Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.
– Thich Nat Hahn, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet, and peace activist
This morning I drank my last tall mug of chai latte with soy milk. I can’t tell you how many mornings I sat down at my home office desk after walking the kids to school and relished sipping the slightly spicy drink with the hint of ginger on my tongue. It set me in a calm and clear frame of mind, ready for the work day.I drank the real chai many years ago at the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley conference, where one of my housemates, who was East Indian, brewed it fresh. There is nothing like waking up to the aroma of cinnamon, cloves, and especially grated ginger. I was sold on chai and its explosion and marriage of flavors, but nothing off the shelf matched what I savored and I didn’t have time in the mornings to make my own.
Years later, I began drinking chai latte because of the ginger. When I was suffering from morning sickness my first trimester with my daughter, my mother-in-law recommended that I eat crystalized ginger. That particular preparation of ginger didn’t alleviate my nausea, but one morning on my commute to work I dragged myself to the Starbucks near my BART station exit and ordered a chai latte with soy milk – being lactose intolerant – hoping that the ginger in the mix would help. The moment I took my first sip my nausea literally disappeared. It happened the next morning and the next. Once I got past the second trimester, however, I stopped buying it because I couldn’t bring myself to pay that much for a drink.
But then I found the Tazo chai latte mix in Costco. I was in heaven until they stopped stocking it. When I found it on the shelves again one winter, I bought cases of it to last a year. When I ran out and there were none to be found at Costco, I discovered that Target carried it and I resumed my habit. Through the years, there have been mornings when I thought the chai latte didn’t taste as good as I always expected it to be. And, being disappointed, I thought, yes, I could give it up.I have found that as I get older, I have had to consider food from a different perspective. Food is now viewed as what does or doesn’t impede a healthy digestive system. And more recently, what foods to avoid that age your skin – sugar, caffeine, and alcohol are culprits that are often named in articles about nutrition and aging. And yet, I couldn’t give up the thing that was part of my morning routine. Some days I wasn’t enamored with the flavors and other days it tasted so good I was crazy to consider banishing it from my diet. Until your body tells you that something you’re consuming is making you feel off.
Unwilling to give up my chai lattes, I replaced soy milk with almond milk, upon recommendation by women friends after discussions about how soy milk is hard on the digestive system. (In a month-long experiment, I have discovered that having eliminated soy milk from my diet made a difference in that area. I’m not well versed enough about the pros and cons of soy, but from what little I’ve read the literature points to unfermented, genetically modified soy as being unhealthful.) No matter what brand I tried, however, I did not like the taste of almond milk and it didn’t blend well when heated with the chai latte mix. It was either watery or coagulating, which made it seem easy – finally – to give it all up. So not only was I going to have a healthy digestive system, I was also going to do my skin a favor (because I am not going to give up my vino so it had to be something else) and not feel like I had to relinquish anything I enjoyed.
The thing about giving up something is that you need to replace it, even after the love has waned. I’m sure behavioral studies have been conducted on the success of replacing a habit with something else just as or even more enticing or enjoyable. I used to hold up my hands in a “no, thank you” gesture to the Teavana people handing out samples outside their storefront. When my cousin Janet was in town last summer, we tried several cups, and I was hooked by the explosion of flavors. But wait, there’s more. The tea has less caffeine than my chai latte mix and the white and green teas are rich in antioxidants. White teas are the least processed of all teas, the Teavana person informed me. Yes, she was selling me her product, but the flavor and aroma sold me – along with texture, those are the three things that I most appreciate in food. And I loved the fact that there were so many different flavors and fruity versions – and chocolate – and that I could mix to create my own special blends. I had found my replacement.
But I had to go through my stockpile of chai latte cartons, which surprisingly has taken a number of months to consume. I suffered through the almond milk in my chai lattes, until I broke down and bought a half-gallon of soy milk this week, which was a mistake. The last drop from the last chai latte mix carton was emptied this morning. I hesitated before throwing the carton in the trashcan. Later this morning, there was just a hint of longing as I looked into the deep well of my empty mug.
Tomorrow morning, I’ll be mixing wild orange blossom herbal tea leaves with youthberry white tea leaves. I will drink my tea slowly and reverently. And feel cleansed.