Coffee is, quite rightly I think, regarded as a religious experience by those who truly understand it. I used to have a coffee mug that said, “Decaf is the Anti-Christ.”
My own deeply spiritual relationship with coffee can be traced back to my early days at Jesus People USA’s Cornerstone Magazine.
Little did I know when I became a writer there that I had fallen into the clutches of some truly desperate people. On the night shift, when we would sleep behind our desks to put the last touches on an issue before sending it off to the printer, the old timers had a saying: ”There’s no such thing as bad coffee, only no coffee.” These, I later learned, were men who, in the early days of the community, when money was tight, would roast barley and add it into the grounds to stretch the community coffee budget. They were pioneers in the worst sense.
I once witnessed an art intern brew a pot of drip coffee using Folgers Instant Crystals. The resulting brew almost led to a human sacrifice. Speaking of human sacrifice, I once had a fellow community member explain the process of making coffee in a French press in the deep and sonorous tones usually reserved for Satanic rituals in horror movies. Above all, I learned that, just as in occult rituals, once a certain moment has passed, the rite must be followed to the letter unless I wanted to invite spiritual disaster. Of course, spiritual disaster in this sense was not possession by a demon or being dragged down to the depths of hell, but a mismanaged pot of coffee was a dark cup of the soul.
All these years later, I still drink my coffee black. No sweetener, cuz, well, damnit, I have it on good authority I’m sweet enough. Certainly no cream. I can’t afford to get any whiter. But something that was once inexorably tied to my sense of shared community has become an integral part of living alone. No more grizzled journos sitting in a room telling stories when they should be writing them down. No more arguing over whose turn it is to make the next pot or tracking down the SOB who took the last cup without making a fresh batch.
“Something that was once inexorably tied to my sense of shared community has become an integral part of living alone.”
The ritual, no less important, has changed. When I sit down in the morning, the steam slowly rising out of one of my many “favourite mugs,” I often reflect on where it came from. I know that to make that pot, I had to fill the little red tea kettle my mother bought me when I moved out on my own. I had to grind the beans, and dump the old beans out of the French press, which then had to be disassembled, each part carefully washed (coffee dust and oil don’t just rinse off) and put back together to await the shrill whistle that oddly enough had long ago been emptied of the ability to annoy me. Instead, after three-plus years, it sounded like an old friend reminding me to come sit quietly next to them.
I’m often surprised by the sense of gratitude that washes over me when I finally do sit. I may not be in community at the moment but I am able to commune. All those little steps that put the cup in my hand suddenly feel like small but palpable goodnesses reminding me that I am worthy of love, of comfort, and of daring to be quiet so that the God whom I am always doubting can be heard, when he whispers what a good thing it is indeed to love myself.