The Coffee or the cup?

A couple of years ago, I ran across an invitation to the reception for a couple who were to be married in the Provo Temple. In the obligatory picture, the man stood stone-faced, dressed in the usual church attire, while his fiancé was grinning ear-to-ear, kicking up a stiletto heel, and wearing a mini-dress that barely fell to her mid-thigh. My reaction was two-fold. On the one hand, I was happy for her. The woman was graced with fabulous Lady Di legs. Why shouldn’t she flaunt ’em? On the other hand, I was confused. Why would an LDS girl pose for her temple wedding invitation in a dress she couldn’t wear with her temple garments? (Unless she was planning to channel Cyndi Lauper.)

To look cool, of course. 

OK, we’ve all been guilty of that at times. I can’t fault her for it. Only, to many LDS, “looking cool” means “looking like we’re not Mormons.” 

Take, for example, Provo’s latest business model, Latter-Day Café, now serving “capomo,” a beverage derived from the maya nut, and billed as “the first ever natural coffee substitute that ACTUALLY TASTES LIKE COFFEE!” 

Given their target clientele has probably never tried coffee, I’m guessing they’re in safe territory as far as taste goes. On price—not so much. Their cappuccino (billed as “an Italian favorite”) ranges from $5.75-7.00. But they do offer the trendy believer the opportunity to order a “flat white” in a coffee-house atmosphere, complete with spewing steam, foaming milk, and grinding beans (make that maya nuts). That alone could make Latter-Day Cafe a winner. 

Obedience to the Word of Wisdom has long been a challenge for LDS hipsters. Hence the success of places like Sodalicious, that serve up cleverly titled “mixed sodas,” offering the believer a simulation of ordering an actual cocktail. But substituting 7-up for gin is as far as a Mormon mixologist can go. The LDS ban on alcohol is cut and dried. Whereas the language around coffee continues to be vague and evolving, allowing Mormons some actual wiggle room. (Consider the following.)

The Word of Wisdom, found in D&C 89, discourages the consumption of “hot drinks.” The Church interprets “hot drinks” to be coffee and tea. Because they don’t have caffeine. So herbal tea is OK because it doesn’t have caffeine. Likewise hot chocolate. (Only, it does have caffeine—but let’s not go there.) Decaf coffee is not OK, even though it has less caffeine than chocolate, because it’s coffee. Also it’s hot. But even when tea and coffee are iced, they are still not OK because they have caffeine. But caffeinated soft drinks are OK, even the so-called energy drinks that have more caffeine than coffee. Got that?

Perhaps this conundrum explains why the Latter-Day Café offers to lace your cup of capomo with “anywhere from as much caffeine as a Coca Cola or even more than your favorite energy drink.” (But in no way the same ratio as coffee.) Perhaps that is also why a recent study conducted by Jana Reiss revealed that a number of LDS Millennials are blowing off the whole “hot drinks” debate and just drinking the stuff.

Starbucks seems to do well in Utah, and not just thanks to the non/ex-Mormons. Nor is it because of those coffee-guzzling Mormon Millennials that Jana Reiss ratted out. Mormons love their Starbucks. A friend of mine who used to manage a Starbucks in Davis County saw non-coffee orders outnumbering those for coffee. In fact, some customers even complained if the latte they ordered had coffee in it! (I mean, shouldn’t a barista in Bountiful know better?) My friend literally had to ask: “Would you like any espresso in your cappuccino?” And when they answered “no” she’d send them off with a $3+ cup of foam. Why would a good Latter-day Saint patronize a business whose primary product is against his/her religion?

Because the cups make them look cool! 

Can Latter-Day Café match that? Sure, they can make a mean no foam latte with extra caffeine and a triple shot of something that tastes “just like espresso.” But will it sell if served in a vessel without that super-cool green and white logo on it? Will capomo become the star of a new franchise of faux coffee houses? Or will it be relegated to a shelf at Smith’s Food King, alongside the Postum? What do Mormon hipsters really want? The coffee or the cup?

Bottom line, if Mormons actually want to be cool, they’ll stop trying to imitate outsiders and start reaching out to them with compassion.

How about those BYU students who started lighting the Y in rainbow colors? They’re pretty darned cool.

Donna Banta

My novels, "Seer Stone," "Mormon Erotica," "False Prophet" and "The Girls From Fourth Ward," are available on Amazon.

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7 Responses

  1. Marion says:

    Very thoughtful essay, Donna!

  2. chanson says:

    I’m not surprised that “cool” Mormons would love Starbucks. I’m a little surprised that energy drinks aren’t considered to be against the WoW.

    It almost seems like the rule is that you can have caffeine, but only if it’s in the most unhealthy possible context. 😀

  3. Donna Banta says:

    Thanks, Marion!

    Chanson, I was surprised about energy drinks, too. But the L-D Cafe website offers to match their caffeine, so there you go! I guess we can give them credit for not matching a soft drink’s sugar content. 😉 Also they seem to be concerned about the environment:

    “Our product exists to give guilt-free satisfaction to the coffee cravings of both the millions of Restored Church Members whose spiritual and health standards prevent them from freely enjoying coffee, and to the millions more who love the taste of coffee but are uncomfortable with the severe damage that coffee farming does to the most delicate eco systems on the earth. ”

    Hmmm…how about their concern for the shrinking Great Salt Lake?

  4. chanson says:

    Wild, that paragraph is so perfectly tailored to appeal to “Restored Church Members” — in their hearts they just want to believe that there’s something exceptionally bad about coffee in particular. So they love to hear that swapping out the coffee bean for the maya nut is the most righteous lifestyle choice they can make.

  5. Donna Banta says:

    Agreed. “Spiritual and health standards,” says it all. So much for we less righteous non/ex-members. But even within the ranks I imagine there is debate. Should a good Mormon be seen with a Starbuck’s cup? Is it acceptable to drink a maya nut beverage that has the appearance of coffee? A few years back I attended an LDS wedding reception. The refreshments included Martinelli’s cider served in plastic flutes. The father of the bride stood to say a few nice words about the couple and then proposed a toast. After the glasses clinked, the father of the groom stood, went into a self-righteous rant about “the appearance of evil,” and then announced, “I won’t toast!” So there!

    It’s just so hard to be a Mormon!

  6. Holly says:

    re: the toast at the LDS wedding reception you attended, Donna: in the 1990s I took a week-long writing workshop with Terry Tempest Williams. She discussed a scene in “Refuge” in which her family toasts her dying mother with cranberry juice in expensive crystal wineglasses. Turns out the beverage was really a very expensive red wine, one of life’s great pleasures that the mother wanted to enjoy with her family in the little time she had left. But TTW’s father wouldn’t let her reveal that, so she turned the wine into cranberry juice to please him and preserve the family’s reputation.

    I had always found the scene a bit weird–who gathers to ceremonially drink cranberry juice?–but I was still shocked that good Utah Mormons would drink wine.

    It’s like when TTW praises her mother’s penchant for the theatrical by asking that a purchase she has made for herself be giftwrapped, just so she can open it when she gets home. I’ve long hated wrapping paper; it’s wasteful consumption. If my mother did that, I’d grit my teeth and force myself not to criticize it; I wouldn’t write about it later with admiration.

  7. Donna Banta says:

    @Holly. Wow, what a wild story about TTW. I’ve heard of lots of LDS families toasting with Martinelli’s or some other non-alcoholic beverage. But to use the real stuff–and then claim it’s fruit juice. That’s a new one!

    It does seem that a lot of Mormons feel they are missing out on all the fun. And “fun” seems often defined as breaking the WoW. But I suppose the occasional non-garment-friendly dress works in a pinch–as well as a “gift” one has wrapped for herself?

    I agree with you on wrapping paper. I used to use newspaper. But now that we subscribe online, I’m down to the occasional paper copy I pick up now and then, a grocery sack, or a reusable shopping bag. 🙂

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