Writers and Coffee

James Scott Bell

What do you brew to do what you do?

For most writers through the centuries, it’s been the coffee bean, the seed of the genus coffea. Nothing like a good cup of joe in the morning to get the mind rolling, the fingers pounding and the mind coming up with stuff to happen in the scene you’re working on.
Perhaps the greatest exponent of the jamoke treatment was Honoré de Balzac. He believed its properties were magical, and proved his devotion by writing over 100 novels, novellas and stories on what was, essentially, speed.
His practice was to wake up around midnight and have his servants cook up the thickest coffee imaginable. Think tar with a little sugar. He’d down brew after brew, for up to fifteen hours, letting the stimulant feed his imagination.
He died of caffeine poisoning at the age of 51.
In more moderate quantities, coffee has proved to be universal in its appeal since its discovery in the fifteenth century. According to the definitive treatise All About Coffee (William H. Ukers, 1922):
All nations do it homage. It has become recognized as a human necessity. It is no longer a luxury or an indulgence; it is a corollary of human energy and human efficiency. People love coffee because of its two-fold effect—the pleasurable sensation and the increased efficiency it produces.
Coffee has an important place in the rational diet of all the civilized peoples of earth. It is a democratic beverage. Not only is it the drink of fashionable society, but it is also a favorite beverage of the men and women who do the world’s work, whether they toil with brain or brawn. It has been acclaimed “the most grateful lubricant known to the human machine,” and “the most delightful taste in all nature.”
Personally, I have found coffee to be as Kipling found a good cigar: Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes.
And a companion for every novel I’ve ever written.

So do you have any coffee rituals, favorite blends, or go-to coffee joints? If you don’t you have a speciality brew, you should look at websites like Little Coffee Place for some inspiration.
And if the coffee bean is not your thing, what is your drink of choice for doing time at the keyboard?

30 thoughts on “Writers and Coffee

  1. I’m afraid I’m not one of the coffee minions. I can’t stand the smell or the taste of it. But there are tons of people in my sphere who can’t seem to function without it at work and everywhere you go.

    I’m a bit beverage-less right now. Having undergone some major changes since March in efforts to improve my diet and exercise, I gave up my drug of choice–Diet Cherry Dr Pepper. And after the horrific headaches I endured the week I gave it up, I’ve sworn never to touch soda again. Which is fine with me, because I feel much better now.

    So mostly I’m a water totaler. My treat for liquid brain food is chocolate milk. Chocolate remains the magic elixir. 😎

  2. French Roast, smokier the better. Can’t stand Folgers or most other mass produced national blends. Once in a while I will splurge and get a Khaladi Brothers latte (Alaska’s local answer to Starbucks…but better).

    I also occasionally go on an Indian Tea bender, not Lipton or anything like that, but real imported Indian Assam tea, dark like the French Roast, I make it chai spices and just the smell will make you have an olfactory orgasm.

  3. If I could do Chai coffee at home, I’d be hooked on that luscious concoction. We have a single cup Cuisinart coffeemaker that I LOVE. It can make whatever blend I want. So my ritual is getting up around 5:30 or 6, making a big travel mug of brew, and write until my husband gets breakfast going. He’s training for a half marathon in November, so he gets up early to beat the heat. I can get plenty done before I need my second travel mug.

    I like coffee in the morning, but like BK, I’m a water girl after mid-morning.

    And Basil–I love Khaladi Brothers. Yum!

  4. Let me put in a good word for a store-bought bean: Major Dickason’s Blend (Peete’s).

    Never have gotten into the tea thing. Or the Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper thing, for that matter.

    I know one writer who begins the day with diet, decaffeinated Coke. To which I say, What’s the point?

  5. Starbucks, brewed at home. One pot each morning, but what really gets my brain firing is my (usually) daily cardio workout. 2.5 miles on the treadmill or 30 minutes on the Elliptical machine.

  6. There is a precious treasure high up near the caldera of Puerto Rico’s spine that even the Conquistadors were unable to destroy. It’s grown under double shade, protected by virgin mahogany, banana, and smiled upon by orchids. The collective of farmers pick and dry their beans upon the roofs, then roast and sell their beans from Finca del Seto. All this to keep the mahogany from being cut and the crop changed to commercial arabica. Fincadelseto.com, what a find.

  7. On a Saturday, two shots of Cuban coffee brewed with my Nespresso machine in the morning produces clear and efficient writing until noon.
    Another shot in the afternoon means I can think and plan my next plot points all evening so that I can wake at six the next morning and repeat the process.

    I tried going off caffeine two months ago and didn’t write (or read) one thing the whole time, nor did I last past eight o’clock at night. I was a zombie.

    Coffee is a writers best friend!

    Victoria Allman
    author of: SEAsoned: A Chef’s Journey with Her Captain


  8. I love the idea of coffee–the smell, the different types of blends–but every time I try it, it tastes horrible. No matter how much milk and sugar I put in, no matter the blend or type of beverage, it just tastes awful.

    I’m not crazy about soda either, since after a few sips the carbonation gives me a headache.

    My beverage of choice is sweet tea. I moved to Georgia from Upstate New York. My family has come to embrace the tradition of sweet tea. Black tea brought to a boil, with lots of sugar added, and then chilled in the fridge, sweet tea is my solace. I’ve gotten pretty good at it, for a Yankee, I’ve been told.

    My favorite way to drink it is with a splash of lemonade (the good stuff, Simply Lemonade, not that Minute Maid powder). An Arnold Palmer without the alcohol. Just a splash of lemonade though. Half and half is too much.

    My other beverage of choice is hot chocolate from Starbucks. I have Swiss Miss, but it’s not the same. But a good cup of hot chocolate? Heaven.

    BK, that caffeine withdrawal is bad. After I got pregnant, I stopped drinking caffeinated beverages completely in the first semester, and then afterwards I just had a very small glass of sweet tea in the morning. On top of fatigue and morning sickness from the pregnancy, I had serious caffeine withdrawal. It wasn’t pretty. Maybe you could experiment with herbal teas? They make a lot of different sorts, some that don’t have caffeine if you’re looking to stay unstimulated.

    What a fun post! 😀

  9. Elizabeth, like coffee, I’ve never acquired a taste for tea either. However, I keep hearing that green teas are supposed to be good for you, so one day I may give it another go.

  10. there is a gal who roasts beans at our flea mkt….i love her flavored ones, along with her bkft blend. but my mug is as important as the coffee. i have a $5 wedgewood mug….7 am you can find me on my deck with my book in progress [reading it, not writing it]. but that is pure bliss to me.

  11. I was practically raised on hazelnut coffee, so for me, if it’s not hazelnut, it’s not real coffee. I like it so diluted with milk and honey that it gets cold and I have to help it along in the microwave. But I can’t tolerate much caffeine anymore, so I have to drink it sparingly.

    Lately I’ve found that my body works best on good food, not necessarily just a stimulating drink.

  12. Cafe au Lait at the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. Only the one at Jackson Square will do. Otherwise, Community Coffee french roast. I bring several bags home from each trip to Louisiana.

    When I run out of CC, I go for Gevalia, french roast of course.

    I also permit myself one Barq’s diet root beer per day, unless in New Orleans, where you can get it by the bottle. Yum yum.

    Two asides:

    1) About a year ago I suddenly started to experience joint pain and very mild confusion. I discovered that I had accidentally purchased a bag of decaf which I had been drinking for several days. I went to a local Tim Horton’s and got a large toffee cap. Symptoms gone. God only knows what else I’m fighting off with my daily coffee intake.

    2)I am not a tea guy, per se, but if you are in Birmingham Milo’s Hamburger chain serves up a sweet tea that is legendary and only available locally at Milo’s and at supermarkets, gas stations, etc. Also…if ever afforded the opportunity to have Earl Grey served to you by an English gentleman at tea time, do not pass it up. It’s an experience.

  13. Italian Roast or Emeril’s Big Easy Bold on the Keurig machine. Gevalia Kenyan or Sumatran on the regular coffee maker. Agree with Basil on Folgers. Just don’t cut it no more.

    Best cup of coffe ever was from a ramshackle stand in the market in Agadez, Niger back in 1978. In that part of the world, if you want a regular cup of coffee you ask for Nescafe. I told the old man I wanted a Nescafe and he dipped a ladel of tea from a boiling pot into a glass and added the Nescafe instant coffee. Much to my surprise, it was great.

    Jor Hartlaub: Thanks for the heads up on RC Cola. Found some at Target in the big city. Still tastes like RC. When I got home had a cold glass of RC and a handfull of redskin peanuts. Brought back childhood memories from long ago.

  14. Diet Coke.

    I limit myself to three cans. I used to drink A LOT more, but realized that too much caffeine caused negative effects on my mood and body. After that it’s diet Sprite.

    I don’t care for the taste of coffee beverages, but coffee flavored chocolates and ice creams…now you’ve got something.

  15. TEA! But not just any tea. It has to be generic Walmart brand, brewed as dark as coffee. Tart and dry on the tongue, the perfect caffeine delivery system.

    And it cannot be flavored, sweetened, fruited, spiced, or honeyed. I have nearly died of thirst and caffeine deprivation in the south desperately searching for UN-sweet tea.

    We recently had a two-day power outage. I couldn’t brew tea! GAH! I made sun tea in a gallon jug of water.

    Love that stuff: Terri

  16. TO answer Joe M’s question, Black Coffee … unless its a latte which is by definition with milk, but even then its a 20oz with 6 shots, cuz its gotta taste like coffee, not milk.

    Tea, super strong and usually with milk and sugar, preferrably steeped with Chai spices.

  17. I’m a Diet Pepsi addict. I’ve tried to quit many times, but I keep going back to the sauce.
    I knew a guy in med school who drank a liter of Diet Coke every day. Eventually, he went into atrial fibrillation. I’m sure I’ve had my days where I’ve come close, but yikes.
    Entertaining post.

  18. Coffee is my drug (for life, I hope.)

    When I’m in the US, I buy Kirkland organic coffee beans from Costco. In the morning, I make strong coffee, using a French press coffee maker. I top the coffee with milk, heated in a manual milk-frother, and drink with breakfast and while I write, until noon, or longer.

    Honestly, I love coffee any time, as my following poem proves:

    Downtown Madrid in the hundred plus heat
    Foggy I flung myself into a seat
    What in the h… did I come here for?
    Sí! “Quiero café con leche, por favor”

    Sella Páls

  19. This may sound like the setup for a punch line, but I like the Starbucks Blonde roast. It doesn’t have that acidic, over-roasted edge that many coffees have…

  20. Haven’t seen mentioned any go-to joints, so here are my two, both in my hometown of Owatonna, MN:

    Custom Coffee for killer caramel pecan rolls just like my mom used to make, washed down with their straight Colombian coffee.

    Second is a cup or two of Velvet Hammer at Central Park Coffee. Just as the name implies, it gives me a soothing caress upside the head to get me back into writing mode.

  21. Alas, I’m not a coffee drinker. Earl Grey, Irish Breakfast, or Awake serve instead to rev my writing engine first thing in the morning. A good herbal tea works wonders for an afternoon session when I don’t want more caffeine.

  22. Coffee fanatic here. I’ve tried a LOT of brands and I now drink Specialty Java.com organic New York, New York medium-dark roast. They roast and ship the same day. It is heavenly. (They also sell it pre-packaged on amazon, under the name New York JO organic coffee.) I prepare it with filtered water, in a French Press, and I add a splash of heavy cream. I try to limit my intake to 24oz per day. I am so addicted to my coffee ritual that I always take my own coffee and french press with me while traveling.

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