Commune politics around coffee are complex. For starters, coffee is addictive. Coffee is also not especially healthy for you. It is (in the commune economy) expensive. It is not universally desired (perhaps 1/3 of the members of Twin Oaks drink it – wild estimate). Yet, coffee improves worker productivity. Coffee also makes many workers happy.
My very first political controversy in the community was about coffee (i was blissfully on the sidelines of this one). At the time the community was spending $8K a year on coffee and it is it’s own budget item. I was my first year (1998) and the community ran it’s democratic budgeting exercise called the trade off game. Members got to prioritize the items they wanted with the forecasted labor and money budgets. The last item popularly chosen by the group was coffee, only it was selected when we only had $4K left in the budget.
So the planners at the time decided that they would solve this problem by simply having coffee for the first half of the year and then stop. Someone forgot to inform them that coffee is a highly addictive substance. It is not the case that half the community drinks the stuff. But it is certainly the case that well over half the community either drinks coffee OR is intimately affected by the mood of a community coffee drinker.
An override was circulated (this is like a binding petition) and the planners coffee ban was overturned in 3 days – the fastest override i have seen in my 15 years.
For some years coffee has not been universally available at Twin Oaks. Unlike almost everything else which is distributed on the commune, which are given freely to all members, coffee is taxed. Coffee is dispensed at the hammock shop and at the wood shop which works on hammock spreaders and hanging chair frames. It is provided by the hammocks business as an incentive for workers in these areas to come in and be productive. Technically, you should be working in these areas to be drinking this coffee.
But that this is accounting trick is not lost on some members. What does it mean that the business buys the coffee in the context of an income sharing egalitarian community? Not much actually. It is all of our monies, why should hammocks managers (of which i have been one) get to decide how much is spent on coffee and who gets to drink it?
So some people, who don’t work in these areas breeze into the hammock shop and take a cup of coffee. And thus the confusion around this dark dreamy drug lingers.