How Do You Take Your Coffee?
by Amanda Hudson
If you are one of the millions of Americans addicted to coffee, you can thank a goat herder from Ethiopia named Kaldi. According to legend, “coffee” was discovered in the Ethiopian mountains by Kaldi, who noticed that his goats became hyperactive and wouldn’t sleep after eating the berries from the coffee plant. Kaldi passed this bit of information on to the head of a nearby monastery who found that a drink made with the beans successfully kept him awake for long nights of prayer—which proves that coffee and church actually goes back a lot farther than anyone guessed.
I used to work as a barista in a coffee shop, which gave me lots of time to think about coffee and one of my other passions, the church. The different blends were about as diverse as my customers. In the middle of making cinnamon cappuccinos and dark roast lattes and coffee frappes and chai smoothies, I began to think, if Christianity is like coffee, the American choices are as vast as the selection in a five-star coffee shop. Some people know exactly what brand they want. Some have no clue. Some people seem to make it harder than it needs to be. (“I’d like one 20 oz. latte, with two shots regular espresso, one shot decaf, raspberry syrup with half the raspberry and soy milk steamed to 150.”) Some just want the traditional, small, black cup of Joe. Some want decaf so they can have the taste of coffee without the caffeine. Some want theirs loaded with sugar.
I recently took a trip to five countries—Brazil, Wales, Tanzania, China and Honduras—to write about Christianity around the world and a bit of everyday life. What I found was, each culture tended to take their coffee a certain way, which in some ways, served as a metaphor for their faith. In Brazil, the coffee was served black, but with a large amount of sugar polluting the taste. In Wales the coffee was weak, made with an instant coffee and water from the tea kettle. In Tanzania, they don’t have commercial coffeehouses like Starbucks—if you want coffee, you may have to plant it yourself. In China the national drink is tea, not coffee. And the coffee in Honduras is plain, bold and homegrown. Contrast that with America, the land of mocachinos, frappachinos and grande caramel lattes.
Why does exploring the faith around the world matter? For starters, it reminds us that we are all connected, despite the continental drift. It helps us put our needs in context and shows us how to fill the needs of others. And it reveals the depth of God’s kingdom and his love for all of us.
There were lessons on my trip about faith, the prosperity gospel, persecution and religious fervor—all adding different flavors when mixed with the church. What I mean is, the body of believers around the world keeps the church from being one-dimensional, one American blend. There are lessons to be learned that are not visible in our own culture. Questions that are not our normal questions. Struggles that are not our normal struggles.
Many, many blends, but one father of us all.
So after all that, how do I take my coffee, you may ask? After five countries, 12 churches and six time zones, I’m finding I sort of like my coffee black.
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