Coffee

For the first five years of our marriage, my wife didn’t drink coffee. I had begun drinking coffee during my first year of college. I had tasted it before, and occasionally would drink a cup, but it wasn’t a regular beverage for me. During my freshman year at college I struggled to adapt to a student lifestyle. I had to learn some new habits and behaviors. As one who read himself to sleep every night, I had to give up reading in bed. I needed a new routine - one that resulted in paying attention when reading, not dozing off. When I first arrived at college, I found that the cafeteria with an unlimited beverage station, was quite an attraction. I would have a cup of hot chocolate nearly every morning. The problem was that the hot chocolate made me drowsy. When I switched to coffee, the problem went away. For years and years, I claimed and believed that the caffeine wasn’t having any effect on me. I could drink coffee before going to bed and sleep without problems. All of that changed as I aged and I now drink very little coffee. We change and new habits are welcome at certain stages of our lives.

After we graduated seminary we moved to North Dakota and not long afterward, my wife was a coffee drinker. What happened was that coffee was extended as a symbol of hospitality in many of the homes we visited. People didn’t ask, “Would you like a cup of coffee?” They just put the filled cup in front of you and assumed that you drank coffee. In the cafe, the waitress would arrive at the table with cups and a coffee pot and fill them before asking if you wanted coffee. Pretty soon my wife was drinking coffee along with what seemed like everyone else.

At our church, the fellowship time that follows worship is referred to by many as “coffee hour.” All of the time I have served this church there have been other beverages. Hot tea is offered as well as water and lemonade or some other cold beverage. In the summer ice tea is often available. I usually get a cup of hot tea. Sometimes I just drink water.

When I decided to give up caffeine, I had no problem with the switch. I’m not totally off of caffeine these days. I drink tea on occasion and still enjoy the flavor of coffee. I have decaffeinated coffee on occasion. On Sunday mornings, I am the first to arrive at the church and I make an air pot of regular coffee and one of decaffeinated coffee and put them out for the first to arrive at the church. The decaffeinated coffee isn’t very popular and folks don’t drink much of it.

There are still a few occasions when I will drink a cup of regular coffee. The most common of those occasions is visiting in the homes of members of my congregation. There are still some folks who offer coffee without asking and there are times when I accept their hospitality and enjoy drinking coffee with them. My lightly-caffeinated lifestyle seems compatible with my current state of health and I experience no discomfort or ill effects from an occasional cup of coffee.

Our culture makes a real association between coffee and hospitality. Even though I don’t drink much coffee these days, I find myself making coffee quite a bit. It is natural to have it to offer as a sign of welcome when people come to my office or home. I like being able to serve something to my guests.

Recently I heard that coffee is one area where a lot of people have big differences between what they say they like and what they really like. If you ask people what kind of coffee they favor, they will usually use the adjectives “dark,” “robust,” and “bold.” When people order coffee in coffee shops, however, they actually prefer milder blends served as lates or cappuccino. We say we want dark, robust and bold coffee, but what we really want is milky weak coffee. It’s not the only place where what we say and how we behave diverge.

A little over a year ago, I began to issue an invitation to the congregation to meet me for coffee in a local coffee shop. I pick a different shop each month and arrive at 8 am on Wednesday. I am prepared to discuss the lectionary texts for the week and sometimes those who show up join in conversation around that topic. Sometimes we spend more time talking about the news of the day or the lives of the people present than discussing the texts. It is a comfortable time for me and usually there are just a few people who come. The occasion hasn’t really turned into a group. I enjoy the informality and the open invitation that doesn’t create an obligation for anyone. Most mornings, I sip a decaffeinated late as we visit. Some days I have a cup of chai tea. One of the cafes where we meet puts on a fresh pot of decaffeinated coffee when they see me come in.

I’ve been wondering about the relationship between coffee and hospitality recently. I think part of the relationship has to do with the ability to offer a modest gift to another person. It makes us feel good to have something to offer. Coffee seems to serve other functions as well. A warm cup in our hands makes us feel good. Having something to sip helps us to refrain from talking and hospitality definitely involves the art of listening. And there are times when you just don’t have the words to say and sipping a beverage sometimes gives us permission to not speak.

Around the world, I suppose, tea is more universal than coffee. There is nothing about coffee itself that makes it our chosen symbol of hospitality. For now, however, I’m going to keep making coffee to offer to others. And I’ll keep accepting the gift of coffee from others. We seem to be more civil to one other when we have a cup in our hands.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!