Hell, Coffee, and Bees

I shared last week some good-natured teasing that local companies in Utah use in marketing in a region heavily populated by members of the Latter Day Saints, Jack Mormon Coffee Co. being my current favorite. A few folks asked for more details, and the religion scholar in me couldn’t resist tracking down the answers. So, a quick analysis of the Jack Mormon Coffee Co. sign, featured below.


A Jack Mormon, as I explained previously, is one who doesn’t follow the rules of the Mormon faith, including those that dictate diet. In Doctrine and Covenants 89:18-19, Mormons are told that “All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings … shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge.” These instructions, called the Word of Wisdom (WoW), include prohibitions against alcohol and “hot beverages,” which has come to be interpreted as coffee and tea. Caffeine isn’t forbidden (a position clarified in 2012).

A ban on coffee and tea doesn’t mean, though, that Mormons can’t be in a coffee shop (though some are concerned that this “gives the appearance of evil,” which is warned against in 1st Thessalonians 5:22) or do business there. There are even handy guides to insuring that you are following the Word of Wisdom in what you order.

Drinking coffee, though, doesn’t actually mean you’re going to “roast,” as the Jack Mormon sign says, because Mormons don’t believe in a literal hell of fire and brimstone where sinners are tortured for eternity. Drinking coffee does, though, prevent you from entering the temple, which requires special permission, given after an interview, with your bishop.

The Jack Mormon sign encourages customers to “choose the right beans”—a teasing reference to the Mormon hymn “Choose the Right.” The hymn gave rise to the motto “Choose the Right,” which is stressed especially to LDS children. The letters “CTR” appear often in LDS culture, especially rings, as a reminder of this slogan.

CTR ring.jpg

The LDS church owns the trademark for this particular stylization of the letters CTR and shield.

 The slogan at the bottom of the Jack Mormon sign—“This is the place (for fresh roasted coffee beans)”—alludes to Brigham Young’s proclamation that the Salt Lake Valley was to be the home of the Church of Latter Day Saints. (The Northwestern Shoshoni, who already lived here, probably liked it a lot, too, but the story of LDS-First Nations interactions is a for a different day.)

In 1839, Mormon pioneers, led by founder Joseph Smith, entered a city they would soon rename Nauvoo (an Anglicized version of the Hebrew word meaning to be beautiful), in Illinois, as they fled government persecution in Missouri. The Nauvoo years were a pivotal time in LDS history, both in terms of theological innovation and organizational change. It was here, in 1844, that the central figure of the faith, Smith, was shot and killed by an armed mob.


A view from Utah Valley. It probably wasn’t a desert 150 years ago, either.

Subsequently, Brigham Young became the first post-Smith leader of the main body of Latter Day Saints. He moved the group westward, to Utah, and to Salt Lake City, through Emigration Canyon. Pioneer Day, a major state holiday, marks the arrival of these pioneers on July 24, 1847, and Young’s proclamation that the group had arrived in their mythical State of Deseret (deseret referring to the term used to describe honeybees in the Book of Mormon; Utah is still called the Beehive State and bee motifs and beekeeping are popular), where they would “make the desert blossom like a rose,” though, really, it probably wasn’t quite so desert-like when they arrived.


A beehive is featured on Utah’s state seal, as well as highway markers.

Today, This is the Place Heritage Park is a popular attraction in Salt Lake City commemorating this moment in LDS history. It’s about four and a half miles from Jack Mormon Coffee Co., so you can pick up a cup on your way to visit.


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