Sunday, August 11, 2013

Spirituality and coffee

Spirituality and coffee go together. Really. I’m one of those detestable early morning persons. If I’ve had a decent night’s sleep, I wake up at 5:30, happy and looking forward to a new day. (Please don’t hate me. Please keep reading.) After brief morning ablutions, I grind the coffee beans (fresh, organic), put water in the machine, flip the switch, and let the aroma begin to waft like incense. This is part of my morning worship sequence. In the fullness of time, I choose a certain mug (the one I bought in Russia), fill it up, taking my coffee black, and go to my special chair in the living room.
This is one of the best parts of the day. All I need is a stretch of silence, my Bible, my place…and a cup of coffee.
I’m writing this from Londrina, Brazil, where we’ve been involved in an intense week of doctoral seminars with men and women from different parts of Latin America. Yesterday, Saturday, we took the day off to play and visited a 1000 hectare coffee plantation in the middle of the southern Brazilian countryside. The owner and manager of Fazenda Palmeira, Cornelia Gamerschlag, personally spent the day with us, escorting us around the plantation, explaining the different processes, even letting us spend time picking coffee beans.
During her lecture we learned that Fazenda Palmeira is a member of a Fair Trade cooperative. This means that the 50 workers are treated well and paid a decent wage, that care is taken of the environment, and that the quality and integrity of the product is not compromised. It also means that the large plantations, like Fazenda Palmeira, respect the rights of the small plantations which make up the majority of the other members of the cooperative. At least 51% of the coffee in any Fair Trade sale must be supplied by the small plantations. To me, this is an important connection between social justice, spirituality and coffee.
Our Brazilian colleagues later told us that this is the exception in Brazil, that exploitation of workers is the norm. They even expressed doubts as to the claims made about Fazenda Palmeira, but, for the moment, I choose to be a believer.
Here are some other coffee factoids we learned:
--The best coffee, made from mature red beans and processed correctly, is more sweet than bitter. No sugar needs to be added.
--Three cups of good coffee each day postpones the effects of aging.
--For young people, a daily cup of coffee with milk sharpens mental processes.
--The best and most expensive coffee in the world is found only on the island of Sumatra in
Indonesia and, more recently, in the state of Espírito Santo in Brazil. It is made with the help of a type of rat, known locally as a luqui. This rat eats coffee beans by night, than poops them out before morning. Workers gather the rat poop the next day, remove the beans, and begin the processes that result in coffee. A liter of these special beans costs $1500.00 and a cup of the coffee, $100.00. The flavor is said to be like a combination of coffee, chocolate and grapes. This is not a joke.

We had breakfast at the plantation. The coffee was delicious. We were assured that it was not Holy Spirit Rat Poop Coffee. (They couldn’t afford to serve it.)
While I’m at it, I must share a quote the tour guide supplied, from a French history of coffee. The author, one Jules Michelet, informs that, “The consumption of coffee is sublime. It is powerful nourishment for the brain, and differs from alcoholic beverages in that it augments the purity and lucidity of one’s breakfast. It eliminates clouds that would obscure imagination, frees from the weight of darkness and illumines the reality of all things with the brilliance of truth.” (This is my English translation from the Spanish version we were given which was translated from a Portuguese translation of the original French. Its precision is not guaranteed. Sorry, Jules.)
I will long remember this day. And yes, I am serious about the link between spirituality and coffee. Coffee is one of the many graces of life. It helps me to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Picking the beans

"Tossing" the beans

Drying the beans

Cornelia explains the different qualities and stages of maturity.

Back "home" in Londrina

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