Though coffee has been popular around the world for centuries, it doesn’t always mix well with religion, as is the case with Mormonism, now called the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). As part of church doctrine, Mormons have been historically prohibited from drinking coffee or tea. Modern-day members of the LDS are allowed to drink herbal teas and hot chocolate, and recently, church authorities lifted the ban on caffeinated drinks like soda.
However, this is not to say that all Mormons abstain from coffee. Far from it. But coffee and tea are still officially off the Mormon drinks menu. But why?
Let’s start with a little history…
One Fateful Day in 1833
On February 27, 1833, the prophet Joseph Smith received, in a revelatory fashion, the Word of Wisdom, which was later published in a book called “Doctrine and Covenants.” In the Mormon faith, the Word of Wisdom isn’t necessarily looked at as a set of restrictions but more as guidelines to living your healthiest life. Those who are Mormon consider living by these tenets to be a privilege. One of the myths of Mormonism is that drinking coffee is forbidden because of its mind-altering effects. This is mostly untrue, though the language and evolution of the religion can make it a bit confusing to outsiders. Here’s number 9 in the Word of Wisdom:
“9. And again, hot drinks are not for the body or the belly.”
There is some debate about what the Word of Wisdom means by “hot drinks,” but it’s generally understood to mean coffee and tea. Why? One theory is that they could theoretically burn you, which would be harmful to the body. It is also worth noting that in recent years, studies have shown that hot drinks may cause cancer. Now the rule makes more sense. But wait, there’s more…
Mormons were still packing coffee and tea for their travels even after 1833. It was a suggested item for travel in notable Mormon literature. This is relevant because while attempting to flee religious persecution, the Mormons wanted to figure out how to avoid contact with non-Mormons. Coffee and tea were popular commodities at trading posts, as well as alcohol, and Mormons figured they could give them up altogether. This was further aided by the move to Utah, where coffee was simply not available because, at the time, very few people lived there.
In 1921, the church changed its policy on communion wine because they wanted to stop indulging in substances that were “habit-forming.” To this day, the Mormon church continues to recommend avoiding all coffee drinks, and even coffee shops.
This leads to the next wrinkle: Can Mormons drink iced coffee? If you go by the doctrines passed down according to God and Joseph Smith, then yes. But if you go by the rule of habit-forming substances, no. As is the case with all religions, so much of how you live or what you abide by is based on interpretation of religious documents, and when it comes to Mormonism, that includes details like whether you can drink iced coffee.
What’s the Current Official Guidance?
Now that you know the history, how does it apply to the present? Here’s what the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints website has to say:
The official guidance also suggests never ordering at coffee shops or asking if there’s coffee in any drink. In addition, the church recommends avoiding anything made with tea leaves, whether hot or cold.
As stated earlier, the church offers a “hot drink” loophole in the forms of herbal tea and hot chocolate, ostensibly because they’re not harmful.
Do All Mormons Avoid Coffee?
We can see that the rules aren’t totally rigid when we look at the results from the Next Mormons Survey, which show that:
- 40% of millennials and Gen X-ers had a cup of coffee within six months of the survey being taken,
- 38% of all respondents had consumed at least one of the following within six months of the survey being taken: alcohol, coffee, tea, tobacco, or other drugs.
- Adherence to the Word of Wisdom may be softening, as 52% of Gen X respondents did not feel that it was vital to follow it.
There have been rumors that coffee may be made “legal” in Mormonism, but there is plenty of skepticism about that happening. On one hand, if younger generations’ views toward the Word of Wisdom are softening, then coffee no longer being banned may be a possibility. On the other hand, unless scientific findings conclusively prove that there are significant benefits from drinking coffee, it seems unlikely that this rule will change.
There you have it, from 1833 to now — the incredible history of coffee in the Mormon faith. Now you know why Mormons don’t drink coffee!
Suggested read: What Is Coffee Bloom and Why Does It Matter?
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