If you’ve ever been involved in the vast volunteer world of the church and synagogue, you probably realize the central place that coffee plays in the life of the congregation. Martha Ball knows it well and has even been privy to the secret life of the veteran coffee urns stored in the church basement. She shares some of those secrets this past week in a two part article entitled “Ghosts of Coffee Hours Past.” The first mystery solved is the absence of her name from the membership rolls, though she had grown up in the church. Finally she admits to the truth: after decades, she explains she never formally joined the church because she didn’t want to be responsible for the coffee. It wasn’t that she didn’t know how to run the coffee urns – she just didn’t agree with the custom of making new pots “every 40 minutes”. Even Martha couldn’t explain why some of the outlets had labels attached bearing the warning “Do not use for coffee.” It seems they worked well for everything… BUT the coffee! Martha says, “It wasn’t even ‘real’, it was decaffeinated, so it could not have been the punishment of long dead elders stricken at the introduction of a stimulating beverage in their old New England church.” One of the most interesting parts of the story is the reprinting of an old coffee brewing recipe. Entitled “Coffee for 40” it was printed in the church sisters’ cookbook published in 1962. The ingredient list is interesting: a pound of coffee grinds, an egg, one cup cold water and eight quarts freshly boiled water. A cheesecloth was used to hold the grinds, used much like a tea bag as it held the steeping coffee for a few minutes. Another mystery Martha can’t explain is the reason for putting in the whole egg. A little googling revealed that Scandinavian coffee often calls for an egg to me mixed with the grounds, shell and all. It clarifies the coffee as it removes any loose grounds and pushes them to the bottom with its added weight. The egg also appears to remove the acid, making the coffee much easier on the stomach. The church doesn’t use that recipe anymore. They don’t tend to boil the coffee, but use the high volume urns to this day. The urns are a long-standing tradition at Martha’s church, as she will readily attest to the urn graveyard in the church basement. These and other mysteries are only understood by those who’ve been involved in “the bizarre realm of church coffee.” Below are some coffees even Martha’s church would like – all decaf, of course.
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