Starbucks, Peet’s Coffee, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, Costa Coffee, Tim Hortons—you name it! Even if you have not tried their coffee, you sure can’t miss them. They are everywhere, because people drink coffee everywhere!
Besides contributing to the progress of human society with its wonderful concentration and productivity powers, different coffees around the world have unique and interesting flavors.
I am a third-culture professional. Having begun my working career in Europe, I moved to Canada, then back to my native India. My observation of coffee culture in these places taught me a lot about the brighter and darker side of coffee, and of humanity.
The Dark Side of Coffee
Let me get straight to the point. In pre-independence India, the caste segregation in India’s society was very pronounced. The higher caste (Brahmins) had access to coffee shops. People from all other castes were prohibited.
These cafes served “Indian filter coffee.” It is coffee brewed by percolation of finely ground coffee powder through a traditional Indian filter. The coffee is then mixed with frothed and boiled milk. Indian filter coffee is infamous for its association with caste segregation and discrimination.
However, post-independence, the government acted consciously to decrease caste-based discrimination. Eventually, Indian filter coffee became the drink of the common man. The Mecca of filter coffee is the southern Indian city of Madras (now Chennai), where I lived for the past one year.
Today, India and Chennai are proud of filter coffee. However, for me, it still represents the dark reality of caste discrimination, which remains to this day in other strata of society, and I myself have experienced it on at least 50 occasions.
Medium and Light: The Brighter Side of Coffee
Having spent most of my professional life in the research world and academia, coffee has been my medium of productivity.
It helped me work incredibly hard—hard enough to successfully create a prototype model to analyze the impact of temperature change on the evolutionary genetics of marine fish and invertebrates, among other things.
But the world of coffee revealed to me things much greater than that. Things that are far greater than being a medium for my research achievements and far outweigh the dark history of coffee in southern India.
Coffee brought the light of the gospel to communities. I had some of the best dark roast Americanos on Sunday mornings at my church, thanks to a coffee fanatic named Chad. But the light of the gospel has to be seen well beyond the walls of the church.
The best coffee shop in a Canadian city where I lived was owned by men who were committed to share the glory of the light of the gospel with their neighborhood and the community. They travelled the world to select the best coffee from across the world.
Outside trading hours, they inspired young men like me to put ourselves to work, value time, value money, value profession, and live life through the lens of the gospel. They began their business from scratch and are now rated the top in western Canada.
More recently, I stumbled on a café in the Indian city of Bangalore. It is run by three people who grew up in an orphanage. Thankfully, it was not just any orphanage. They were taught about the unconditional love of Christ and the need to love humanity in the same way.
As a consequence, they decided to donate most of the profit from their café back to the orphanage where they grew up. Besides, they also employ people from the orphanage.
And the best part: they use the best local coffee bean available and make their coffee on an imported Italian espresso machine.
Who thought coffee could do magic? It does: in our offices, in our heads, and even in our churches and our places of fellowship. For those of you who don’t drink coffee: don’t worry, there are enough caffeinated heads around you to make our world a better place!
Vijay Jayaraj (M.Sc., Environmental Science, University of East Anglia, England), Research Associate for Developing Countries for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, lives in Bangalore, India.