Distance of InTEAmacy

Using Tea Time As A Tool

Food experience designer Eunkyung Kang in South Korea puts an emphasis on food as an eating experience rather than as an object. Her projects focus on interpersonal understanding, communication and behaviors. "Distance of InTEAmacy" is an ongoing project which started in April 2018 and uses tea time as a tool to observe how food works in order to change behavior in unfamiliar social situations.

Distance of InTEAmacy

Distance of InTEAmacy gives people a new perspective on the day-to-day activity of tea time. Eunkyung wants to test whether the simple action of drinking tea can naturally create intimacy or open communication for the participants.

Before the performance

Eunkyung minutely schedules the tea time, from the beginning of preparation to the moment of enjoying the tea.  The experience takes up 30 minutes in order for the participants to fully immerse themselves in the experience. The participants are asked to bring some of their own tea that is connected to a personal story. Before forming the groups, a short session is held where participants have to walk in between each other or pass each other by on purpose. This choreographed movement helps them to awaken their sense for comfortable and uncomfortable distances.

Preparing the tea

Preparation for the tea time begins with a piece of gauze, a sharing teacup, personal cups for individuals, a pencil and tea. The tea time begins with them telling stories to each other about the tea they brought. These are recorded on the sharing cup in the form of drawings or scribbles.

The tea is prepared by removing the tea from the original, branded packaging and wrapping it in gauze: the participants’ own personal teabag. Then, the group decides on a comfortable distance between members. All the new teabags are then connected using a long piece of string stretched the distance from one participant’s mouth to another.

Tasting the tea

The tea is made in the personal cups, and all the teabags of the group are combined in the sharing cup. The participants taste their own tea first and then share each other’s tea so they can taste the difference. The combined tea has a unique, blended taste and stimulates fresh conversations about common issues. They gradually build a relationship within the short tea time.

InTEAmacy sketches

InTEAmacy tea bags and cups

Sharing tea as a metaphor for human relationships

Eunkyung finds it interesting that expressions describing flavors resemble how we describe emotional impressions of a person or relationship.  The taste of the tea is different for each ‘distance of intimacy’ and the description of the tea shows the same parallel. Therefore the taste of the combined tea represents the taste of the conversation and the taste of intimacy.
The traces left by the tea, such as color and
smell, combined with the scribbles on the sharing tea cup, graphically and linguistically represent the action of drinking tea as a social action to build relationships.

Finally, the distance measurements between the participants show that having tea time actually helps to create intimacy among people. Sociologist Edward H. Hall classifies three types of intimacy distance: intimate distance is around 45 cm between two people, personal distance is between 46 and 120 cm and social and public distance is when the distance between two people is 120 cm or more. The distance between the tea drinkers stays mostly in the range of  intimate or personal distance. The audience is intrigued by the difference between their intuition of the distance and the actual result.

Eunkyung emphasizes that the importance of the project is to reveal that the notion of intimacy depends heavily on societal norms, for instance hierarchy or gender. Is the distance of a father and son relationship longer than a mother and daughter’s? Is the distance between friends closer than between colleagues? And what is the effect of social hierarchy, especially in places where this is still a strong factor, like in South Korea? Are there specific influencing factors and differences between nationalities? She will continue to search for the answers.


Su Hyun Park

Text by our Finland & Korea correspondent Su Hyun Park.