Afternoon TeaI like to break up the work day by having a cup of tea in the afternoon, around 3pm. It’s a real treat and the little ritual of boiling and brewing is an opportunity to practice a few minutes of mindfulness.

Plastic baggies of different organic black teas (Earl Grey, English Breakfast, Darjeeling) from the Park Slope Food Coop are fresh and cheap (about $1.00 a bag, to make 10+ cups).

But it’s been very busy both at home and work so I’ve been using pre-packaged tea bags for both morning and afternoon tea — not so fun or meditative. Definitely quicker.

Last week we were low on tea bags so I grabbed the loose tea and tossed it into my backpack. At 3pm I got up from the computer to make myself a cup of tea — but the whole process made me feel uneasy — as if I were malingering. Too time consuming. Boil, steep, strain, get rid of the leaves, too many steps while on the clock. It felt too luxurious, an indulgence.

[etymological aside: the term “indulgence” has a fascinating history, especially in the context of the late Medieval Catholic church, when the “butter tower” of Rouen cathedral earned its nickname because the money to build it came from the sale of indulgences to the faithful so that they could eat butter during the lean days of Lent without feeling guilty.]

Butter Tower

Take a deep breath and bring your awareness to a moment today when you feel uneasy. What is truly going on here? Are you doing something that isn’t right (i.e. in some large or small way isn’t in line with your values) or are you not truly connecting with whatever it is that you are doing and why?

For me in that moment, it was the latter.

Of course it was silly that I felt overly indulgent and guilty about brewing myself a cup of tea while at the office. Right now I’m consulting for the Supportive Housing Network, a non-profit dedicated to solving homelessness, and the smart and kind people who work there wouldn’t begrudge me a few minutes to re-fuel. And the refreshment increases my ability to work effectively. Like they say on the airlines, put the oxygen mask on yourself before you go to the aid of others. Giving yourself a few moments of mindfulness, bringing your attention inward, is a healthy way to take care of yourself.

Offer yourself 3 minutes to meditate today. That may take the form of sitting quietly and focusing on your breath. You can do this on the subway or in your car before you go into the office, or on a bench if it’s a beautiful day like today in New York City. Or it may be making yourself an aromatic cup of tea and savoring it. Then you can return to the outside world, the hustle and bustle of existence, centered and clear. Welcome, oh life!

On a day you want to truly celebrate and go through an even more elaborate tea preparation ritual, here is a recipe for masala chai, a spiced, milky Indian refreshment, from my friend Paula Lee Poy, a chef and mom and food activist in Bed Stuy, whose sister, Perryne, has a composting bicycle and whose husband, Joseph, makes the most amazing granola ever.

Masala Chai – serves 6

1″ piece ginger
1 cinnamon stick
4 black peppercorns
3 cloves
3 green cardamom pods
2-3 T. black tea (Indian)
1 cup milk
3 T. sugar

Dry roast the ginger, 1 minute each side. Roughly grind the spices and ginger. Put spices, ginger, tea, and milk in a saucepan with 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Let sit for 3 minutes, then add the sugar, to taste (i.e. you may want less).

Strain off the grounds, then froth. The traditional way to froth is to pour the chai from one pitcher to another in a steady stream, repeating until frothy.

Now this, my friends, is an awareness-focusing and deliciousness-making task! Pour carefully, and mindfully, and watch as the smooth and milky liquid develops a mouth-watering delicate frothiness.

Hint: wrap the spices in cheesecloth before boiling for easier clean-up.

Sheer deliciousness, especially when shared.

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