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Barista dressed as a Pope with a Starbucks logo on the hat: MattArnold

Acolytes TwoThousandFive: RachelSherman, ChristineBender (JoeBender could not attend due to illness)

Acolytes TwoThousandSix: AndreaDale, RachelSherman

Processional: The processants shall wear robes and slippers, and shall chant “coffea arabica” and hit their face with a pillow, and then repeat, in the style of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, until they have arrived at the front of the congregation.

Congregational Litany, led by the Barista:

It is by caffiene alone I set my mind in motion.

It is by the beans of java

that the mind aquires speed,

the hands aquire shaking,

the shaking becomes a warning.

It is by caffiene alone I set my mind in motion.

The acolytes shall distribute the sacrament that was prepared in advance.

The congregation shall turn to the east, raise their cups and say “God, I needed that!”

Perepare the Holy of Holies, the Bodum Santos, the most theatrical brewing method ever devised.

While the coffee brews, play “Coffee 2003 Grind” by Worm Quartet.

Note: Redesign the Order Of Service to include “Zen Cappucino” or other coffee-related music by new acolyte AndreaDale.

Coffee Culture: The Coffee Ritual

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.

Coffee Culture: Coffee as Sacrament

Coffee has a long history as spiritual substance. Frederick Wellman, in Coffee: Botany, Cultivation, and Utilization, describes an African blood-brother ceremony in which “blood of the two pledging parties is mixed and put between the twin seeds of a coffee fruit and the whole swallowed.”

Coffee in its modern form, as a hot, black beverage, was first used as a medicine, next as an aid to prayer and meditation by Arabian monastics, much as green tea is used by Zen monks in Japan to celebrate and fortify. Pilgrims to Mecca carried coffee all over the Moslem world. It became secularized, but the religious association remained. Some Christians at first were wont to brand coffee as “that blacke bitter invention of Satan,” as opposed to good Christian wine, but in the sixteenth century Pope Clement VIII is said to have sampled coffee and given it his official blessing.

Coffee Culture: Coffee Ceremonies

For people in the Horn of Africa and parts of the Middle East coffee has maintained its religious connotations, and the ritual aspects remain conscious and refined. Ethiopians and Eritreans brought their coffee ceremonies with them as they immigrated to the United States. My first experience with a formal coffee ceremony was in the apartment of an Eritrean friend in a thoroughly urbanized part of Oakland, California. His wife carefully roasted the green coffee beans in a shallow pan, passed the just-roasted, steaming beans around the room so that everyone could enjoy their sweet black smoke, cooled them on a small straw mat, ground them in an electric grinder (at home in Eritrea she would use a large mortar and pestle, but she explained that the pounding disturbed her downstairs neighbors!), brewed the coffee in a traditional clay pot, and served it in tiny cups. The entire event was an opportunity to talk and gossip while basking in the smell and spectacle of the preparation of the beverage whose consumption consummated the morning.

On a less literal level, a multitude of coffee ceremonies take place simultaneously all over the world: in office lunchrooms, in espresso bars, in Swedish parlors, in Japanese coffeehouses, wherever coffee drinkers gather to stare into space, to read a newspaper, or to share a moment, outside time and obligation, with their friends. Ritual is further wrapped up in the smell and taste of coffee. Certain aromas, flavors, gestures, and sounds combine to symbolize coffee and suggest a mood of contemplation or well-being in an entire culture. This, I am convinced, was the reason for the persistence of the pumping percolator in American culture in the 1940s through 1960s. To Americans of that era, the gentle popping sound of the percolator and the smell the popping liberated signified coffee and made them feel good before they even lifted a cup.

Other cultures have similar associations. To people from the Middle East and parts of Eastern Europe, the froth that gathers in the pot when brewing coffee is an indispensable part of the drink, not only because it tastes good but because it symbolizes the meditative glow that comes with brewing and consuming coffee. Italians put a comparable, if somewhat less ceremonial, emphasis on the froth produced by espresso brewing. An Italian will not take a tazzina of espresso seriously if it is not topped with a layer of what to a filter-coffee drinker may look like gold-colored scum. Yet this golden scum, or crema, is what marks espresso as the real thing. Similar satisfaction resides in the milk froth that tops such drinks as caffè latte and cappuccino. The froth has almost no flavor, but a cappuccino is not a cappuccino without it.

Coffee Culture: Coffee Anti-Ceremonies

A comedian recently advanced the idea of drive-through communion as a way of counteracting declining church attendance.

For many of us what has happened to the public ritual of coffee in recent years is almost as grotesque. Rather than hearty ceramic mug of drip coffee or elegant demitasse of espresso we buy caffe lattes dispensed into cardboard with all the finesse of pumping gas. Rather than coffee as catalyst for a brief moment alone with our thoughts, or a chat with a friend, or a round of banter with a waiter or waitress, that cardboard-encased latte is one element in a multitasking drive to work combining lukewarm coffee, a Danish lifted off a napkin on the lap, and a series of cell-phone calls to clients.

Nothing to be done about this latest subversion of pleasure, of course, except exhort one another to slow down and sniff the coffee occasionally and perhaps replace the cardboard cup with a stainless steel insulated mug.

But I often wish I could transport some of the local baristas and their overcaffeinated, underserved customers to Italy, where they could experience a coffee ritual as elegant as it is brief and efficient. No one is in as much a hurry as Italians, yet they always take a couple of minutes to give themselves to coffee and the moment that surrounds it: The tiny cup, always delivered with a saucer and matching spoon, always half-filled with rich, perfumy espresso, placed with economy of gesture on a clean bar. For a few seconds, nothing intrudes between the tiny pool of fragrant coffee and drinker. Then the cup is returned to the saucer with a definitive clack, and the customer is on her or his way, carrying a respite, however momentary, from the press and clutter of obligation.

Coffee Culture: Coffeehouse Culture

The customs of coffeehouse and café appear to be intimately connected to the effect of coffee and caffeine on mind and body. Coffee stimulates conscious mental associations, whereas alcohol, for instance, provokes instinctual responses. In other words, alcohol typically makes us want to eat, fight, make love, dance, and sleep, whereas coffee encourages us to think, talk, read, write, or work. Wine is consumed to relax, and coffee to drive home. For the Moslems, the world's first coffee drinkers, coffee was the “wine of Apollo,” the beverage of thought, dream, and dialectic, “the milk of thinkers and chess players.” For the faithful Moslem it was the answer to the Christian and pagan wine of Dionysus and ecstasy.

From the inception of the coffeehouse in Mecca to the present, customers in cafés tend to talk and read rather than dance, play chess rather than gamble, and listen contemplatively to music rather than sing. The café usually opens to the street and sun, unlike bars or saloons, whose dark interiors protect the drinker from the encroachment of the sober, workaday world. The coffee drinker wants not a subterranean refuge but a comfortable corner in which to read a newspaper and observe the world as it slips by, just beyond the edge of the table.

The café is connected with work (the truck stop, the coffee break) and with a special brand of informal study. A customer buried in reading matter is a common sight in even the most lowbrow café. The Turks called their cafés “schools of the wise.” In seventeenth-century England, coffeehouses were often called “penny universities.” For the price of entry-one penny; coffee cost two, which included newspapers-one could participate in a floating seminar that might include such notables as Joseph Addison and Sir Richard Steele.

As a matter of fact, aside from the Romanticists, who temporarily switched to plein-air, it is hard to find too many European or American intellectuals of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who did not spend the better part of their days in cafés or coffeehouses. Recall that the Enlightenment not only gave Europe a new world view, but coffee and tea as well. It must have been considerably easier revolutionizing Western thought after morning coffee than after the typical medieval breakfast of beer and herring.

Coffee Culture: Worldwide Tradition

The tradition of the coffeehouse has spread worldwide. Australia is paved with Italian-style caffes and Japan has evolved its kisatens, an elegant interpretation of American 1950s-style coffee shops and coffeehouses. In Great Britain, the espresso-bar craze of the 1950s came and went, but shows vigorous signs of a Starbucks-style comeback. Other parts of Europe and the Middle East have their own ongoing traditions. In Vienna, the home of the first European coffeehouses, the café tradition has undergone a renaissance.

In the United States, the 1930s and 1940s brought the classic diner, and the 1950s and 1960s the vinyl-boothed coffee shop, together with the coffeehouse – haunt of rebels, poets, beboppers, and beatniks. All of these incarnations are still with us. The classic diner is enjoying a revival, coffee shops still minister to the bottomless cup, and in American cities hundreds of new coffeehouses cater to a fresh generation of rebels, complete with funky furniture, radical posters, jazz, and folksingers.

But the 1970s and 1980s appear to have produced still another North American café tradition. Classic Italian-American caffes of the 1950s, like Caffè Reggio in Manhattan and Caffè Trieste in San Francisco, appear to have influenced the development of a style of café or caffe that takes as its starting point an immigrant's nostalgic vision of the lost and gracious caffes of prewar Italy. From that vision come the light and spacious interiors of the new North American urban café, together with the open seating, the simple and straightforward furnishing, and an atmosphere formal enough to discourage customers from swaggering around and putting their feet on chairs, yet informal enough to mix students doing homework and executives having business meetings. Add an espresso machine and some light new American cuisine, and the latest version of the American café is defined.

coffeeritual.txt · Last modified: 2017/01/14 11:24 (external edit)