Food and Drink

How to Drink Tea

Actor, activist, and tea connoisseur Waris Ahluwalia on the restorative powers of tea.

TEA HAS BEEN a constant in Waris Ahluwalia’s life since before he could even make his own cup. “If you grow up in an Indian family, tea is in our lives. Tea was drunk every day by my parents, multiple times a day. Tea was served when a guest arrived. Tea was served before the guest left. Tea was served at celebratory moments. Tea was served at solemn moments, and in moments of grief,” he remembers. Yet his own appreciation for it didn’t come until much later. “My palette wasn’t there, but when I found the subtlety of green tea and the subtlety of oolong, which is my favorite kind of tea, I fell in love.” Ahluwalia — an actor, model, jewelry designer, and frequent Wes Anderson collaborator — has been referred to as an “It boy,” a mover and shaker, and even a muse. Over the years, he has written for the Paris Review, designed a line of sunglasses, and opened a pop-up restaurant and a chain of boutiques. His devotion to sartorial sophistication, often in the form of a well-tailored suit, has earned him a reputation as a modern-day dandy. Despite this multifaceted career path, Ahluwalia has worked to stay grounded. Tea, in particular, has remained his daily reminder to slow down and live with intention.

In 2019, Ahluwalia debuted House of Waris Botanicals, a company that celebrates living thoughtfully and building community through tea. The company operates a brick-and-mortar shop near the High Line in New York's Chelsea neighborhood and sells signature blends online, like Turmeric Honeybush and Ginseng Lemongrass. Here, Ahluwalia shares a cup with us, letting us in on the power of tea, his own rituals, and how to start our own.


The key to the perfect cup is your mindset.

“We commoditize things here. You can walk into a deli. You can grab a tea in a paper cup and then just be out and go on with your day. It’s not understanding what the truest sense of it is — tea is so much more than the actual ingredient. The power of tea is in its ritual.” Rather than talk on the tools needed to make a cup of tea, Ahluwalia thinks of tea as a tool in itself. “Tea represents a multilayered opportunity for your health, for your well-being, for your day-to-day schedule. What tea does for people around the world is it gives them a chance to pause.”


A morning, midday, and nighttime ritual.

Ahluwalia starts his mornings off with water and a pot of tea. “I boil the water. I grab a mug that feels like the mood of that day and then I get my tea. I put either a tea bag or loose tea into the cup and then wait for the water to boil. And in that moment, from when I start the water boiling to when I finish the tea, there is no phone involved in my journey. That is my space. That is my moment that is not to be interrupted, that I’m not giving up to email, to text, to random dance videos. I’m seeking ownership of that time. And whatever else the rest of the day holds or however the rest of the day is crazy, I have that ability.” It’s a ritual he repeats throughout the day. “I have tea at midday to sort of rebalance my day, and then at the end of the day to ease out and leave the day behind,” he explains.


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As for creating a ritual of your own? “There’s nothing that you have to follow. There’s no protocol. There’s just the protocol in making this cup of tea and making sure you have hot water,” he says. “Make your own ritual. Maybe you have your favorite cups. Maybe you have your favorite seat. Maybe you want to put on a robe that you like. It doesn’t matter. This is yours. It’s 10 minutes. We’re not talking about giving up an hour of your time; 10 minutes of your day goes a very long way.” But he does have one tip: “If it’s a green tea, I’d advise you not to steep it for more than 90 seconds.”


A reset tool.

“We love tools. We love productivity. If you’re like, ‘I’m not into slowing down,’ then just realize that having tea is only going to make you more productive. Think of it as a productivity tool that helps you be more productive, because science has shown that taking naps, taking pauses, taking a few moments for yourself ultimately makes you more productive.” He adds, “We don’t have a power-down button yet; you have to impose that on yourself. The two biggest things that we have in our tool belt: sleep and rest. Rest and sleep. So tea just gives you the space and the ability to engage with both those things properly.”


A way to connect.

“When you talk to psychologists and you talk about stress, the first thing they ask you about is your community. What are your relationships? Who’s around you? That is one of the biggest relievers. We are social beasts. You need your community, which is why these last two years have been even more difficult, because we’ve been separated from our community.” Ahluwalia says that tea can also be a way to build community. “When someone says, ‘Hey, let’s meet for a coffee,’ what are they saying? ‘Let's meet quickly, I’ve got five minutes for you.’ When someone says, ‘Let’s have tea together,’ inherently we understand what those words mean in a social setting. If you’re having tea with someone, they’re saying let’s sit down and actually have tea. It’ll brew. It’ll steep. We'll chat. We’ll catch up.”


A sustainably sourced cup.

“When we think about rituals or our home as consumers, we’re past the point where we’re only thinking about what happens in our homes. We have to think about the whole supply chain. We are no longer at liberty to go, ‘I don’t care how it got here, it’s in my house.’ That is no longer an option for us.” For Ahluwalia, taking care of yourself also means taking care of the planet. “That’s what the first step in any ritual should be — just choosing better. Everyone’s obsessed with the self-care thing, and you cannot talk about self-care unless you talk about the care of the planet and the other beings that exist within it. Self-care Sundays cannot be taken seriously if you’re still harming the planet. When we talk about rituals, that’s what we’re talking about.”

A Selection of Tea from House of Waris Botanicals

These big, bold teas are both beautifully packaged and ethically sourced.

  • Elephant Friendly - Classic Black Tea

    Their “brisk, strong and smooth black tea comes from the only certified organic, biodynamic, fair trade and wildlife friendly estate in the Dooars region of India, where the flat Gangetic plains of West Bengal meet the foothills of the mighty Himalayas.” The sale of this tea also support the work of Elephant Family.

  • Immunity One

    Combining elderberry, medicinal mushroom antioxidants, and healthy amounts of lemon and ginger, this tea is recommended as an immunity booster — good for the winter months.

  • Sweet Clarity

    This adaptogenic tea blend includes tulsi, rhodiola, and ginger root — ingredients that are supposed to help ward off stress, clear brain fog, and improve focus.

  • Turmeric Honeybush

    Described as “magic in a cup,” this tea is a potent blend of turmeric, rooibos, ginger, honeybush, cinnamon, and black pepper.

  • Elephant Friendly - Classic Black Tea

    Their “brisk, strong and smooth black tea comes from the only certified organic, biodynamic, fair trade and wildlife friendly estate in the Dooars region of India, where the flat Gangetic plains of West Bengal meet the foothills of the mighty Himalayas.” The sale of this tea also support the work of Elephant Family.

  • Sweet Clarity

    This adaptogenic tea blend includes tulsi, rhodiola, and ginger root — ingredients that are supposed to help ward off stress, clear brain fog, and improve focus.

  • Immunity One

    Combining elderberry, medicinal mushroom antioxidants, and healthy amounts of lemon and ginger, this tea is recommended as an immunity booster — good for the winter months.

  • Turmeric Honeybush

    Described as “magic in a cup,” this tea is a potent blend of turmeric, rooibos, ginger, honeybush, cinnamon, and black pepper.

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Our Contributors

Tahirah Hairston Writer

Tahirah Hairston is a writer and consultant living in Brooklyn, NY. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, Elle, Teen Vogue, and Lenny Letter.

Kat Slootsky Photographer

Kat Slootsky is a Russian Jewish photographer born in Brooklyn and based in NYC. After receiving her BFA from Pratt Institute, she has shot for clients such as Teen Vogue, The Cut and the New York Times. Her work encompasses beauty, fashion and intimate portraiture.

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