The tea ceremony is still a part of Japanese culture today. Historically, during the 13th century and as a part of the Kamakura Shogunate, the tea ceremony became a part of the Samurai or warrior class. My introduction to coffee as something more than a caffeine delivery system has similar warrior roots, and I see them everywhere today in the modern warrior class.
As a young Marine Infantryman, my First Sergeant during my second deployment taught me how to make good coffee out of the instant coffee distributed in MREs. He was a truly exceptional warrior, having deployed numerous times overseas with Force Recon and a true leader.
He kept a small burner with his canteen cup to make his coffee, instead of the iron pot used to hold hot water in the tea ceremony. He used a plastic MRE spoon instead of a bamboo whisk and spoon set, and he used instant Folger’s instead of Matcha. But to sit with him was to engage in a special warrior ceremony. He would talk about the correct coffee ratio, he would tell stories about great Marines from the past, and he would talk about leadership principles.
My First Sergeant would also talk about his family. His son and I shared the same first name, and I think that was special to him. I know it was special to me because I joined the Marines for just such experiences- a right of passage into manhood.
At the end of my time with the Marines, I joined another type of warrior brotherhood- law enforcement. After completing patrol training, you were allowed to join other cops at the beginning of the shift to “grab a cup.” The ceremony was not as critical because these warriors didn’t know any better. We would get coffee from anywhere. But the routine, the camaraderie, and the fellowship were as integral as the Marine coffee ceremony or the Samurai tea ceremony.
Scientists describe this as the “water cooler effect,” where getting together to talk over a cup of coffee, water, or whatever, increases productivity throughout the day. An MIT study from 2009 and an accompanying article found that employees in a call center performed better when they were able to take more coffee breaks and engage more regularly with their “tribe.”
When you add the preparation techniques of specialty coffee, like the Aeropress, pour overs, etc., you combine a powerful ceremony experience with a proven recipe for productivity. It’s special. I just made a pour-over for some new friends using my Hario V60. I sit them at the bar in my kitchen instead of on the floor on 4.5 tatami like the tea ceremony, but the gist is the same. I’m creating something special for my guests to enjoy. We talked the origins of the coffee, the ratios of the brew, the method of preparation, guns, and what it means to be a modern warrior.
You don’t have to be a warrior to enjoy the ceremony and delicious finished product of specialty coffee. However, it is beneficial for modern warriors to embrace the coffee ceremony as a regular part of their lifestyle, just as the ancient Samurai embraced the tea ceremony of old.