The Tao of Coffee

Two scholars spent the better part of an afternoon in a local Portland Starbucks arguing over the theories of Evolution versus Creationism. Getting nowhere, they took the advice of the Chinese guy working there and decided to drive to the beach near Astoria and visit a sage named Chung Lee who reputedly had the answers.

The following morning they left the city and headed west towards the ocean. Upon arrival, they spotted his small, weather-beaten cottage hidden alone among the coastal dunes, parked off the highway, and walked the short distance to its front stoop. Finding the cottage empty they began to search around for a sign of old Mr. Lee. One spotted the old sage sitting on the high dune facing out to sea.

The two made their way through the sand towards him. Upon approaching they stopped. The old man who had heard them coming, turned, directed his eyes upon them, and asked, “Where’s the coffee?”

The two became puzzled. “Sir, One said. We were told you could help us with the greatest philosophical dilemma of our age . . . perhaps even give us some insight into the conflicting theories.”

“Yes, of course.” Chung Lee answered. “But go now, next time you come, bring me a cup of Starbucks coffee, then we will speak of your theories.”

Early the following morning they checked out of their motel room and returned to the hill. One carried a large cup of Starbucks coffee that he’d purchased in town. After greetings, he handed the old sage the still-hot coffee and sat in the sand beside his friend. They opened their portfolios, each anticipating a quick and decisive victory.

Chung Lee, while sipping his coffee, quickly went over each theory. He handed the papers back, looked out to sea, and finished the coffee before he began to speak.

“The two theories of which you speak are mere disciplines, and although seemingly opposing views, upon deeper reflection they are one and the same. The difference lies in your interpretation and in your desire to understand the mystery. But alas, the mystery cannot be contained within a theory, so you are both beating your learned heads against a brick wall.”

Going on he said. “Each theory is merely a doorway, and theory can never explain the goings-on within the room. You need theory to find the doorway, but once opened this very same discipline becomes your stumbling block. Theory will never reveal the truth, only the pathway to it.

The two looked at each other, excused themselves, and walked back to the car.

“This is a wise man?” One asked the other. “ He sends us for coffee, then he comes up with this gibberish?”

“Yes, it is strange,” answered Two. “Yet his reputation is such that there has to be something we are missing. Let’s give him a chance to prove himself.”

The two went back to where the old man was sitting. “Sir, excuse us, but neither one of us understands. What are we missing?”

The old man held up the empty cup. “This cup will always contain a mystery, but as you smell of it, sip of it, and enjoy the taste of it, you one day realize you don’t really care HOW Starbucks made such a good cup of coffee, you are just glad they did. And thanks be to the mystery, as long as there are people like you seeking to understand it, I will never have to worry about getting my morning cup of coffee.”

The old man dismissed them with a smile and returned his gaze to the sea.


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