ERROL CASTENS: The theology of coffee

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

Former Daily Journal colleague Monique Harrison Henderson mused recently that she’s never understood some people’s resolution to give up coffee.
That got me to brainstorming, too – a tempest in a coffeepot, in my case – and I concluded resolving to quit drinking coffee would be akin to resolving to quit smelling roses, looking at sunsets or listening to birdsong – a first-order act of ingratitude.
Think about all the unlikely steps it took to discover coffee as we know and love it today.
Some obscure goat herd on the foothills of some tropical highland tasted those red berries from that wild bush that the goats nibbled on. He could not have known whether they were poisonous to humans – goats’ affinity for woody bushes, grass, old movie posters and Little Tikes Cozy Coupes not being a good indicator of palatability to humans – but figured if a life centered on stinky, obstinate critters didn’t leave that much to lose.
Our anonymous pioneer found the peel and pulp to be slightly sweet and fruity but exceedingly thin. Realizing it would take hours of chewing to get a scant mushy meal, our nameless herdsman gave up on the idea.
But at least he didn’t die, and 60 years later, he told his great-grandchildren about that adventure.
When those children had children of their own, a wildfire swept through the lowlands during a drought. Desperate for edibles, the people scoured the hills and found the red berries scorched down to the hard seed. They were gritty and hard to swallow when chewed, and they didn’t satisfy much hunger, but somehow the folks felt more optimistic and energetic anyway and cheerfully walked 20 miles to where the landscape was untouched by fire and food was available.
In another drought season, years later, some among those folks remembered how satisfying those burnt berries had been, and some fool/visionary torched the landscape again, just as the Chinaman burnt down his house in Charles Lamb’s “Dissertation on Roast Pig,” just to duplicate the recalled euphoria.
After a few generations of this one village’s periodically consuming the burnt berries and the landscape that way, someone spilled a bowl of the beans into a pot of water that was being heated for a chicken plucking, and someone else risked a sip and noted that chicken feathers wouldn’t taste right with that flavor but that the liquid was pretty good on its own.
After a few more generations someone decided it might taste good with cream, too. Even goat cream.
After God orchestrated just the right series of knuckleheads and geniuses over the centuries to accomplish all this, it would be downright blasphemous to look at this wondrous beverage he offers his beloved and say, “Meh; no thanks.”
So, sip in good conscience, friends, and offer praise for the coffee Maker.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford Bureau reporter Errol Castens at

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