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The Stewardship of Coffee

Liquid Motivation. Some rights reserved (CC BY-SA-NO 3.0) by LMP+Many of us operate on a budget, our financial spending reflecting our values; individually, at work, even at church. So, when we consider what we spend our money on, even our coffee plays a role in our decisions.

To be fair, I am not suggesting that we’re all making a choice between generic on-sale grounds compared to Kopi Luwak. (Luwak, the world’s most expensive coffee at around $600 per pound, is taken from the beans eaten and then excreted by civet cats.) I’m asking: do we really know what we’re spending on our coffee? And is that amount reflective of good stewardship?

I freely admit I am a coffee snob. I’ve had good coffee (my first cup of joe was at the base of the Blue Mountains in Jamaica – some of the best coffee in the world!); I’ve had bad coffee (swill that had simmered in an open pot over a fire for days). I’ve had expensive coffee (Kopi Luwac in the Philippines); I’ve had cheap coffee (a café in Kenya serving the local AA). I’ve had a lot of coffee in a lot of places. And I know what I like, and what I will pay for.

So I buy good coffee – fairly traded, organic and shade grown, if possible. I grind my own beans; sometimes I roast my own beans. So I make the provisions in my budgeting to allow for this expense. I tend to go through a few pounds a month, and I spend around $12-15 per pound. I could get cheaper coffee, but this is coffee from companies whose practices and products I want to support. To me this is a reasonable amount of money, it fits within my budget and my ethics.

I also treat myself to having coffee out every now and then. I don’t visit St. Arbuck’s every day, and not just because I don’t live near one. That coffee experience (with not overly great coffee) is for me a treat for special occasions or outing with friends. I support the local coffee shop here in town, but again it’s not really for a fabulous coffee – more of a casual place to meet friends (or write sermons when they phone won’t stop ringing!) Again, this is part of my budget.

So how much do you spend on coffee? And is it reasonable? I have friends who grab their morning caffeine from the nearest outlet on the way into work, and don’t hesitate at dropping a few dollars – daily – for something in a paper cup. I’ve known folks who paid for their baby’s diapers by making coffee at home instead of visiting such an outlet. When they started calculating what they spent on coffee, they realized that their money was better spent on other things.

Making coffee at home can be more economical. It can represent better stewardship. But we need to be careful – the drastic increase in single-serving coffee makers that use pods or cups has led to a drastic increase in what we’re spending on coffee. A 2012 New York Times article identified the cost of these pods to work out to around $51US per pound. Let’s ignore the brand-specific machine, and waste-generating pods for just a moment. $51 a pound. For coffee. Sometimes it’s even INSTANT coffee. Made from water that’s hot but not boiling. (Even on sale at 20% off, that’s still over $40 per pound!) Egads!

This sounds, to me, to be ridiculous. Sure, these pods claim increased convenience (though not much, any coffee needs beans/water/heat!), many flavor varieties (regular beans are available in the same varieties), and the benefit of not wasting the rest of the pot (despite many ways to make individual cups of coffee). But they’re trendy, and cute, and fun – right?

And they’re wasteful. Financially, I can come up with better ways to spend my money – and demonstrate my priorities to the world. I can choose to spend that $51 per pound on coffee, or I can buy my $15 coffee and put the rest towards the local food bank. Or the mission of the local parish church. Or the shelter for abused women ad children. Or the great ministries at PWRDF or Anglican Foundation. Or… well, the list goes on.

Our coffee tells the world what we value, what we deem important enough to spend our money on. So where do your values lie? How does your coffee show the world what is important to you? Is that the value you really want to show, or is it time for a change?

Have you ever considered how much you spend on coffee (or tea)? Is this a good example of financial stewardship in your household?

About Laura Marie Piotrowicz

I'm a high-energy priest, now serving in the Diocese of Niagara, catching glimpses of the kingdom in daily life. I consider church to be a verb, and I'm passionate about prayer, eco-theology, and social justice. I love travel, reading, canoeing, camping, gardening and cooking, playing with my dogs, and drinking good coffee.
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