Reclaiming the Ritual: A Challenge to the Overcaffeination Nation

Joe Preece
10 min readMar 21, 2023

Modern life is hectic. In our fast-paced, productivity-obsessed culture that expects us to juggle careers, mortgage applications, and the Tesco car park on a Sunday afternoon, it is no wonder our minds and bodies wear thin. When the going gets tough, nothing beats a little pick-me-up to inject a bit of zest back into our weary souls. However, as a result of these cultural shifts in working practices, many people have turned to the overindulgence of caffeinated beverages as a means of getting that quick energy boost. With the ubiquity of takeaway coffee shops and a barrage of advertisements to hook you in, it is increasingly easy to fall into the trap of treating tea and coffee as mere commodities, that are to be quaffed quickly and in large quantities.

But the reality of these habits is juxtaposed to the idealistic vision that our conglomerate coffee overlords preach to us. For starters, chugging caffeine like it’s the first round of Jägerbombs at your local ‘Spoons can lead to over-caffeination, which can leave you feeling jittery, anxious, and unable to focus. And that’s without opening the can of worms that is addiction and physical dependency.

Tea and coffee culture has the potential to offer sanctity from the daily hullabaloo of modern life. Humans the world over have refined techniques and rituals for centuries, from the Japanese Chanoyu, associated with the principles of simplicity, harmony, and respect, to the Scandinavian Fika, which is the practice of taking a break from work or daily routines to enjoy a hot drink and a sweet treat, often in the company of friends or colleagues.

This article does not intend to provide a complete history of tea and coffee from around the world. Nor a dismantling of the commodification of caffeine under capitalism. Rather, it is here to inform, guide, and provoke a self-reflection that may entice you to reclaim your enjoyment of the world’s most beloved beverages. By the end, you’ll have a newfound appreciation for the subtle nuances and flavours, and a toolkit for turning your tea and coffee consumption into a source of pleasure and relaxation. So sit back, grab your favourite mug, and let’s explore the art of tea and coffee rituals.

Wake Up and Smell the Problem: The Dark Side of Modern Tea and Coffee Consumption

The United States of America has undoubtedly given us many great things, from the Saturn V rocket to Wes Anderson’s idiosyncratic cinematography. But when it comes to coffee culture, they have seriously missed the mark. In a culture that values speed and convenience above all else, it’s no wonder that tea and coffee consumption has become a quick fix rather than a pleasurable experience. And with the ubiquity of Starbucks in the global economy, it is no wonder that this culture has leaked into other parts of the world.

Frivolities aside, this approach to consumption can have serious negative consequences for our health and well-being. When we consume tea and coffee mindlessly, we’re more likely to over-caffeinate ourselves, which can lead to feelings of jitteriness, anxiety, and insomnia, affecting all corners of our work and personal lives. Additionally, drinking tea or coffee on an empty stomach or too quickly can lead to indigestion, which can cause discomfort and bloating; two things not commonly associated with success.

Moreover, the constant need for a caffeine boost leads to addiction and dependence, to the point where a lack of caffeine can actually hurt. We are acutely aware of the detriments of alcohol, gambling, and drug dependencies, so why should caffeine get a free pass?

Rather than treating tea and coffee as quick fixes or commodities, we should instead approach them as opportunities for ritual and mindfulness. By doing so, we’re more likely to savour and enjoy the experience, rather than rushing through it as a means to an end.

One of the primary benefits of ritual is a simple one; it can enhance our enjoyment of these beverages. When we take the time to savour and appreciate the taste, aroma, and texture of our tea or coffee, we’re more likely to experience the subtle nuances and flavours that make each drink unique. This adds a layer of pleasure and satisfaction to our tea and coffee consumption that we might not get if we’re sculling them like a first-year Uni student who has just been selected for the latest chorus of “we like to drink with…”.

In addition to enhancing our enjoyment, ritual holds physical and mental health benefits. By taking the time to enjoy our drink and be mindful of the present moment, we can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety. When we’re fully present and engaged in the act of drinking our tea or coffee, we’re less likely to be distracted by other thoughts or worries. This can help us feel more relaxed and centred, even in the midst of the busiest of days.

So while we can thank the USA for many things, we might want to look elsewhere when it comes to finding inspiration for our tea and coffee rituals. Thankfully, there are plentiful methods of brewing and consuming coffee and tea from around the world.

A Sip Around the World: A Quickstop Tour of Tea and Coffee Cultures

Italy

Italian coffee culture is characterised by the consumption of small portions of strong espresso coffee throughout the day. Coffee is an integral part of Italian daily life, with cafes serving as social meeting places and serving espresso with a small glass of water. The culture emphasises the importance of quality coffee and the experience of savouring it slowly, rather than rushing through it.

China

Chinese tea culture is a traditional and important part of Chinese society, dating back thousands of years. Tea is often brewed in a Gongfu style, emphasising precision and ceremony, and is typically consumed in small cups to savour the flavour. It is often used to signify respect, gratitude, and hospitality, and is a symbol of Chinese culture and history.

Turkey

Turkish coffee culture is deeply ingrained in Turkish society and has a long history dating back to the Ottoman Empire. Turkish coffee is brewed using finely ground coffee beans and is known for its strong flavour and thick texture. It is often consumed with a small treat like Turkish Delight and is a symbol of hospitality and social connection in Turkish culture.

Japan

Japanese tea culture is centred around the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, or Chanoyu, which is a highly ritualised and spiritual experience. The ceremony involves the preparation and serving of matcha, a finely ground powdered green tea, and emphasises mindfulness, respect, and harmony. Tea is seen as a way to connect with others and appreciate the beauty of nature and is an important part of Japanese culture and history.

Ethiopia

Ethiopian coffee culture is centred around the traditional coffee ceremony, which is a mark of hospitality, community, and friendship. The ceremony involves roasting coffee beans, brewing them in a jebena (a clay pot), and serving the coffee with traditional snacks. Coffee is considered a sacred beverage in Ethiopia and is often consumed slowly, with a focus on enjoying the social experience.

Indian

Indian tea culture is deeply ingrained in Indian society and has a long history dating back to the British colonial period. Chai tea is a popular beverage in India and is typically made with black tea, milk, and a blend of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger. Chai is often consumed throughout the day and is a symbol of hospitality and social connection in Indian culture.

Brazilian

Brazilian coffee culture is closely tied to the country’s position as the world’s largest coffee producer. Coffee is a staple of the Brazilian diet, and is often consumed as part of a breakfast meal. In Brazil, coffee is seen as a social beverage, enjoyed with friends and family in cafes and at home.

United Kingdom

British tea culture is an important part of British identity and is known for its formal, ceremonial style. Afternoon tea, which typically includes tea, scones, sandwiches, and pastries, is a beloved tradition in the UK and is often associated with high society and elegance. Tea is seen as a way to connect with others, take a break from the day, and enjoy a moment of relaxation.

Sweden

Fika is a Swedish concept that translates to “coffee break” in English, but it’s much more than just a quick coffee break. It’s a social ritual that involves taking a break from work or other activities to enjoy coffee or tea and a sweet treat with friends, family, or coworkers. Fika is an important part of Swedish culture and a way to foster social connections and relaxation.

Morocco

Moroccan tea culture is an integral part of Moroccan hospitality and social customs. Mint tea, or “atay,” is a popular beverage in Morocco and is often served in a special pot with intricate designs. Tea is typically served with traditional sweets like pastries or dried fruits and is a symbol of friendship, generosity, and hospitality.

We have barely dipped our toes into the pool of potential, but this should at least provide a flavour of what’s on offer out there.

Brewtiful Rituals: Cultivating Your Own Tea and Coffee Ceremony

Creating a ritual doesn’t have to be complicated or time-consuming. Here are some practical tips for making your tea or coffee consumption a more mindful and enjoyable experience.

1) Choose High-Quality Ingredients

If you choose to brew your tea by dunking a Tetley teabag from a box that hasn’t been closed properly for two years, you are going to have a bad time. This I know, as the kitchen at my office is home to such a monstrosity; a thousand teabag sack, with each remaining bag growing staler by the day.

No more settling for the bottom-shelf stuff — go for good ingredients and savour the difference. Take the time to learn how to grind coffee beans and brew loose-leaf tea — it will make a huge difference to your enjoyment.

2) Grab Some Scran

Coffee and tea pair excellently with cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolates, and (if you keep a spare in your hat), a marmalade sandwich. Grab your favourite snacks and take your tastebuds on a journey.

3) Eliminate Distractions

If you’re serious about creating a tea or coffee ritual, you need to eliminate distractions. That means no scrolling through social media whilst you sip — instead, find a quiet space to sit, relax, and savour the moment. One caveat; guests do not count as a distraction! Use your time to connect with colleagues, discuss the world around you, and reflect on your day so far.

4) Set Aside Time

The saying goes that “time is of the essence”. I agree. But that does not infer that you need to haul arse to achieve as much as possible in every waking moment.

Breathe.

Take time to enjoy your beverage. Enjoy the click of the kettle, the unique sound that gushing hot water makes, and the chance to gossip whilst the flavours brew. Think of it like a mini-bank holiday from your busy day — a chance to slow down, create headspace, and recharge those cognitive batteries for the next session.

5) Use Fancy Teawares

Upon birth, every Brit is bestowed with a gigantic Sports Direct mug. Nobody knows where they come from, and many consider their sudden appearance as a direct challenger to the laws of entropy. Yet they don every kitchen and office cupboard the land across.

Apparently, this ubiquity makes it appropriate to drink tea from them. Nonsense! As far as a vessel for the nuanced tastes of tea, they are big, bland and bulky. Defenestrate them, and instead treat yourself to a fancy teacup, a shapely mug, or a cute little espresso set to bring out the flavours and prevent Mike Ashley from world domination.

6) Experiment With Brewing Methods

There’s more than one way to crack a nut, and by golly, there are plentiful ways to prepare tea and coffee. Humans the world over have not spent hundreds of years crafting techniques only for you to scoop the leftover contents of freeze-dried instant coffee from that suspicious jar on the office counter.

Try out a French press. A Turkish cezve. An electric kettle that can brew to your desired temperature. Or, any other fancy-sounding method, and see which one tickles your fancy. If you don’t get it quite right the first time, don’t panic; it took Michelangelo fourteen years to complete the Sistine chapel ceiling, so you can definitely exercise some patience.

7) Take inspiration from different cultures

As we have seen from this article, tea and coffee rituals are a big deal in many different cultures around the world. So why not take inspiration from them? Embrace the Japanese tea ceremony or the Italian espresso culture. Don’t be afraid to make hybrid rituals with the best bits of all of these ways!

By embracing these tips, you’ll be well on your way to turning your tea or coffee consumption into a luxurious and relaxing experience. For me, coffee and tea are no longer just beverages, but integral times of my day (09:30 and 15:00 respectively, to be precise). As soon as the clock ticks over, my colleagues and I gather to share a moment to reflect, ruminate, and recharge, sampling delicious teas and coffees along the way. I enjoy a Turkish coffee mid-morning to sharpen my focus, and a cup of loose-leaf tea in the afternoon to reinvigorate my senses. But as we have seen, there are plenty of ways you can approach the matter. My parting words are these; your ritual should be personal, and cater to your own whims and tastes. Enjoy it. Cheerio!

--

--

Joe Preece
0 Followers

Dr Joe Preece is a computer scientist at the University of Birmingham, UK, specialising in the application of blockchain and data science in the rail industry.