I thought the cultural attachment to coffee in the Northern Great Plains/Upper Midwest (NGP/UM) strange as I moved more deeply into congregational life. The relationship to coffee appeared different in the Pacific Northwest in my simultaneous regional observations. In the early 90's coffee developed into a heavy commerce/status/survival commodity in the Pacific Northwest. Commerce, because coffee stands sprung up like rainy season mushrooms all over the PNW, in any old place. As a non-coffee drinker, I saw it as a status/commerce thing at the time. However, after repeated visits to the PNW, my dear wife commented that coffee was more of a survival drink, offering a means to get through mind-altering and numerous overcast days. I found that argument persuasive, though I still could not relate. So much money and effort placed on something that tasted like something brewed from dishwater, dirt and acid.
Coffee in the NGP/UM Lutheran culture became annoying--it was a social ticket in any congregation with which I came in contact. I literally received gasps when I refused coffee. What does one do with their hands and mouth during a conversation? How does one stay awake during an Adult Bible Study on a Sunday morning? I joke that I almost wasn't ordained or graduated from seminary because part of the examination period involved being offered a cup of coffee. If I didn't accept, I failed and would be removed from the program. This joke was not completely baseless; I had one instance where I thought I was failing on my internship because of coffee. A local pastor was visibly offended when I refused coffee at a meeting and insisted multiple times I had a cup. "What do you MEAN you don't drink coffee (can't Baptists enter into anything without judgment--I'll have to talk with my friend Theobilly the Baptist about this one)?!??!???" Having a weak self-esteem bubble, I gagged through a cup and 1/2 and felt a racing heart mangled taste buds the rest of the morning.
Marriage offered me no shelter from coffee culture--my dear wife loves her coffee. Few things solidify and care for our marriage like the dependable cup of coffee brewed in the morning, it speaks something about the commitment of love. She taught me the art of working with espresso--and I have developed into a decent amateur barista. We've worked our way through two espresso machines in nearly 12 years of marriage, and are in need of a third. I attempted to resurrect our last machine, but broke it beyond repair in that attempt. The Frugal Rule is so strong that we are holding off on a new machine purchase until our budget can help us acquire a higher quality device. But we have our basic Mr. Coffee to get us through the interim period. My dear wife has never been a militant coffee activist. She has never derided me for my simple freedom to reject coffee--only that I tolerate her simple(?) pleasure and not look down on keeping it as a household staple. No problem there. Though I don't like the taste or smell of coffee, it doesn't evoke the gag reflex like the banana or paper mache.
After ordination and graduation from seminary, I became more resolute in my personal rejection of coffee, but it wasn't merely the coffee institution, but the entire idea of caffeine. I wondered about the need for such a stimulant. A very good friend of mine used to carry large gas station containers of java wherever he went at the seminary--I could identify a place he landed, because he left his coffee jugs all over campus with his papers and books. One day in a real smart-aleck tone I told him--"I don't need coffee, I just sleep. It works a lot better for studying." Part of this declaration involved what I learned trying to pull all-nighters...but I still had (have) a lot to learn.