My addiction to it compelled me to drink a pot and a half of it a day. I have abstained from it for weeks with the help of a steady intake of strong tea. I have dressed it up with foamed milk, beaten cream, and thick drizzles of caramel; I have dressed it down to draw near to its scalding essence. I have drunk it spiced with pepper, made succulent with butter, and soured with chicory root. I have a cousin who powdered his family’s fishbowl with instant brew because their fish “had a headache.” Like that manic fish, I have grimaced through many headaches of my own.

Among non-alcoholic drinks, only water has a greater claim to ubiquity than coffee. The National Coffee Association USA claims, “After crude oil, coffee is the most sought commodity in the world.” Americans import their beans, raw or pre-roasted, from nations all over the earth, and prepare drinks from those beans using all manner of devices: from humble coffee pots to systems festooned with dials and knobs, capable of manufacturing multiple atmospheres of pressure in order for the home brewer to pull a café-quality espresso. The gilded pipes and fittings of this $2,495 apparatus evoke an age of steam power and glass arcades.

Ostensibly a tool for keeping one’s focus sharp in the present, coffee is at the center of a culture that inclines backwards and forwards at once. Its aroma can evoke 19th-century marble-topped café tables and chamber music—at the same time, the caffeine acclimates the brain to the endless interfaces of the Internet.

That aroma is discernible in the air this morning, wafting out of the door being held open for me as I enter my Toronto church. Of course there will be coffee here: I can imagine ...

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