Ritual vs Habit

I stay awake as late as I possibly can at night and I wake up at the last possible moment in the morning. I’m not saying this works for me - but it is where I am until I commit to something better. I have a morning ritual that helps me keep up with this pattern I’ve created. And yes, it is a caffeinated ritual. I drink masala chai tea.

My chai is not just any chai. I homebrew it, on my stove, black tea imported from India, personally spiced and sweetened, and very milky. I even have a spice box devoted to my chai making. I have nothing against teabags, premixed cartons, Starbucks, or coffee. I substitute with every single one of those when I am outside of my own home or not in India.  

Oh India. Three years ago I had the great fortune of making a pilgrimage to India. Chai became part of who I am after that trip. Big statement, right? Indulge me. We started our days with chai, before settling onto our meditation cushions. We had chai with breakfast. We had chai as a midmorning respite from our temple visits, at roadside pit stops, and all throughout our village explorations.. There is a chai culture in India. 

Chai in India does not come as a venti soy latte. It is usually made with the milk from a water buffalo, the servings are like little Dixie cups, and it is boiling hot and nearly impossible to drink right away until it cools.  Each of those chai moments when I was in India was not about caffeine. They were about stopping what I was doing to take a break  - an even longer break than possibly intended - while I waited for the chai to be cool enough to drink. Those moments were charged with spirit. The spirit of the water buffalo that were staring at me from the side of the road. The spirit of the chai wallah happily pouring my tiny portion. The spirit of the wide open faces and hearts that were enjoying the sweet tea with me. I could write and talk about India for days, but the point of this entry is that my cups in India were tiny, but overflowingly FULL. They were full of ritual and meaning.

I came back to New York City with some Indian lemon grass, a few pounds of Assam tea, and a very specific chai recipe from my trip leader. I brewed tea for every friend who stayed as a houseguest. I brewed chai everywhere I went to stay as a houseguest. I sought out authentic chai in all of the Indian neighborhoods and restaurants in New York City.


My morning time brewing sessions became my ritual. I meditated while my water boiled. I counted my blessings as I measured out my spices.  I dreamed of India while I waited for my tea to cool. This was a very sacred time.

Three years later, the recipe has changed. I brew a big pot for the whole week, and my chai time has slipped into that very western term: HABIT.  Habits are the mindless, easy choices we make when we are too tired, scared, and numbed out by our circumstances. If we are lucky, our habits don’t hurt us or hurt the people around us. Some habits grow into addiction and we get farther and farther away from the people, places,  and things that are important to us.

Does it really have to be that DEEP, Lisa? This is just a cup of tea! No, it doesn’t have to be this heavy thing. But I’ve realized that if I apply more meaning to the things I do, and take a few moments to think about what I want, where I am going, to whom I am speaking, etc. I will be showing up for myself and showing up for the world in a much more valuable way. And for me, it starts with my tea.

Chai Tea- (for the week)

In a very big pot, bring these ingredients to a boil on the stove:

  • 10 cups of water
  • 9 cloves
  • 9 cracked cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon dried lemongrass
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons minced raw ginger or 2 pieces dried candied ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper


  • 9 tablespoons black Assam tea
  • 9 tablespoons of raw sugar

Boil the contents of the pot for 30 more seconds, stirring while the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and carefully strain the mixture into a pitcher. I store this pitcher in the refrigerator and pour individual cups each morning. I pour half a mug full of chai and fill up the rest with soymilk and then microwave for 3 minutes. If you are not a microwave user, reheat in a pan on the stove.

Cook’s Note: When I returned from India, I used whole cow milk to mimic the milk from the water buffalo. I learned to boil the milk, tea, and spices all together a series of 3 times. This thickens the mixture and marries the flavors in this divine union. I did that for about 6 months and realized I needed to go back to my non-dairy soymilk. I never had luck boiling almond milk or soymilk, but they microwave perfectly. So I took out the boiling 3 times step and just add milk in the morning.