Here are two things I love: coffee and basketball. That is: good coffee and college basketball. March has been a good month for both. My hometown team, the Kansas University Jayhawks, have made it to the Final Four in March, and I’ve cheered wildly (at times nervously) for them along the way. March has also been a spectacular month for coffee-tasting. I’ve enjoyed amazing drip coffee at some fantastic destinations in the L.A. area: Handsome Coffee, Portola Coffee Lab, and Primo Passo. If you’re in the area, I highly recommend all of them (as well as Intelligentsia, LAMill, Demitasse and Spring for Coffee).
I’m passionate about good coffee and a good college basketball game. For me, both of these things can, at their best, reveal the beauty of creation and the pleasures of God.
Some people are surprised when they come across people who care about the flavor nuances of a bourbon varietal but also the shot-blocking stats of a power forward. Some people are surprised that one can be intensely interested in the oeuvre of Jim Jarmusch but also the careers of hall of fame quarterbacks. But these are usually the people who make more of the whole “red vs. blue state culture” division than is warranted. In any case, it needs to be said that so-called “high” culture and “low” culture can both be engaged in profound ways, just as they both can be engaged superficially. It’s all in the way one goes about appreciating them.
I enjoy sipping single-origin coffee black coffee (the only way to go) in the same way that I enjoy watching a well-played college basketball game. Both are examples of excellence and complexity; the results of creativity, passion and hard work. They are both the enjoyable fruits of human capacity, having been concocted out of the raw materials of creation to be fine-tuned for maximum enjoyment. Who else but humans, created in the image of a creative God, would come up with a beverage based around roasting and grinding a little brown bean? Or a game involving an elevated basket, a ball, and dribbling?
I don’t drink coffee to wake me up when I’m tired, and I don’t watch basketball to relieve boredom. It’s not about what these things can do for me; it’s about aggressively pursuing them for their beauty, appreciating them for the mysteries of humanity they uncover. Coffee is more than just “fuel” and basketball is more than just a sport with tall guys running back and forth, amusing the masses.
Basketball is like life in microcosm: competition, striving, winning, losing, doing battle for every loose ball. It’s individual achievement and team dynamics. It’s momentum, upsets, emotion, strength, humility, and the glorious feeling of coming from behind to pull out a victory with a last minute shot. It’s an elegant sport, simple and yet complicated, full of intertwining narratives; like life.
Coffee, too, is more than meets the eye. It’s an incredibly complex, multi-faceted drink with near infinite flavor dynamics. Next time you brew your Folgers (but I’d really recommend some Stumptown), take a step back and think about how crazy it is that we have this treasure. A curious Ethiopian bush, whose berries/seeds were extracted by humans and (for some reason), dried, roasted, crushed, and used to flavor hot water for a beverage. Absurd! Sometimes when I’m sitting there, sipping a particularly fragrant cup of coffee, I just smile and marvel at the fact of coffee: that a plant God created could be turned into a drink that humans can so thoroughly enjoy.
I’m not trying to convince everyone to get on board with Third Wave Coffee or to embrace March Madness in the way I do. Not everyone loves the exact same culture or sees the beauty and truth of existence in the exact same things; and that’s fine. We all have our tastes, our preferences.
We should like what we like; but we should like it well, and we should know why we like it. And we should be open minded in the way we engage culture and consume it, opening ourselves up to the possibility that lessons can be learned and beauty can be found in areas we might not have thought. Our society has very prescribed notions of consumer identity: if you are ___, then you will like certain movies, magazines, clothing brands. But to truly connect with culture is not necessarily something bell curves or demographic patterns can predict.
I love coffee, and I love college basketball. I also love Spanish cheeses, Mark Rothko paintings, Friday Night Lights and (recently) Downton Abbey. It doesn’t necessarily follow a rhyme or reason. I just find quality, truth, and loveliness in all of these things. I celebrate them.
I think there’s wisdom in what Chuck Klosterman says in Chuck Klosterman IV about how we enjoy culture:
“If you really have integrity–if you truly live by your ideals, and those ideals dictate how you engaged with the world at large–you will never feel betrayed by culture. You will simply enjoy culture more. You won’t necessarily start watching syndicated episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, but you will find it interesting that certain people do. You won’t suddenly agree that Amelie was a more emotive movie than Friday Night Lights, but you won’t feel alienated and offended if every film critic you read tells you that it is. You will care, but you won’t care. You’re not wrong, and neither is the rest of the world. But you need to accept that those two things aren’t really connected.”
So if you’re not watching the Final Four this weekend, while enjoying the mango and papaya notes of the Mpito bean, that’s OK. But I hope you are doing something you enjoy, and are enjoying it deeply, thoughtfully, appreciatively.