The Keurig, the Chemex, and Dietary Gnosticism

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There’s no way that anyone could be that happy while drinking instant coffee.

 

Over this past holiday season, I found myself in the coffee-machine sections of several retailers, in search of an espresso maker to give my mom. None of these stores had what I was looking for, instead, their shelves were well-stocked with assorted variations of Keurigs, Nespressos, and the accompanying accessories.

For those who may be unaware, a Keurig is a coffee-making device that is designed for convenience. There’s a small reservoir which users fill with water every couple of days, and coffee – which comes in pre-measured little pods (“K-cups”) – is dispensed in seconds through a small valve. Clean-up is a breeze – when you’re done, all you need to do is throw away the used plastic pod.

If the Keurig is at one end of the coffee-making-device spectrum, then the Chemex is at the other. For those who may be unaware, a Chemex is a glass vessel that is designed for making pour-over coffee. The coffee itself needs to be ground a certain way, and carefully measured (usually with a scale). The water needs to be heated separately, and brought to a specific temperature. When it’s just hot enough, it’s carefully poured in concentric circles over the coffee. The water-to-coffee ratio is important, and varies depending on the coffee itself; one coffee shop I frequent keeps their Chemexes on little digital scales, so they know exactly how much water they’ve added. The coffee slowly drips into a glass basin, and is served immediately.

The Keurig is fast and nearly mess-free. The Chemex is much more laborious, requiring several gadgets. The Keuring produces coffee that is mediocre at best. The Chemex produces coffee that is excellent and nuanced.

But the difference that I find most interesting is the interaction that one has with the coffee itself. That is, when using a Keurig, you don’t see it at all. In this process, the coffee isn’t a bean that is grown, roasted, ground, and measured – it’s just a little plastic pod. To contrast, I’ve noticed that many coffee shops that offer hand-poured coffee will tell you where the coffee beans have come from. Some even (I kid you not) display a picture of the farm where they were grown or the farmer who tended to them.

Of course, these differences all come down to Gnosticism (because when you have a Philosophy degree from an orthodox Christian institution, everything does). For those who are unaware, Gnosticism is the belief that the material world is inherently depraved and should be overcome. The Christian narrative, which starts with God creating/loving the material world and culminates with him becoming embodied and being birthed into it, is blatantly anti-Gnostic.

But even for Christians, it’s easy to slip into Gnosticism, in word, deed, or both. One way that I see us (myself very much included) doing this all the time is in our diets.   

Food technology has advanced rapidly in the past century or two. Not long ago, most diets consisted of food which came from individual household or otherwise local farms. As farming and other technology developed, societies became industrialized and urbanized. Food started coming from farther and farther away. Now, it’s not uncommon for me to eat an orange from Spain or an avocado from California. And in many ways, this shift in the way we get our food is a good thing. It’s good that my body doesn’t have to rely on Pennsylvania’s climate for nutrition, and it’s really nice that I can spend my time working at a church, reading, and writing blog posts, instead of farming.

At some point, in addition to our food coming from far away, we became really fascinated with processing it. There’s a vintage advertisement hanging in my kitchen that speaks to this era: “Bakers make finer cakes with DEXTROSE food-energy sugar! Pure, white, sparkling DEXTROSE…” accompanied by a picture of a patriotic white lady and a very pink cake (“Buy it baked…it’s better!”). This ad points to a time when food technology was new, exciting, and seemingly limitless. The results of this include everything from Splenda, to Spam, to the cookie butter ice cream in my freezer. And of course, K-cups.

I highly doubt that the people who developed these processed foods were heretics in lab coats maliciously seeking to advance Gnostic ideals by way of our stomachs. This food technology simply comes from a desire for efficiency and convenience. But, the further we distance ourselves from the stuff that goes into our food – the dirt, the climate, the plants, the animals, and the people who care for these things – the easier it is to forget that these things are good, they are loved by God, and they ought to be loved by us. What disturbs me about Keurigs isn’t the terrible coffee they make, it’s that they represent the many ways that technology separates us from the natural world.

The technology that is a part of our work, our households, our lifestyles, and our diets leads us to think of ourselves as separate from the earthy material world. It leads us away from being fully present in the material world that we are called to love. It leads us to want to further “escape” the physical constraints of bodies, space, time, and climate.

What would it take for us to be fully present in this world? What would it take for us to love it as God does? As I conclude most of the stuff that I write, I have no solution here. But creating, touching, and smelling coffee grounds could be the smallest start.

105 Comments

  1. I often use my Keurig like a kettle (with a replacement filter contraption, to make a variety of teas, though as a single person, I do enjoy being able to make one coffee or other such drink.

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  2. I, too, am prone to see Gnosticism. It lurks a number of places. Your blog on coffee brings it home. Thank you for hounding it out in everyday life. I use a drip coffeemaker. The keurig does make awful coffee. The Chemex sounds like a mystical pursuit. I’ll have to try it.

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  3. There is so much beauty lost and blocking nature, we forget we are created beings part of nature. We take pride in our gift of creating, and we should, it’s our gift. However, long before agnosticism became a popular card in world culture, humans have selfishly forgotten their beginning. Humans began with gifts and responsibility, and they sadly smeared the purity of nature with Sin. You know the salvation story from here to describe the purpose of sin….

    Regardless of religious or world-view beliefs, now is only the beginning where many our realizing our responsibility, once again over nature; we have new opportunities to create in order to fulfill this duty. And certainly this all begins with appreciation and thankfulness; touching the coffee grounds, immersing hands into earth. Thank you, God, for what you have created.

    I’ll mention a side note about espresso makers to share for anyone: the stovetop espresso makers are great for daily home use, as long as quality and fresh beans are used (it’s the standard in Italy), there’s just no need to go fancy at home for everyone, and certainly not everyone should try to be a guru (just another opportunity to brag facts). Keep it simple.

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  4. Of course, these differences all come down to Gnosticism (because when you have a Philosophy degree from an orthodox Christian institution, everything does). For those who are unaware, Gnosticism is the belief that the material world is inherently depraved and should be overcome. The Christian narrative, which starts with God creating/loving the material world and culminates with him becoming embodied and being birthed into it, is blatantly anti-Gnostic.

    Why do you identify to your bias, where it comes from and still cling to it? Is it because of the sacrifice your degree required?

    Very informative about the coffee makers. I like my keurig. I don’t see why touching the coffee grounds would make a difference.

    Good article. I’ll start following you!

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  5. Agreed.. One part, the technology really convenient, but in the other hand, we lost the food (or coffee) quality and the relation between the cook, the food and the eater

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  6. Reblogged this on Tara Greene,Tarot, Astrology, Psychic & everything you need and commented:
    everything is interconnected. Keurigs make mountains of waste and instant convenience usually means environmental and psychological waste. We use French press coffee. We cook everything from scratch in my household. we through out the toxic microwave years ago. It is slower yes. My daughter complains there is never anything to eat quickly. It is so much more wholesome healthier and satisfying. it is slower yes. but much more rewarding. I like the alchemy of cooking

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  7. I work at Keurig Green Mountain so my husband and I have a Keurig, the Keurig Espresso machine, and we also have a regular coffee maker (not sure what brand). We obviously really like our coffee! I frequent Dunkin Donuts a lot! I rarely used to take time to learn the origin or what kind if beans were used to make the coffee I was drinking, but Keurig does take time to teach their employees coffee origins and we also make sure that the origin of our coffee (Green Mountain) is available for consumers. I agree that the coffee may not be as good as others but as an employee I guess I am also biased. It’s not the only coffee I drink but it’s one of my top choices. I do agree with you though that we are becoming detached. Very good read and insightful. Made this Keurig owner more mindful of what I am consuming.

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  8. I didn’t miss your basic message about contact with natural things (which I agree with), but can’t help adding that both a Chemex and a Keurig would be considered a blasphemous way of making coffee here in Italy haha! Best wishes for 2016

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  9. Yes, Thank you. While I would avoid the Keurig simply because of the cost and waste, the choice is made infinitely easier by how dreadful the extracted liquid is.

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  10. I enjoy the convenience of using a Keriug, just as much as I enjoy the convenience of the microwave, washing machine & drying machine…etc. The list goes on, technology is a huge part of my life now. I surely have brewed my own coffee (not on a chemex, but with a cloth strainer) I have hand washed my own clothes by the river, and hung them to dry in my back yard. There was so much value in doing those things, the value however was on the time I spent with people doing those things. When I brewed coffee, I brewed it for more than just myself, and when I washed my clothes by the river I did so with the rest of my family. When I cooked dinner it was with my mom because there was no faster way.
    I doubt the solution is to get rid of the technology, rather, I think the solution is to not let technology take away from our time with family, and other people where I find the true value.

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  11. I’ve never had coffee from a chemex, but it sounds lovely. I’ve had a French press before, but right now I’m using a percolator with a special blend of store-bought beans I grind myself.

    Good job connecting the physical with the spiritual!

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  12. Gnosticism notwithstanding, words such as “acknowledge,” “gnosis,” “unbeknownst,” you get the picture, all derive from the same GNU Indo-European consonant cluster and go back to the basic thing which is “to stand.” To this end I stand and know what you’re talking about while I hand-grind my coffee beans in the dark each morning.😉

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  13. I started to read this because i hate coffee,because I just want know how everyone like it.This blog has changed my mind of coffee.So thanks
    By the way nice blog,good luck

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  14. I love coffee. And yes, I own a KEURIG. Currently, I am consuming a rich-flavored coffee marketed to raise funds for missionaries and I dare say it has a very good flavor. However, I like what you have shed light on and I’ve been considering grinding my own. This would be a new step for me. Nice job shedding light on what God possibly thinks. Many people don’t consider what might be on His heart and most never ask Him what He thinks.

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  15. I could not agree more on this! Never heard of the chemex until I read this but I bought a French press about a year ago for the very reasons laid out here and love it, even if it’s messier and takes longer!

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  16. Nice Post Alyssa. I agree most of your thought. Keurig is giving what most of the people needs in this fast world, Keurig gives one click hasslefree coffee. Also provides different flavors of pods to enjoy coffee in your flavor. But for those who are after real taste of coffee, Keurig is not for them. Chemex and Frenchpress come first for them, or if they need something electrical, can use drip coffee machines. I don’t think Companies playing a big role to make this world more materialistic, that’s our lifestyle and thinking, companies are just fulfilling what’s required and demand. but I am really happy to see peoples are trying to use more and more organic foods now a days, going out for jog instead of Gym. Lets hope it will increase more and more.
    Between, Don’t forget view my recent post.

    Loads of love, Michelle

    Reply

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