The Communion of Caffeine

Essay in Embryo #4

I grew up watching my father suck down Folgers and Maxwell House by the pot-ful. I knew he’d stop at Dunkin’ Donuts–going out of his way–before work, and I knew that one of the first things he did when he got to work was tear a crinkly pouch of industrial coffee powder and brew a carafe for the rest of the office and auto garage workers, yes, but still, for himself. I knew he wasn’t alone. The traffic outside our almost miniature Dunks was always heaviest before 8am, and right before 1pm, the cars snaking their way around the back drive-thru like a chain of rollercoaster cars that are slowly chugging up, up, but never arriving.

In the churches I grew up under, communion was always carried out with a unique and different introduction, always ending with Christ’s words to “eat/drink this in remembrance of me.” As a result, I don’t remember anything they ever said.

My dad once gave me a sip, and I felt as if I had just lapped a puddle gathered in a sandbox. “It gets me through the day,” he said. Right then, at age 12, I vowed to never give myself to the drink, especially if it didn’t even taste good.

When I left for college, I, for all intents and purposes, stopped going to church. It started as ‘a break’ from the unwavering habit of my childhood, but eventually I figured out it was because of how nervous it made me.

At this point, I’ve gone from liking coffee only if it tasted like melted mocha chip ice cream all the way to espresso snobbery, single-estate and fairly traded. And I’ve lived up to my vow–I don’t drink it in the morning (it turns my just-awoken stomach into a series of spinning concentric circles), and if I do drink it, it’s as an afternoon ‘treat.’

They often warned us not to take communion if ‘our hearts weren’t right’ (an abstraction stemming from Luke’s words in 1 Corinthians 11:29: anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body of the Lord eats and drinks judgment on himself). I was scared my heart was never right, and whew, that would be a lot of ingested judgment.

The thing is, I still don’t really like it. And, what’s more, I’ve duped myself. While I don’t start with coffee, I do start with a full pot of English tea. Never the American dust that Lipton and others sell. I go for bags that blacken the water like someone’s turned out the light. And my coffee ‘treat’ turns out to be almost every afternoon Monday-Friday.

N and I have tried a number of churches, ranging from high liturgical to off-the-rafters charismatic. But it just reminds me of the fact that every church I was a part of as a kid split, severing the church’s members like a mass divorce. In our attempts to freshen up Communion, we cut ourselves in half.

But I’ve turned the making of both beverages into holy and restorative rituals. I pour just boiled water into the tea pot, ‘shocking it,’ as the double-turned phrase goes, dump that into my mug to warm it, then pour the water over the tea bag, spinning the pot 360 degrees as the water flows in. When I dump the water out of the mug, I use the warmed porcelain to massage my right forearm, to loosen things up before writing/grading. My coffee ritual is similar. I just usually end up dumping 85% of the coffee out. This doesn’t stop me from making it, however. On afternoons where I need a distraction, and there’s no emails (never any emails), I make coffee so I can dump it out.

When people ask what church I belong to, I say, “still looking,” the words like tainted water that I keep drinking, then spitting back into the cup, hoping that one of these times it will turn itself into wine.

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About bp

I'm writing a book. It's called, Wake, Sleeper. My writing revolves around this idea of art: attempts to recover what is lost.
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