Ritual often chooses for its vehicle consciousness-altering substances such as wine, peyote or coffee. People may assume a bit of God resides in these substances, because through using them they are separated for a moment from the ordinariness of things and can seize their reality more clearly. This is why a ritual is not only a gesture of hospitality and reassurance, but a celebration of a break in routine, a moment when the human drive for survival lets up and people can simply be together. This last aspect is to me the fundamental meaning of the coffee break, the coffee klatch, the happy hour, and the after-dinner coffee. These are secular rituals that, in unobtrusive but essential ways, help maintain humanness in ourselves and with one another.
In many cultures, the ritual aspects of drinking tea or coffee are given semi-religious status. The most famous of such rituals is the Japanese tea ceremony, in which powdered green tea is whipped in a traditional bowl to form a rich frothy drink, then is ceremonially passed, in complete silence, from one participant to the next. The tea ceremony is consciously structured as a communal meditation devoted to contemplating the presence of eternity in the moment. Doubtless the caffeine in the tea aids in such psychic enterprise.