Creating Your Own Tea Ritual
I grew up on an island that remained a British colony until 1962, so of course tea was part of the ingrained routine of life. To break the fast in the morning? Tea. To calm your spirit after school or the workday? Tea. During the day as needed for a pick-me-up? You guessed it, tea! My mother is a born and raised tea fanatic, and she passed that energy along to me. There is no time of day that she won’t advise me to drink an “NCOT” as she calls it — a nice cup of tea.
“I don’t need a special time, whenever I just feel for it, I guess. Because it calms me,” she explains. I was raised to embrace tea in the same way, as a general panacea for frazzled nerves or a bad day. It wasn’t until I got older that I learned of the global impact of tea and developed a fascination with global tea rituals and traditions and began to appreciate that in my family, we had created our own.
Tea is one of the world’s most communal drinks, often enjoyed in formal and informal gatherings around the world. If you Google tea traditions or look up the search term on YouTube, you will immediately find a great deal of information about centuries-old cultural practices around the brewing of sencha or matcha tea in Japan as formal welcome ceremonies for special guests. Oolong tea rituals centered around special occasions, like the traditional Chinese tea ceremony as part of a wedding. There are also longstanding tea rituals in African countries. Mint green tea served in a practice called ataya or attaya is a way of life and a community practice, particularly in West African countries like Senegal, Ghana, and The Gambia. This method of tea brewing is celebrated as a signal for community, conversation, and company. This tradition requires a long brewing time and a pouring method that helps to create the traditionally foamy texture of the minty, sweet, gunpowder green tea brew.
Masala chai is mainstream worldwide but originated with Indian and Pakistani tea traditions, where warm spices like ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and peppercorns are mixed and heated with milk. Here in America, hot tea may not be as popular as it is around the world, but the classic Southern practice of steeping sun tea in a sweaty pitcher on a hot porch, to be served sweetened and over ice is absolutely a kind of ritual I’d say is worth celebrating, sharing, and savoring.
Over the past year or so of the pandemic, I’ve found myself sipping tea more often than ever before. Like my mom had taught me, I had a constant craving for an NCOT to assuage my anxiety. What I came to realize is I didn’t just miss the soothing beverage itself. What I continue to miss is the community of tea time, the joy of meeting friends for afternoon tea at my favorite Black-owned café around the corner, or my go-to bubble tea spot in Chinatown. If I can’t enjoy the community of that shared experience, then I wanted to create a personal ritual that helped to ground me and soothe my spirit.
Some of my favorite Black-owned tea brands offer blends based around teas frequently used in international rituals, so I turned to them for insights on creating a tea ceremony of my own.
Carve out that moment all to yourself. Turn off your phone, turn on a tune, and sip. Tea is a way to pour into yourself and slow down.
Brandi Shelton of just add honey tea company begins her personal tea ritual around 5 a.m. “When the house is quiet and everything is still. I make a cup and journal, read, or meditate. Hearing the kettle whistle, waiting for the leaves to steep, and holding a warm cup is a ritual I look forward to.” She advises anyone who wants to drink more tea to create a ritual of their own. “Find a moment to take for yourself. Even if you spend a few minutes in your car on your lunch break. Carve out that moment all to yourself. Turn off your phone, turn on a tune, and sip. Tea is a way to pour into yourself and slow down.”
Shanae Jones of Ivy’s Tea doesn’t have a regular tea ritual, but instead, she has a ritual for making her tea. “My mug matches my mood for the day, usually having some text printed on it that’s snarky or motivational. I select a tea that will prepare me for the day; it’s all based on my schedule.” She advises new tea drinkers to begin with herbal tea and dedicate time to relaxation. “Make time to enjoy your tea — whether it’s as little as three minutes, it’s three minutes you deserve.” For a fun ritual, she recommends one of her special blends. “My Blow tea is a lemongrass-jasmine blend that turns blue, when you add honey or lemon juice, it turns purple. You get to enjoy a light cup of tea that’s good with or without sweetener, but what’s coolest is experiencing a little childlike joy when you watch the tea turn colors.”
NaTasha Marshall of NaTasha’s Teas takes a more medicinal approach to the process. “My ritual with each pot of tea is first asking my body what it needs. I want to take advantage of every time I can add healing to my body. Then while I am getting my tea bag ready, I am thanking the Creator for the blessing of the herbs and say out loud what I am taking them for. While my tea is steeping, I’ll speak healing affirmations over myself and my tea. I make sure I am thankful for this time, the peace, the warmth, the blessing of the tea I am consuming. It is all about being thankful for the healing your body is capable of.”
When it comes to figuring out which tea to turn to, she recommends keeping things simple to begin with. “Try teas made with one single herb. This will teach you which herbs you like, how they make your body feel, the aroma, and how it makes you feel. Develop an intention as to why you are selecting each herb. Soon you will be pairing herbs and experimenting with what makes you feel better mentally, physically, and spiritually.”
In the effort to create a tea tradition of my own, I have borrowed from some of these practices. I keep a well-stocked tea cabinet, so whenever I have an afternoon cuppa I can choose a classic matcha versus a Moroccan mint blend or a South African red bush rooibos versus a Westernized version of chai. To try the one-herb approach, I can steep some orange peel tea, ginger tea, or mint leaves like my ancestors and relatives do in the Caribbean. Chamomile has become a new favorite, especially for its sleep-related and digestive benefits.
Trying to create my own tea ritual in these pandemic times made me appreciate my mother’s self-created tea tradition and ceremonies, both formal and informal. My mom’s NCOT moments are intimate, urgent, necessary, and therapeutic. Her annual Christmas tea is a gathering held a few days before the holiday that brings together the moms and aunties, daughters, and granddaughters in the family for an afternoon of relaxation. That’s the day she pulls out the good plates and the fancy spoons, seasonal appetizers are passed, and most in attendance will sip something a little stronger than just tea.
I am trying to create a new, intentional ritual for myself because I want my daily solo tea experience to be about more than just mindlessly sipping sweet drinks whenever I’m sad. So just once a week, I try to take my time selecting a brew — whether for physically beneficial properties or just for relaxation and flavor. I steep my tea in a colorful teapot, I choose a cup that feels generous and joyful. Sweeten to taste, and then as a final step, I call my parents on WhatsApp to enjoy my NCOT with my mom. Sometimes she joins me and has a cup of her own. It’s a small, personal way to celebrate the traditions I love learning about while honoring the ones in my own family.