Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Addiction of the Bean - Coffee and the Writer

There are writers who do it - who thrive without the java-crutch; how they manage genuinely perplexes me. The libretto for Johann Sebastian Bach's Coffee Cantata expresses my perspective perfectly: "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." It is one of those bizarre maxims that despite all evidence to the contrary, I believe most fervently to be true. I have as yet, retained an unshriveled human form but I have also been utterly paranoid about keeping the bean jar at maximum capacity...

Ancient chroniclers award the discoverer of the coffee bean with sainthood, an addition to the canonized pantheon who, in my humble opinion, is utterly deserving of top tier accolades. As depicted in the Abd-Al-Kadir manuscript  (penned in 1415)  Sheik Omar, exiled to a desert cave and beyond ravenous, chewed berries from a nearby shrub but found them unpalatably bitter; roasting rendered them hard, but boiling yielded a fragrant brown liquid -which subsequently revitalized and sustained him for days. Upon broadcasting his discovery, Omar was not only redeemed but rewarded for eternity.

Coffeehouses have been in existence for over 500 years. Paris' first, the Café Procope, still exists today and was a major meeting place of the French Enlightenment; Voltaire, Rosseau, and Diderot frequented it, and it is arguably the birthplace of the Encyclopédie. The Green Dragon in Boston was one of America's first coffeehouse/tavern combinations and provided clandestine opportunity for John Adams, James Otis and Paul Revere to plan rebellion. Coffeehouses today fulfill a less-revolutionary purpose (at least insofar as we humble literati are aware) but have, curiously, been known to stimulate creative output in a resident bean-imbiber. The Journal of Consumer Research has recently concluded that the moderate level of ambient noise in the average coffeehouse "induces processing disfluency, which leads to abstract cognition and consequently enhances creativity."

Ernest Hemmingway availed himself of this opportunity: "It was a pleasant cafe, warm and clean and friendly, and I hung up my old water-proof on the coat rack to dry and put my worn and weathered felt hat on the rack above the bench and ordered a cafe au lait. The waiter brought it and I took out a notebook from the pocket of the coat and a pencil and started to write." In a Farewell to Arms: "A wine shop was open and I went in for some coffee. It smelled of early morning, of swept dust, spoons in coffee-glasses and the wet circles left by wine glasses." Naturally enough the Journal of Consumer Research notes that this increase in stimulatory output is most evident in those already classified as highly creative. A designation for which Hemmingway is indeed an obvious candidate. 

For the rest of us perspiring scribes without regular access to the bustling coffeehouse, the morning espresso pot must suffice. For I shudder to imagine a morning without it, and am quite certain that upon that dreaded day the neurons will lack the  necessary lubricant for effective firing, my physical aspect will shrivel to disturbingly resemble that of a dessicated goat, and any associated literary endeavor will similarly dry up. For I have found that my diet of necessity is increasingly a liquid one: coffee to get through the day and wine to recover from it. So for all those similarly addicted to the bean in the writing profession, I raise my second coffee of the day in tribute: may your bean jar be always overflowing.


  1. by a series of events for the past two days I've been without my first coffee for the first half of the day. I started seeing white mice. But nothing can replace that perfect feeling of ease and comfort spreading through my veins when I take that first sip of a favorite brand.

    1. Thank you for your comments, I utterly commiserate. You expressed it perfectly. The java, for many of us, is a necessary infusion indeed!!