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Collecting tea stories to conceptualize an innovative chai-maker

Chai is an integral part of every Indian household and the national hot beverage of choice. It is a regular entertainer, a refreshing drink, an excuse to indulge in friendly neighbourhood gossip as well as intense political discussions. 

Yet the Home Appliances Industry has failed to leverage India’s obsession with chai. In contrast to the many coffee makers available in the market, there are still no automatic chai brewing machines. We examined if this gap in the market could be translated into an opportunity by addressing an unmet user need - the desire for a personalised ready-to-consume cup of tea. Contextual inquiries, tea shop visits, and multiple focus group discussions helped identify the macro and micro opportunities.

To ensure that the appliance replicates the authentic tea-making process, we documented popular and ideal recipes by talking to tea experts ranging from the Taj restaurants to the next-door tapris and Irani chai corners. 

Next, using a high-fidelity prototype of the product, a Validation Study was conducted to gain user feedback on the product design and its features. This led to further design iterations and made the product more user-centric.

The study culminated in:

  • identifying the opportunity area for a hot-beverage maker by understanding the competitive landscape, technology trends and lifestyle aspirations of Urban Indians. 

  • insights into user's tea consumption patterns and tea recipes

  • pain points in the tea making process and in accessing tea in out-of-home scenarios

  • recommendations for the product design and development

  • opportunity areas for improvement from the Validation Study



Project Duration

3 months

+ 2-week validation study


Research Lead,

Research Planning


Anish Krishnan

Samriddhi Jain

Prasad Nimbalkar


hot beverage maker research process.png


To understand the market scenario in the Home Appliance sector for hot beverages, we mapped the current product offerings in the Indian market. This involved both countertop appliances as well as handheld gadgets.

We gathered an understanding of the Millennial and Gen Z lifestyle and mindsets through published reports. This helped us identify behavioural shifts and generation-defining insights.

It was also pertinent to study industry changes, trends in technology, lifestyle and influencing factors that impact the decision making of the young generation. 

We also collected market data on the industry size of tea and coffee in India, the influence of new business models such as Chai Point and the rise of upscale chai cafes. 


We defined the target audience for our research - their economic background and lifestyle aspirations. 

We created hypotheses regarding the pain points they might experience in making Chai at home and access it in out-of-home scenarios. These led to making detailed discussion guides for interactions with heavy tea consumers. 



We identified consumers in Bangalore, Delhi and Pune who were habituated to multiple cups of tea in a day (more than 3 cups per day). We interacted with them in their homes to understand their consumption pattern, tea making process and the problems faced before, during and after making Chai. We inquired about their out-of-home consumption and challenges faced in those scenarios. To gain actionable insights, we guided users into an 'I wish I could' answering format for the various challenges they faced.



We had discussions with Thought Leaders, i.e. innovators or owners of new businesses centered around Chai, regarding their take on people's consumption patterns and needs. 


We also spoke to Chai Experts to understand the various recipes for making tea. For this, we met Chefs ranging from The Taj Restaurants to the next-door "tapri's" and Irani chai corners. 



On analyzing the information collected from user and expert interactions, we built insights and deep-empathy with the users. Each observation and finding from the research was scrutinized from the WHAT, WHY AND SO WHAT lens to arrive at actionable insights for concept generation.


1. From these inquiries, we were able to establish that Tea is indeed the hot-beverage of choice among the sample. 

"Chai is the antidote for tiredness, sleepiness and boredom. It refreshes me."

2. We got an in-depth understanding of the user needs. We were able to deep dive into the problems faced while making tea and while purchasing a cup of tea when not at home. These insights helped us with the initial ideation.

"Everyone at home has a different preference. Even my maid gets frustrated making so many different kinds of Chai."
"The machine tea is so bad and the tea bags are not strong enough for my taste. I always go out to get tea."

3. Analysis of the recipe favored by most users and experts led to the implication that the device should necessarily cater to the practice of adding condiments. Without this feature, the perceived value of the appliance was found to be very low for potential users.



Based on the insights from the contextual inquiries, we created a multitude of concepts. These catered to the different needs and pain points identified by gaining deep empathy with the users.


At this stage, we adopted a divergent approach and ideated on concepts for all the different consumption scenarios: at-home, at-office, during office commute, long-distance travel etc.


After multiple rounds of divergence and convergence via brainstorming and dotmocracy sessions, we selected 10 concepts to be explored further in the next steps of the project. For the purpose of interaction with consumers, these concepts were translated into concept cards.



The selected concepts were taken to the consumers for feedback. The objective of the focus groups was to pin down the primary scenario where users require a tea-making appliance – in-home, in-office or during-travel. After a quick discussion about their tea habits, preferred flavours and recipes, the consumers were introduced to the 10 sacrificial concepts. Concept cards were used as stimuli to elicit reactions, responses, and a discussion among users. We not only captured the initial response to the concept but dug deeper into what exactly got the users excited or concerned.

As the facilitator of the discussions, I played devil's advocate, challenging the participants to think critically about their feedback. The members individually ranked all concepts before coming to a consensus on the ideal Chai Maker by adding, altering, merging, or removing features from the sacrificial concepts.

FGDs were held in Delhi and Bangalore to account for differences in regional preferences. Each group consisted of 5 heavy-consumption users. To obtain a holistic perspective, we ensured the following:  

  • representation of consumers of different types of tea - classic, masala, ginger, jaggery etc.  

  • representation of people who pay for tea outdoors such as chaayos, chai story, chai point or a local joint etc.

  • equal representation of nuclear and joint family (50:50)


Using Affinity mapping, we analyzed data under common buckets. This helped us to clearly establish and rationalize the primary requirement scenario for the users. The product features were explored and prioritized. The aesthetic preferences and perception of the different design models were understood.

This activity culminated in a report of actionable insights for product design and development.

Below are some high-level insights from the facilitated group discussions.


1. The big surprise for the team was the falsification of the hypothesis that the need for a portable appliance for out-of-home scenarios would be more pressing in comparison to in-home consumption.

However, most users especially women, prioritized a counter-top appliance. The primary reasons for this were – the desire to make the tea-making process friction-less, most men being dependent on women of the house for tea, association of tea with work-breaks in office, an opportunity to leave the desk and interact with colleagues.


2. Other than the daily consumption scenarios, many users also found the appliance to be an asset for entertaining guests. Because of this mindset, most users were inclined to invest in a tea-maker if it had a capacity of 6-8 cups.

"I have to offer tea to guests, it is a matter of etiquette and respect. But I end up missing out on all the conversations as I am held up in the kitchen."

These steps were executed by the product design team.


The design recommendations were taken forward by the product design team and the tea-maker concept was refined to create a human-centered product. 


A high-fidelity prototype was built to ​closely resemble the final design in terms of details and functionality.



To validate the design concept, we went back to the consumers and collected their feedback. We conducted focus group discussions, this time in a mixed group setting, to understand how the concept is received by the target audience. A demo video was prepared to give a quick and effective introduction to the product and the various features. 


We took note of the various questions that popped up into the users' mind on seeing the product. As their queries were resolved, we observed the participants' body language, non-verbal cues, facial expressions, signs of satisfaction/dissatisfaction, or any other emotion displays.


A feedback report was prepared on the basis of the responses received during the focus groups. 

A short video of interesting responses was created to showcase the unfiltered audience reactions to the design concept. 

The Tea Maker concept received an amazingly positive response from the participants of the group discussion. We received many "I shall wait for it" responses. There were minor improvements in features, which were captured in a report and shared with the product development team.


This project gave me the opportunity to apply user research methodologies in an Agile environment. I worked with a cross-functional team and led the research and strategy aspect of the project. To optimize the research and design activities, I designed each phase of the research to answer a very specific research question. The team was continuously on its toes, empathizing and reflecting on user needs to convert them into ideas for product innovation. To account for the Agile time crunch, I kept session guides lean yet focussed to rapidly get to some new and unanticipated discoveries. I also incorporated the protocol of a de-brief meeting shortly after the research sessions to share feedback with stakeholders immediately. This allowed the product team to begin ideation basis the insights without waiting for research documentation and presentations.

Though challenging, this project was really exciting and enriching. I look forward to conducting more research inquires in such a fast-paced environment and push the boundaries of Agile research.

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