project 3: time-based instructions

Tea making may sound simple at first, however, I’ve learned that it’s a fairly complex task to do when there’s different techniques and nuances to watch out for. In this project, we are to become ‘experts’ at the task given to us and teach others through a one minute instruction video. We can only splice clips together and cannot speak or add text to our video. As such, we will be learning how to seek out what’s important and what’s not—in addition to knowing how to communicate with specific parameters.

10/15/19 research

For this project, I got tasked with ‘How to Make Tea’. The first assignment we had to do was to just research and get to know our topic, and I decided to first make tea from what I know already. Which was from tea bags.

Without researching the specific ways to make tea, I first went to entropy and just picked a tea I thought would have interesting flavor and smell profiles to look into.

I ended up selecting the tea named, Peach Tranquility by Teavanna (a well known tea company that collaborates with Starbucks). As such, for the first step of my research, I explored tea the way I’ve always known how to make tea.

Before making the tea, I created a list of things I wanted to consider, to observe and look into.

Pre-Steep:

  • Scent
  • Visuals
  • Type of bag/tea

Steeped:

  • Smell
  • Taste
  • Color
  • Technique: Straining? Pulling up and down? or let sit, no touching.
  • Temperature of Water

Attempt 1: Peach Tranquility by Teavanna

Pre-Steep:

— Smells softly of peach, citrus, fruity
— Herbal tea
— Had a lot of flower buds in addition to the tea leaves

Steeped:

Smell:
— Mildly floral

Taste:
— Sweet: but not the sugar sweet, more fruit sweet
— Herby
— Fruity: peach, berry
— Citrus: not sour but hits most at the back of the throat (Mild)

Color:
— Tea was tinted light yellow and green.

Technique:
— 5 minutes
— Pulled up and down in the beginning to soak
— Pulled up and down to drain

Temp:
— Lukewarm (because I was dumb and waited too long)

Overall, Peach Tranquility was a very mild yet tasteful tea. The descriptors on the packet (“Luscious peach with light citrus & floral undertones”) was spot on, even though everything about this tea was on the mild side. I was still able to taste each distinct flavor note and can tell what kind of tea it is.

The Research:

After the first attempt, I then looked to the internet for other ways I could make tea, outside of the prepackaged teabags.

Source 1: https://www.tetleyusa.com/perfect-brew

  • Tetley: an India owned tea company, second largest in the United States.
  • Water should be boiled only once, more than once would decrease the oxygen level too much, thus affecting taste.
  • Water should preferably have a low mineral content for stronger flavors.
  • For black tea, water should be poured as soon as it’s boiled (water should be extremely hot) so that the flavor and its richness would be at its best.
  • Tea bags: patience is key, bag should be steeped for about 3–5 minutes for the water to infuse with the tea flavor.
  • Poking and prodding should be avoided.
  • Both tea leaves and teabag: after steeping, brew should cool down a bit for 2–3 minutes so that the flavors are more clear and developed.
  • Recommended steep time: Black tea for 2–3 minutes; Green tea for 1–2 minutes; Fruit & Herbal for 3–5 minutes.

Source 2: https://www.ohhowcivilized.com/how-to-correctly-brew-a-cup-of-tea/

  • Warm tea pot and cups so that poured water wouldn’t cool and change the temperature as much.
  • Boil cold filtered water as it wouldn’t add other flavors to your tea.
  • Gentle boil is recommended for black and green tea.
  • Rule of thumb: 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of tea per cup or 3 grams per cup
  • Steep high quality tea for best flavors, good quality tea is rolled whole leaf tea.
  • Keep track of time: set a timer.
  • There are many vessel options: teapot is one of the easiest.
  • Recommended loose leaf tea as the content in tea bags are typically leftover broken bits aka ‘tea dust’ that are collected after whole tea is processed.
  • Recommended steep time is 4–5 minutes for black tea, 3 minutes for green and oolong tea, and 4 minutes for white tea.
  • Leaving in tea leaves for too long can make the tea bitter.

Source 3: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/the-best-way-to-brew-tea_b_5995b2b8e4b00dd984e37ce3

  • Boil fresh water as previously boiled water loses too much oxygen, which can affect the flavor of the tea.
  • Warm teapot/mug by swishing and dumping freshly boiled water out. This would keep tea hotter for longer time.
  • Loose leaf tea: 1 teaspoon per 8–12 oz. cup.
  • Pot of tea: 1 teaspoon per cup.
  • Tea should infuse for 3–5 minutes depending on desired strength.
  • Most teas should be brewed once as it would lose strength and become more bitter (more tannins extracted from tea).
  • If tea is too hot, putting a spoon in it will help it cool down.

Research Reflection:
From the three websites I looked at, I noticed that there were numerous similarities in the tips they gave:

  • Boil fresh filtered (low mineral) water: won’t obstruct taste.
  • Loose leaf tea is superior!
  • Black tea should be steeped with the hottest water, and the longest time.
  • Steeping too long can make the tea too bitter due to the tannins.

After my research, I then went to the closest tea shop here (called the Blue Monkey Tea Shop) and purchased two types of 2 oz of black tea: Ginger Peach and Blueberry. And of course, I had to try them like I did with the teabag.


Loose Leaf Tea 1: Ginger Peach Black Tea

Pre-Steep:

— Strong smell of peach
— Notes of lemon
— No ginger
— Blend: black tea, lemon petals

Steeped:

Smell:
— Mildly peach

Taste:
— No hint of peach or ginger
— No strong/overpowering tastes: tastes a bit different from typical black tea
— More leafy

Color:
— Medium light yellower red orange

Technique:
— 4 minutes
— Left to steep untouched
— Pulled up and down to drain

Temp:
— Hot (Black tea recommended 210)


Tea 2: Blueberry Black Tea

Pre-Steep:

— Strong smell of artificial blueberry
— Notes of floral
— Blend: black tea, dried blueberries, blue petals

Steeped:

Smell:
— Mildly of dried blueberry

Taste:
— Subtle hint of dried blueberry
— No strong tastes, tastes a bit different from typical black tea
— More leafy than the ginger peach tea

Color:
— Deep red orange

Technique:
— 4 minutes
— Left to steep untouched
— Pulled up and down to drain

Temp:
— Hot (Black tea recommended 210)

Additional Notes:
What I noticed between the two teas (besides color and scent) was that neither of them tasted strongly of their labelled flavor. The ginger peach didn’t taste ginger nor peach, it just held more earthier notes of black tea than I was used to. Blueberry was the same, although some people I asked noted that it did smell and taste stronger (of its labelled flavor) than the Ginger Peach.

10/17/19 example videos

In class, we were shown numerous videos that would give us ideas as to what is and isn’t effective for an instructional video.

“Se7en” Opening:

Observations:

  • Interesting cuts, engaging.
  • Overlays for suspense: fits in with the theme.
  • Music tempo fluctuates occasionally, creates tension.
  • Excessive number of jump cuts, feels random: perhaps intentional.

“Around the World in 80 Days” (at 1:58):

Observations:

  • Visual puns: Clock with legs + bike = chasing time.
  • Music piques interest even when the visuals on the screen are simple.
  • Music also changes according to visuals: whale, sea = deeper percussion.
  • Still visuals animated (moved around).
  • Delightful sounds.

Smuckers Advertisement:

Observations:

  • Many closeup shots.
  • Extremely short: gets to the point.
  • Good lighting + macro-shots = visually pleasing and makes you want to eat it.
  • Jump cuts to many different angles to portray different details of the PB and J sandwich being made.

In addition to the various movie openings, animations and commercials, we also watched a few example instructional videos.

“How to Make Bread. Super Easy”:

Observations:

  • Clear angles, hands/arms don’t obscure camera.
  • Confusing in some frames, person walks out and walks back into frame in the beginning (very unnecessary, does not seem well thought out — loses professionalism).
  • Some parts could be cut: gutters!

“Easy Bread”:

Observations:

  • Instructions are fairly easy to follow.
  • Hands don’t obstruct camera.
  • Shaky camera: transitions are rougher.
  • Intro music: is it necessary?

In addition to the videos, we also read a section of the book Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. Here, I read about the different ways our brains could fill information between blank spaces of one action to another — aka gutters. I believe that this is extremely helpful for this project as trimming everything into one minute would require a balance between good pacing and jump cuts that makes sense.

10/22/19 storyboarding

After watching numerous example videos, we were then asked to create our first storyboard of the project. I initially approached it by taking pictures as I went along, but for the second draft, I approached it by filming the process of making tea on the white seamless background with my camera, and then screenshotting it on my computer afterwards.

Draft 1:

Here, I took pictures of each step as I made the tea. I then printed it out and taped it together into a strip (easier to be read in one continuous line).

(above) storyboard cut and glued into a strip

Issues:

  • Too short: gaps between each step is too long! Not as informative as I wanted it to be.
  • First frame isn’t clear: what are the measurements? How much tea?
  • Time: how long do I steep the tea for?

Draft 2:

After realizing that I had too little information in draft 1, for draft 2, I filmed and then screenshotted each frame instead of taking pictures of each step as it would be more consistent. After compiling all the images, I then printed everything out on tabloid sized paper and cut them into one long strip. This way, each ‘snapshot’ could be read easier.

(left) all the snapshots complied; (right) post-printing and gluing

Critique Takeaways:

Think about:

  • Aperture
  • Simplifying/Complex-ifying
  • Distractions: too many things obscuring the main focus in the frame.
  • Different angles: arm position? What point of view of the video?
  • Correct resolution for the project: check website.
  • Point of view: First person? Third person? Has to be consistent.

Reflection:
For my first storyboard of the project, I had 25 photos in total. To be honest, for making tea, I feel like (I agree) there was too many pictures and there are some that could be taken out. Some issues I found were:

  • Although I was able to show most of the process, I struggled showing the temperature of the water. Steam was obscured by white background.
  • Focus issues for some of the frames.
  • Deciding camera angles before water cools too much.
  • Hands/object weren’t in frame.
  • Find a way to show heat, time (phone timer? clock? watch?) and amount of tea.
  • Consider getting teapots or a glass cup.
  • Experiment with different angles for a clearer view of the tea.
  • Print it out larger: too small can hide details.

10/25/19 video clips: draft 1

After storyboarding, we then moved onto filming video clips of our instructional video. One thing I focused on right off the bat, was background noise. As I’m trying to teach an audience on how to make tea, I wanted to capture the sounds in the process of it. Furthermore, I believe that sound for this task is extremely important, as it gives cues on what’s next: i.e. the boiling water in the kettle.

As I was filming the clips, I aimed to focus on not only each step but also the sound—as tea should be a more relaxing task to do. As such, prior to filming, I looked at ASMR videos of cooking (like Youtube channels Peaceful Cuisine and Cooking Tree) for inspiration, as not only do they not have anyone talking, but it also focuses on the sounds of cooking. These auditory details also help indicate what is happening, when something is done etc.

Cooking Tree:

Peaceful Cuisine:

Draft 1:

As such, for my first draft, I shot in two different angles:

I ultimately decided on only using two angles for this project as 60 seconds is extremely short for the task and I didn’t want to make the video too complex. By only using two different angles throughout, it adds interest and clarity — especially with the steeping step.

For this iteration, I also tried to use my phone as a microphone, hoping that maybe it would help catch better audio of the tea making. However, what ended up happening when I boiled the water was that the audio became too messy and you couldn’t hear the distinct water boil. Moreover, I needed my phone for a part of my video and I couldn’t have my phone be in two places at once.

What worked and what didn’t (critique):

  • Pacing of each step is good: soothing.
  • Each step is clear.
  • Phone as microphone (didn’t work).
  • Video was too long (40 seconds over).
  • Autofocus: faster adjustment/less adjustment can shave off a few seconds.
  • Consistency with the frame compositions between jump cuts.
  • Faster actions: i.e. pouring water, scooping tea (helps shorten video).
  • Seamless white background: looks/seems too sterile, adjust cool/warm tones (doesn’t fit the mood).
  • Too much warm tone in lighting.

Reflection:
Although to me, it’s good that I have a source of inspiration to look at, on the flip side, it may hinder me from being open to other opportunities to film. As such, I will aim to shoot my video with these YouTube videos in mind, but find my style of shooting that’ll not deviate away from the main goal of communicating well.

10/30/19 video filming: draft 2

Looking at the critique from last class session, I wanted to see if I could alter the aperture, however, I ended up not being not able to as my camera has a set aperture for video. What I was able to explore though, was lighting, as last times was too warm. For this video, I borrowed cool-toned lights from the downstairs photography renting room in addition to the tripod.

For this iteration, I mainly focused on ways I could cut down the video as the first draft went over time by 40 seconds.
To do so, I did a number of things:

  • I showed the beginning of the water pour but jump cut to when all of it was in the kettle: took off ~10 seconds.
  • Added multiple jump cuts to show the strainer, open it, and display the tea before I scooped it (made it resemble a bit of stop motion): took off ~15 seconds.
  • I also added a jump cut to when I scooped tea out of the bag and putting it into the strainer: took off ~5 seconds.

Issues + Critique:

  • Even after splicing and taking gutters into account, video was still 18 seconds over.
  • Switching to cooler lighting doesn’t do anything about the ‘sterile’ atmosphere as described previous draft.
  • I kept the element of showing the phone (timer) to the camera before setting it down, which ended up up being too jarring of a jump.
  • Shows instruction clearer than before, more concise.
  • Is too much context (complete background change) a good thing?
(above) video consideration notes from class

Additional Observations + Notes:

  • I’ve been alternating the Ginger Peach tea and the Blueberry Black tea between the drafts, however, I noticed that the Ginger Peach is actually lighter and more yellow.
  • Blueberry Black is more darker red = more appealing (I should stick to the blueberry tea).
  • I’ve been working in the dimensions 1280 x 720 instead of the required 1024 x 768 aspect ratio for the past few drafts, so this time I cropped it using my iPhone (iOS 13 allows for simple video editing) as the newest iMovie took away the cropping function. (It didn’t take away quality, thank goodness.)
  • After watching other people’s video during class time, I saw another tea video that was filmed in their dorm room. Although I liked how the context felt right for tea making, I thought that the miscellaneous items in the background became slightly distracting.

11/1–11/2/19 video filming: draft 3 + finetuning

After going through two iterations, I found that my main issues were timing/pacing and showing context (background’s too sterile). As such, I managed to contact a family friend, who lives in Pittsburgh and I’ve met up with recently, to ask if I could film at her house. She agreed, and we set a time so I could go over to film.

When I entered the house, I looked for potential spots to film and ended up with two options: one at the dinner table and one at the kitchen counter. I ended up filming first at the dinner table (draft 3) and then the kitchen (draft 4) and edited both to see how each turned out.

(above) draft 3, dinner table
(above) draft 4, kitchen counter

I ended up liking the third draft the most, as there happened to be a big window by the table, which meant better natural light. The main issue with the fourth draft was that by noon, the sunlight that shone through the window and onto the countertop had passed over the house. As such, I had to take out the lights I borrowed from the photography department. The countertop was also too cramped, and it was also hard to contextualize because some of the background props felt more distracting to me. Furthermore, because surface area was too small, I couldn’t zoom out far enough for everything to still be in frame when I cropped it to the required aspect ratio.

For my fifth draft, which was my final draft, I went back to the dinner table to film. Originally, I had the lights on in addition to the natural light, but halfway realized that when I changed the angle, the reflection was too warm against the table.

As I was filming and editing, I focused on the pace and time as for all the drafts I’ve filmed so far, I’ve gotten close but not yet to a length exactly or under a minute. I also ended up putting the tea into the mason jar as it’d enable me to be faster to scoop the tea out. It was just significantly easier to set on the table and kept still. In addition, I also changed the ringtone to the least alarming sound I could find, and attempted to show exactly how much tea I was putting in the strainer.

One issue that I didn’t expect to encounter during my iterations was the background noise. Because the house was so silent, the sounds of the clock and the birds were picked up by my camera, and I had to move both when I filmed the final time.

Reflection:
Overall, I’m pretty happy with what I finished with as my attempt to contextualize ended up helping the video than add distraction. However, I did end up struggling with finding the right balance for pacing as I continued to get the video into a minute length. Even though parts in the middle of my final was sped up more than my previous attempts, I figured that I’ve still come a long way compared to my first draft.

If I were to do this project again, I’d focus even more on the flow of the video. Some things that I’d fix would be: taking the spoon out of the frame after I put it in the strainer, tilt the kettle more to avoid obscuring the camera more, and make sure that the autofocus stays consistent.

Filming tea making itself gives you many things to think about, like positioning/composition of the frame, how you pour water, how you strain. Essentially, I found some parts harder to film as I would be working against the clock. One instance would be when I put the timer in frame, I couldn’t do more than two takes within the first twenty seconds of pouring in the water as the color of the tea would change too fast. However, the more I filmed, the better I got with the technical aspects of filming like pouring water faster to save time and/or attempting to be more consistent with which side of the screen my arms enter frame.

P.S. Tea is perfect for all the cold mornings :)

Hey! I’m currently studying design @CMU with a focus on communications design + minor in HCI. You can find some of the projects I’ve worked on here.