The coffee maker and two doctrines of vocation

More thoughts on coffee and on the bigger issues of vocation and striving for excellence. Consider this article on really, really good coffee houses:

Lana Labermeier, who opened Big Bear Cafe in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Northwest Washington in June 2007, shares Gwathmey’s attention to detail. Tables and couches at this cozy neighborhood spot are filled night and day with computer-toting regulars who come for the coffee, take up residence because of the Wi-Fi and stay for the day, enjoying the artfully prepared, if simple, hot and cold sandwiches.

Labermeier, 27, who also buys beans from Counter Culture, exudes a laid-back friendliness, but her standards regarding coffee and all things culinary are unbending. She doesn’t stock artificial sweeteners, for example, and finds sugar unnecessary. “Our milk is sweet, and our coffee isn’t bitter, so give it a try without sugar,” she says.

She offers only whole milk; no skinny lattes in her cafe. She is also adamant that the biggest brewed coffee she serves is 16 ounces. She won’t serve 20-ounce coffees, for reasons that she preferred not to discuss for fear that they would make her sound “snobby.”

“A beautiful coffee ought to be savored,” she said.

Customers do not always appreciate such purism. At Arlington’s Murky Coffee, another Counter Culture outlet with a fanatical commitment to quality, a brouhaha erupted last week after a barista refused a customer’s request for a triple espresso served over ice, saying ice would undermine the integrity of the drink. The fight escalated, epithets were uttered, and customer Jeff Simmermon wrote about the dust-up on his blog (, which got 100,000 hits in less than a week; owner Nicholas Cho wrote about this tempest in a coffee cup on Murky’s Web site, too.

Purism might make some customers angry, but it can pay off in the cup.

You perhaps heard of the brouhaha–make that brewhaha–that erupted in the blogosphere over that customer who ranted and raved on his blog about how that barista refused his request for ice in his espresso. Let us consider this issue and these examples of purists in their coffee-making in light of the doctrine of vocation.

I happen to admire these artists of coffee who keep the integrity of their work and the quality of their product instead of selling out to commercialism and consumerism. On the other hand, I think this may provide for a good example of the difference between the Reformed approach to vocation and the Lutheran approach. Does one make coffee (or do whatever it is you do) to the glory of God [the Reformed view]? Or to love and serve your neighbor [the Lutheran view]? Do you see the difference that is going to make?

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