Orthodox Mormons obey what’s called the “Word of Wisdom,” a health code given by revelation to Joseph Smith and later canonized by the LDS Church. More precisely, orthodox Mormons obey what has become the standard interpretation of the Word of Wisdom, an interpretation that one could easily argue is a far cry from what’s contained in the actual canonized revelation. For most Mormons, obeying the Word of Wisdom means not drinking any coffee, tea, or alcohol whatsoever and abstaining from the use of tobacco and illicit narcotics (and probably marijuana even if, when, and where it becomes legalized). In the traditional Mormon mind, that’s really all it takes to follow the Word of Wisdom. This is important, because adherence to the Word of Wisdom is a requirement of entering an LDS temple, and participating in temple rituals and ordinances is a pre-requisite to obtaining maximal blessings in the afterlife. Few Mormons give a second thought to the Word of Wisdom’s prohibition against eating meat outside of times of famine and cold. Few Mormons are even aware that the Word of Wisdom specifically allows for the drinking of beer. And then there is the philosophical problem of making mandatory adherence to a revelation that explicitly declares itself non-mandatory. If I’m forced to obey something that says not to treat itself like a commandment, doesn’t that just mean I should continue treating it like it’s not a commandment???
But my concern here today is with the Word of Wisdom’s supposed condemnation of coffee and tea. The Word of Wisdom never mentions coffee and tea by name. Instead, it states that “hot drinks are not for the body or belly” (D&C 89:9). LDS Church leaders later declared that “hot drinks” should be understood as coffee and tea. This interpretation can be confusing, however, because iced coffee and iced tea—and maybe even coffee ice cream—apparently fall under the rubric of “hot drinks,” while scalding hot herbal teas and beverages such as Postum and mate do not. The language of the revelation also raises the question of who, if anyone, ever used coffee and tea on his/her body. The fact that the Word of Wisdom discourages “hot drinks” from being used on the body makes the interpretation of “hot drinks” as coffee and tea all the more tenuous.
I have long been skeptical of the standard LDS interpretation of “hot drinks.” Though nobody ever suggested it to me, I started to believe that if there were any credence to this particular piece of the Word of Wisdom, it probably referred to the literal temperature of a beverage. Don’t drink really hot stuff. It’s not good for your body. That makes sense to me, and it’s a documented fact that hot beverages pose certain health risks related specifically to temperature.1 When I came to Community of Christ, I was pleased to learn that they too interpret “hot drinks” as referring to temperature. It’s what I already believed. Of course, as a practicing Mormon, I kept to the standard LDS interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. Even though I felt it was a distorted version of the revelation itself, I believed it would be dishonest of me to do things my own way while reporting to others that I obey the Word of Wisdom—when being interviewed for a temple recommend, for example. It wasn’t burdensome to me. I had tried coffee, iced tea, and alcohol (albeit just a wine cooler) when I was in junior high. I hated coffee and I didn’t really care about the wine cooler. I quite liked iced tea, and I was sad to think it couldn’t be among my usual beverage options. But I didn’t consider it a big deal to abstain from any of these things.
Well, although I’m still technically a Mormon, the fact that I’m converting to Community of Christ means I’m not really concerned about the LDS interpretation of the Word of Wisdom. And that means I’ve been able to spend some time over the last couple of weeks expanding my beverage horizons. Conveniently, Chick-fil-A has been offering free coffee during the month of February. So, on a recent visit, Melanie and I decided to get a vanilla iced coffee and try it together. I figured vanilla iced coffee stood as good a chance of tasting yummy as any coffee drink possibly could. But it didn’t taste yummy. To me, coffee tastes like extremely burned food. Like food that has burned to the point of being pitch black and no longer has any resemblance to food whatsoever. It’s pretty awful. People have told me some other coffee drinks to try, saying things like, “This one doesn’t taste like coffee at all!” or “That one tastes like hot chocolate!” To which I think, “Why not just drink hot chocolate, then?” If you’re not drinking coffee for the flavor, it seems sort of silly to me to drink it at all. So, I think coffee’s out for me, although I’m not against trying something else if it’s ever convenient and pretty much free for me to do so.
Tea has proven a much more promising avenue. Melanie recently got a raspberry iced tea with lunch, giving me my first taste in 20+ years and her her first taste ever. I liked it very much. I like that iced tea has a kind of smooth quality to it. It’s not thin like water. There’s more to it, and yet it’s not carbonated. That’s a nice alternative to have, and I look very much forward to having more iced tea in my life. More on that in a moment.
I’m still on the fence about hot tea. Meaning, I’m still not sure how much I care about it. Thankfully, I don’t hate it. Melanie and I met up with my sister Khrystine and her husband Saeed yesterday at City Creek Mall (thanks for building it, LDS Church!) to do some tea sampling at a tea store called Teavana. Khrystine and Saeed are tea drinkers, so they know what they’re doing. Melanie and I had to spend a good deal of time looking around, trying samples, and smelling tea leaves to come to a decision as to what to try. A few of the teas smelled amazingly good. The guy working at the store, who was very gracious in helping us out, recommended to me a blend of Spice of Life White Tea and MatéVana Herbal Tea. I had it hot, with cream. I didn’t know what was in these teas, I just knew they smelled fantastic. The resulting concoction wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t anything amazing to me, sadly. I wished it were creamier, and I was surprised that it tasted so much like ginger, which I hadn’t noticed when smelling the tea leaves. In fact, I’m a little stumped, because the descriptions of the teas I read online don’t really match what I tasted. According to Teavana’s website, Spice of Life is a “sweet and spicy citrus infusion with satisfying coconut undertones.” I would not have guessed my drink had anything to do with citrus or coconut. The MatéVana is said to be “coffee-like … sweetened with cocoa and chocolate chips.” Thankfully, I didn’t notice a coffee flavor, and the chocolate was mild.
Melanie’s tea struck me as a more vibrant version of my own, although hers also reminded me a little bit of those raspberry chocolate sticks that are popular around Christmastime (and which I think are pretty gross). Of course, that description doesn’t make a lot of sense based on the flavors Melanie chose, neither of which had anything to do with raspberry. Also at the recommendation of the friendly tea shop employee, Melanie had a blend of two herbal teas (served hot with cream): Caramel Almond Amaretti and CocoCaramel Sea Salt. The former flavor boasts of having “sweet candied apple and coconut with notes of caramel and cinnamon.” If anything, I think the apple is what made the flavor of Melanie’s more “vibrant” to me. Melanie very much enjoyed her tea. By the time I was finishing mine, I was enjoying it well enough. I just wouldn’t normally desire to have such a strong ginger flavor. It wasn’t what I had anticipated. Melanie says she liked mine, but she definitely liked hers better.
Eager to try out more tea flavors, Melanie and I took the kids tonight to Fashion Place Mall, which also has a Teavana. Having done a little bit of research, I knew what I wanted: an iced Blackberry Mojito Green Tea. After smelling a few options, Melanie went with an iced Jade Citrus Mint Green Tea. Melanie’s had a very strong eucalyptus tone to it. Mine was nice and much more up my alley than any other Teavana tea I’ve tried. Khrystine told me yesterday that all teas have a kind of grassy flavor to them, which certainly seems true. It’s kind of straw-like. I described my drink as tasting like “a fruit snack that spent some time rolling around in a barn.” The comparison to fruit snacks actually came courtesy of Eddie. Yes, Eddie tried Melanie’s and my teas. Preceding our outing to the mall, we had Family Home Evening—a Mormon weekly tradition of having a miniature spiritual lesson and/or fun activity together as family—and informed our kids that their mom and dad might drink tea from time to time and it wasn’t anything to be worried about. Eddie seemed a bit uncertain of that, but once we had the teas in our hands, he was jonesing to try them himself. He loved mine and kept asking for another swallow. He was clearly getting a kick out of the fact that he was drinking tea. It was quite fun for him. He was pretty good at deconstructing the flavors, too. He said a lot more about it than that it tasted like a fruit snack; he talked about the way the flavor would change in your mouth, going from “strawberry” to “cherry” (his interpretation, not mine), etc., etc., etc. Peter also tried our drinks, but never said much about them and refused subsequent offers. He must not have cared much. Beegy never wanted to try them at all.
So that’s that. I’ve still got a few flavors I want to try. High on my list is a classic chai latte. According to Teavana, “chai spice is generally a combination of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and vanilla, among other spices.” Can you imagine that served with hot milk? Sounds divine! I’ll be sure to let you know how much I like it. In the meantime, I’ll conclude by sharing a few photos taken earlier tonight. Enjoy!