ERROL CASTENS: Don't let 'efficiency' reduce coffee to mere caffeine

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Saw a commercial the other day touting the benefits of some tiny little itty-bitty drink that promises you all the energy benefits of coffee without the hassles of actually buying it, brewing it or having to sit there and sip it.
It’s hard to feel sorry for the drink’s backers; they’re probably making money hand over fist. I don’t even necessarily feel sorry for folks who buy the drink.
But I truly pity the folks who buy the message.
I’ll admit that coffee can be a commodity: Occasionally just before certain meetings I caffeinate myself against a committee-induced coma.
The energy drink’s message, however, would dupe us with the idea that the sole purpose of coffee is to take one from asleep to apoplectic in 4.5 seconds flat.
It ignores the value of a few minutes’ leisure in which friends gradually learn each others’ histories, hurts, hopes and humors. Coffee is a ritualistic reason to spend time with one another – a pause for friendship that comes by the cupful.
(Semi-confession: Someone pointed out a while back that mutilation of my own scalp to save time and money on haircuts also discounts the social value of barbershops, but decades of ear abuse from tractors and chain saws make it difficult to socialize over a TV, clippers and competing voices.)
In a world where multitasking means never having to pay full attention to anything and relationships are too often virtual, I’m not willing allow modernity to pave over yet another patch of humanity by equating the satisfaction and socialization of coffee with mere bounce-in-a-bottle.
That would be like seeing a bottle of 1945 Chateau Lafite Rothschild as a mere way to get drunk, four-part harmony as three-part redundancy and hot biscuits as an inefficient way of packing flour and shortening into your gut.
It reminds me of the ending of “Cheaper by the Dozen,” the book that chronicled the lives of two efficiency experts and their gaggle of children. In chapter after chapter, the father pushes his offspring constantly to analyze their activities for time-saving opportunities.
Ultimately, the father is compelled to answer the query, “But what are you going to save time for? What are you going to do with it?”
“‘For work, if you love that best,’ said Dad. ‘For education, for beauty, for art, for pleasure.’ He looked over his pince-nez. ‘For mumblety-peg, if that’s where your heart lies.'”
Contact Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at (662) 281-1069 or

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