I had in mind something far less… traceable? Detectable? Oolong and assorted curses, you know…


        • I see…
          The Chinese had a special branch of their Heaven’s court that was tasked with finding and bringing down people doing just that… abusing of their magic for nefarious purposes.
          Incidentally, this special branch of the heavenly court was called the Ministry of Thunder and Storms.


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