Coffee Unity Ceremony

by © Jennifer Cram - Brisbane Marriage Celebrant
Originally published in The Celebrant,  Issue 4, June 2020, pp 70-77
Republished 21/11/2022 with the permission of the Editor.
Categories: | Published Article|  Wedding Rituals |
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Two cups of
                  coffee with wedding rings hanging on the coffee spoons
                  and a wedding bouquet in the backgroundWine (loving-cup) ceremonies, in which the couple drinks from a shared glass of wine, have a very long history in weddings. Nonetheless I have had couples reject the idea because one or both do not drink, or does not drink wine. During of discussion of unity rituals with one such couple, almost as a throwaway line, I suggested coffee, a suggestion that was embraced with enthusiasm. So I had to scramble to think the possibilities through and develop a Coffee Unity Ceremony in the tradition of the invented rituals we use in weddings, and very much inspired and informed by both wine and sand ceremonies.

Like wine, sharing coffee is a ritual of fellowship, hospitality, and the celebration of life. Recent events have thrown our romance with and dependence on expertly made coffee into high relief. It seems that a good barista-made coffee is high on the list of things people miss in lockdown.
No matter what the ritual, I individually craft appropriate words to suit the occasion, who the couple is, are, and the choices they have made for the ritual. An individually crafted narrative adds so much, so I won’t share any specific narrative words.

There are a number of ways you can frame a coffee unity ceremony. And not all of them involve liquids. The first choice you, and your couple, need to make, is whether the ritual will emphasize the blending of the couple’s lives, or a joining of their lives while retaining and maintaining their individuality. This might take a lot of probing and understanding of their relationship and their view of marriage. It definitely is not as simple as asking an either or question, but it is a question that must be addressed.

The "usual" unity ritual emphasizes the blending of two lives. The traditional words about marriage are two become one, words that are often repeated even in modern, contemporary, wedding ceremonies. But for many people this feels uncomfortable because it harks back to the days when marrying meant that the couple became one legal entity, the reality being that wives were subsumed into their husband’s legal identity, and therefore lost their own. Framing a unity ritual as mixing rather than blending, provides a visual and ritual acknowledgement of the couple's intention to be on the same team, working towards common goals, each bringing their own skills, talents, and commitment to the relationship, but without relinquishing their own personalities or interests, or compromising individual autonomy.

Coffee ritual using liquid coffee

The simplest ceremonial blending ceremony could be one party pouring coffee (from a carafe or pot) into a mug or cup, while the other pours milk. In warmer weather, or when the ceremony is outdoors, cold or cold-brew coffee is a good choice. Where coffee making facilities are available and handy hot coffee and frothed milk may be possible. An alternative is to use coffee of two different origins or species. Sharing such details in the narrative provides guests with an insight into the couple’s heritage, travel history, and/or social justice values.

The ritual can be further personalized by the choice of vessels. The possibilities are endless.
Does their favourite source of takeaway coffee use branded disposable cups? Could a purchased keep-cup become a sentimental memento of the day? Would they like to honour parents or grandparents by using a borrowed or inherited cup, or mug? Do they already have ‘signature’ mugs?

Generally speaking, most available choices are opaque. Using a glass cup or mug gives both guests and photographer a view blending in process.

And then there is the option of the Espresso Martini! With its equal parts of espresso, coffee, and vodka plus three whole coffee beans it is perfect for a Me, You, Us take on the ritual. It is, however, very potent. One Espresso Martini equals two standard drinks.

Coffee ritual using ground coffee beans

For an organic variation on the sand ceremony, have your couple blend dry ground coffee beans. Beans can be roasted for different lengths of time to achieve a Light, Medium or Dark (Espresso) Roast. Each has its own distinct colour, taste, and caffeine content. Most supermarket coffee is Medium/Dark Roast, so it might be necessary to source the coffee from a specialty coffee roaster. The couple could choose ground beans from two or more of the four relatively easily obtained different species of coffee (Robusta, Arabica, Liberica, or the rarer Asian-grown Excelsa) or coffee grown on different continents or different parts of the same continent. Each species and where grown delivers a different coffee experience. I'm a particular fan of Kenyan grown Arabica with its notes of orange blossom, super-appropriate for weddings.
Using ground coffee beans provides the opportunity to add an extra element of fun to the ritual while demonstrating their capacity to work together by grinding the beans before they pour them. Battery operated and manual coffee grinders require no on-site power.

Coffee ritual using whole coffee beans

All the choices made when designing a sand ceremony or ground coffee come into play where your couple chooses to mix whole beans. Suggest (rather strongly) that they choose a wide-mouthed glass jar for their central vessel and that they put some thought into how they will seal the jar to preserve the contents. Alternatively, they can choose not to seal up the container and just use the mixed beans to make coffee, reserving a few to be set in resin to create a permanent memento. Businesses that provide this service are available as are DIY kits for making paperweights and other items.

Substitute tea

Some people really do prefer tea over coffee! For others, the cultural significance of tea is reason enough to choose a Tea Unity Ceremony rather than a Coffee Unity Ceremony. Luckily, there are even more varieties and sources of tea than there are of coffee.

Tea has significant meaning for weddings because it is a product of a variety of camellia (camellia sinensis), a flower that speaks to the heart and expresses positive feelings. In the language of flowers, the most common meanings assigned it include passion, faithfulness and longevity.

Using a tisane (herbal tea), such as lavender, symbolic of loyalty and devotion, works too. Herbal teas open up a world of symbolism as so many have long-standing association with love, relationships, and marriage. When your couple chooses to blend black teas, you might suggest that they add spice or herbs to the mix because these can enhance the symbolism and provide all sorts of possibilities for the narrative about it.

To avoid cultural appropriation, formal tea ceremonies being a feature of Chinese and Vietnamese weddings and of Japanese culture, I would suggest that you pass on using liquid tea.

On the other hand creating a cocktail with a tea base or sweet iced tea with a shot of liquor has possibilities and appeal for some. The combination of black, green, or other tea with a shot of bourbon, Irish whiskey, cognac, tequila, vodka, or other alcohol plus sweetener can make for a fun variant on the ritual. Recipes abound.

Including others in the ritual

Unity rituals do not need to be restricted to the couple. A sand ceremony, for example, is the ritual of choice to symbolize the blending of two families, with children, parents, and/or others all pouring sand into the central vessel. Translating this to dry ground coffee or coffee beans is straightforward. Using liquid will require application of  imagination together with a bit of ducking and weaving.

Another way to include others is to choose people to formally present all the various items that will be used in the ritual. This adds both movement and a visual enhancement to the ritual. Every part of the formal presentation can also add depth to its symbolism. Who presents and the choice of how the various elements will be presented – the containers and vessels – add meaning, provide photo-ops, and allow the couple to put a very personal stamp on the ritual.

When they will be blending or mixing varieties of coffee or tea, I suggest to my couples that they  pre-prepare the same mix to gift to their guests as favours. I also suggest that, as a reminder of their ceremony. they attach card or label that describes what the blend comprises and what it symbolizes to them.

Unity rituals and coronavirus

We’ve all had to become much more aware of infection control and have been required to adopt practices to avoid passing on an infection. Sharing drinking vessels is actively discouraged. Should your couple wish to go ahead a ritual that includes sipping or drinking, suggest that they have two cups, that they create the blend by pouring into a jug, for example, and then pouring from the jug into two cups which they use to toast one another.

A coffee ceremony is a perfect inclusion in a virtual ceremony where the couple is in their own home. Guests can be included by giving them notice of the intention to include the ceremony and asking them to join in with their own cup of coffee, or cocktail. [Comment added November 2022: Works for weddings that are livestreamed to include family members not present.]

Some practical considerations

Some expert guidance never goes amiss when couples are planning to create a mix or blend of either coffee or tea, or wine for that matter. It is not difficult to end up with a less than optimal, or totally horrible, result if poor choices are made. Your local coffee roaster or speciality tea supplier is a good place to start. Most love being involved in such a romantic choice.

Before committing to including a coffee unity ritual in a ceremony, it would be wise to make sure that there is nothing that would prevent or inhibit this. Venue policy may preclude the consumption of anything brought in from outside, for example. Local authority regulations may preclude consumption of alcohol.

If the ceremony will create a legal marriage, exercise care to ensure any consumption of alcohol will not compromise, or be assumed to compromise their capacity to consent to their marriage. As with a wine ceremony, small sips only! The remainder of the cocktail can be used to toast themselves and their guests at the point of presentation of the certificate, after the signing is complete.

Last thoughts

Virtually all unity ceremonies, as used in contemporary weddings, are to a greater or lesser extent invented traditions. There is no “authorised” version, although widespread copying of the words someone else invented may lead couples to assume that there is, and that that is what should be used. Disabuse them of that idea, and then work with them to develop a unique version of the ritual for them.

Thanks for reading!

Interested in including a coffee ritual in your ceremony? Or having me develop an original unity ceremony just for you?

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                        Jennifer Cram
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