It’s no surprise that authors and editors ranked in the top five in last year’s Dunkin’ Donuts’ Coffee Consumption survey. Step in to any coffeehouse in America, and you’ll see writers tapping away on their laptops. If you think the love affair between writers and coffee is a passing trend, think again. Writers’ connection with coffee goes back centuries. Take, for instance, the French novelist Honore de Balzac. He wrote an essay on “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee.”
“I have discovered a horrible, rather brutal method that I recommend only to men of excessive vigor, men with thick black hair and skin covered with liver spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowling pins. It is a question of using finely pulverized, dense coffee, cold and anhydrous, consumed on an empty stomach. This coffee falls into your stomach, a sack whose velvety interior is lined with tapestries of suckers and papillae. The coffee finds nothing else in the sack, and so it attacks these delicate and voluptuous linings; it acts like a food and demands digestive juices; it wrings and twists the stomach for these juices, appealing as a pythoness appeals to her god; it brutalizes these beautiful stomach linings as a wagon master abuses ponies; the plexus becomes inflamed; sparks shoot all the way up to the brain. From that moment on, everything becomes agitated. Ideas quick-march into motion like battalions of a grand army to its legendary fighting ground, and the battle rages. Memories charge in, bright flags on high; the cavalry of metaphor deploys with a magnificent gallop; the artillery of logic rushes up with clattering wagons and cartridges; on imagination’s orders, sharpshooters sight and fire; forms and shapes and characters rear up; the paper is spread with ink – for the nightly labor begins and ends with torrents of this black water, as a battle opens and concludes with black powder.”
Then, there’s Johann Sebastian Bach, not so much a word person, but a writer of great music. In the early 1700’s, he wrote his “Coffee Cantata,” a musical satire of coffee addiction, a social problem in the eighteenth century. Here’s a taste of the lyrics in English:
Recitative Narrator: Be quiet, stop chattering, and pay attention to what’s taking place: here comes Herr Schlendrian with his daughter, Lieschen. He’s growling like a honey bear. Hear for yourselves what she has done to him!
Aria – Schlendrian: Don’t one’s children cause one endless trials and tribulations! What I say each day to my daughter, Lieschen, falls on stony ground.
Recitative – Schlendrian: You wicked child, you disobedient girl. Ha! When will I get my way? Give up coffee!
Lieschen: Father, don’t be so severe! If I can’t drink my bowl of coffee three times daily, then in my torment I will shrivel up like a piece of roast goat.
Henry Ward Beecher wrote this description of coffee:
“A cup of coffee – real coffee – home-browned, home ground, home-made, that comes to you dark as a hazel-eye, but changes to a golden bronze as you temper it with cream that never cheated, but was real cream from its birth.”
And T.S Elliot said,
“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”
Of course, there will always be those writers who prefer tea. George Orwell wrote an essay about it. C.S. Lewis preferred tea, and so did Ralph Waldo Emerson. Rudyard Kipling compared a week without tea to the end of the universe.
“We had a kettle; we let it leak:
Our not repairing made it worse.
We haven’t had any tea for a week…
The bottom is out of the Universe.”
So, my writer friends, which do you prefer? Weigh in on my poll and cast your vote for coffee, tea, or something else.