I’ve heard it said that the traditional Irish name for whiskey is “the water of life.” With all due respect to whiskey, I don’t think it deserves that name. I can think of another drink that, in my opinion, is far more life-giving.
That drink is coffee.
I say this not just because coffee is responsible for the daily resurrection of Ginny from the sleep of the dead. It’s for a whole host of reasons, actually. In ways that are big and small and delicious, coffee has enhanced my life. And — because I’m on spring break and I have time to systematically ponder these things — I’m going to share them here.
1. Coffee is proof that God wants us to take pleasure in the senses. Seriously, is there any more fabulous taste than a really good cup of coffee (in my case, laced with half and half)? It is one of the few drinks that can render me speechless with delight. No matter how early the alarm, that first sip makes me actually glad that I am no longer asleep. That’s some serious magic.
And it’s not just taste, either – the mere smell of coffee is intoxicating. Even people who don’t drink coffee will speak fondly of the dark, delicious scent of freshly-roasted or -ground beans. Ahhhh.
2. Coffee is a good companion for both the alone times and the social times. I always sneak my cup of coffee back to my bedroom in the morning and close the door. The kids think I’m getting dressed for the day, and I do, eventually — but first I sit at my prayer desk for a brief session of morning prayer, just me and my coffee and God. It’s a quiet ritual that gets my day off to a good start.
But coffee has also traditionally and historically been a social beverage. The first coffeehouse in Paris was a major magnet for the thinkers of the Enlightenment to meet and discuss Big Things with their pals. Nowadays, we meet friends at Peet’s or Starbucks to catch up over a latte or an espresso. Growing up, coffee always made an appearance at family dinners; my mom or grandma or aunt would brew a pot and pour mugs to share over the dinner table conversation. A drink that brings people together and doesn’t result in a barfight: that’s one of the virtues of coffee.
3. Coffee is evidence (if such is needed) that I am a grownup. As a kid, I hated it. In college, I discovered a taste for it, and there was no going back. It was a rite of passage akin to getting my own checking account.
It also figured prominently in an important college lesson. One morning in the dining hall after staying up most of the night studying for a midterm, I was desperate to wake up. I thought, in my hazy fog, that drinking two large glasses (not cups, mind: glasses) would make me alert for the test. In fact, the coffee made me so manic and jittery that it was a struggle to restrain myself from running circles around around the classroom like a cartoon character with puffs of smoke at her heels. It was a good lesson: Do all things in moderation. From then on, I drank much less, and enjoyed it much more.
4. Coffee has given my husband a new hobby. A few years back, looking for a cheaper way to fuel our daily coffee habit, Scott started researching places to purchase beans online. That led him to websites that talked about roasting your own coffee. That led him to try roasting beans with a popcorn popper, which led him to set off the smoke alarm, which led him to move the popper to the garage. That, finally, led him to tell me that he wanted to buy a $300 coffee roasting machine.
“I seem to recall,” I told him, “that we started this whole thing as a way to cut costs.”
He patiently explained that he still had some birthday money left over, and that he had crunched the numbers and it would start paying for itself within a not-so-distant date, and I gritted my teeth and said okay, and he embarked on a hobby that he loves to this day. He buys green beans through the mail, and once a week or so he goes out to the garage and roasts. He has experimented with different kinds of beans from different places (my favorite: Ethiopian), and he has a log book where he records it all, and his coffee is hotly (ha! unintentional pun) in demand among our family and friends. Because believe me, if you think coffee is good, coffee that is freshly-roasted is even better.
So it’s a hobby that has enriched my own life immeasurably. And now we always have a Christmas gift for those hard-to-shop for folks! What’s not to love?
5. Coffee makes the world a little smaller. I’m of the generation that remembers the commercials with Juan Valdez and his donkey. As a kid seeing those ads, you knew that the coffee your parents brewed did not grow down the street but in some faraway place called Colombia. In its own small way, it helped foster a fledgling global consciousness. And now, with the emergence of the fair trade movement, the purchase of coffee can actively promote better lifestyles for people around the world. That’s a pretty great thing.
6. It has a really cool and obscure patron saint. At LA Congress the year after Scott started his roasting hobby, I found this magnet for sale.
I had never heard of Saint Drogo before and frankly I was skeptical, because it sounds like a name invented by someone who has read too much Tolkein. A little research, however, proved that he is actually a legitimate Flemish saint of the twelfth century. He is not only the saint of coffeehouse keepers, but also of deaf people, shepherds, gallstones, and (I quote) “people whom others find repulsive.” He also apparently had the ability to bilocate, which in his bio is not specifically attributed to coffee consumption but which nonetheless seems like the kind of superpower you’d expect from the drink.
So that’s a sampling of reasons why I love coffee: the water of life, the nectar of the gods, the drink I can’t do without.