No one could doubt the cultural significance of coffee after checking out any of the available coffee apps, the most recent of which, Brewseful, is generating buzz. Coffee brewing times, coffee pour rates, roasting methods — all of it can be tracked on an app. Not to mention the location of the nearest coffee shop replete with detailed reviews. This almost fanatical devotion to coffee — from sourcing to roasting to brewing (or not) — has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry.
Meanwhile, the coffee served at churches runs counter to this trend, where coffee drinking is more an expression of sociability and caffeine-dependence than anything else. Most churches take the bulk approach when it comes to buying coffee beans, picking up giant tins of Folgers in an effort to be good stewards of their allotted coffee dollars. A quick glance inside one of these tubs reveals the problem: coffee grounds so old they’ve assumed the same shape and flavor as the dirt left over in the pot of the last plant you killed. Dry bits of dust, unfit for human consumption — unless you’re an evangelical on a Sunday morning who woke up too late to stop for coffee on the way to church.
Some churches have responded to increasingly high expectations when it comes to coffee by upping their game. At events designed to attract a more culturally-connected group of evangelicals, legitimate coffee — coffee that would not be ashamed to show its face in Brooklyn or Portland, sourced directly from a single farm in Guatemala, with water provided by the tears of angels, poured from a kettle with perfectly consistent flow rate — is being integrated into church life. Whereas once one would have found nothing in the way of church coffee beyond a battered aluminum coffeemaker dispensing liquid into a styrofoam cup, replete with grounds clinging to the sides after each sip, it is now not unheard of to see expensive, complicated coffee machines — capable of creating all manner of speciality drinks — ensconced in a dedicated part of the church — a coffee shop within the house of God. Like a concession stand just off a baseball field. And everybody knows that hot dogs and baseball go together — just like coffee and worship. Some churches have taken this a step further and dispensed with the house of God framework altogether, choosing to hold their services in cafes and coffee shops.
Evangelicals love a trend, and the trend toward an obsession with coffee — yea, even unto snobbery — is not a bad thing, especially in light of coffee’s role in fostering conversation and fending off weariness when sermons or worship songs go into extra innings.
Great coffee is aromatic, eye-opening, heart-warming and delicious. But, in the end, it is still just coffee. No matter how elegant the espresso machine, how perfectly roasted the beans or how fairly they are traded, no one ever really comes to church for the coffee. And that is just as it should be.