Coffee and Literature: Readers Who Love it, Writers Who Need it
“Reading in bed can be heaven, assuming you can get just the right amount of light on the page and aren’t prone to spilling your coffee or cognac on the sheets. ”
― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
|Read Daily Rituals by Mason Currey
for more on the habits (coffee-related and
otherwise) of great artists.
Until recently I was a herbal tea drinker: earl grey, rooibos, peppermint, that sort of thing. My grandmother predicted that the Spanish lifestyle would change my habits, and she was right. By the time I landed back on English soil, espresso shots were my drug of choice. I don’t drink a massive amount – my anxiety and sleep get too affected otherwise – but my morning cup or two has made me more attuned to the celebration of it in literature.
An investigation into the writers who “measure out their lives with coffee spoons”, to interpret T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock rather too literally, was required.
I’m sick for real. Rosario is making me stay in bed. Before she left for work she went out to borrow a thermos from a neighbour and she left me half a litre of coffee. Also four aspirin. I have a fever. I’ve started and finished two poems.
Coffee seems part of a certain lifestyle of slouching and scribbling in cafes. Some say that the noises of a coffee shop boost creativity. And after all, where there’s coffee, books are probably around too.
I will remember your small room
the feel of you
the light in the window
our morning coffee
– “Raw With Love” by Charles Bukowski
I tend to associate well-made coffee with a good book; perhaps now more than ever with the popularity of bookshop-cafés. Reading with a tea or coffee seems to add another level to the experience. Or, it simply gets you to the end of a difficult book (there, I’ve said it).
Delightedly he seized hold of the bag containing the sugar and poured sugar into the coffee cup until it was piled up above the rim. Next came the incredibly strong, black coffee, which slowly dissolved the white pyramid.
Coffee glides into one’s stomach and sets all of one’s mental processes in motion… 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.
Around nine Oshima roars up in his Miata, and we get the library ready to open. He’s taught me how to do it just right. You grind the beans by hand, boil some water in a narrow-spouted pot, let it sit for a while, then slowly – and I mean slowly – pour the water through a paper filter. When the coffee’s ready Oshima puts in the smallest pinch of sugar, just for show, basically, but no cream – the best way, he insists. I make myself some Earl Grey tea.
‘It’s completely ridiculous that you won’t let us have coffee,’ said Andy, who was in the habit of buying himself a huge Starbucks on the way to school and on the way home every afternoon, without his parents’ knowledge.
‘You’re very behind the times on this […] it’s very unreasonable for you to expect me to go into Advanced Placement Chemistry at 8.45 in the morning with no caffeine.”
“How much better is silence; the coffee cup, the table. How much better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its wings on the stake. Let me sit here for ever with bare things, this coffee cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves, myself being myself.”
Enjoy more from me
- Retreat into my new book, Your Life in Bloom: Finding Your Path and Your Courage, Grounded in the Wisdom of Nature.
- I'm also the author of Mountain Song: A Journey to Finding Quiet in the Swiss Alps, a book about my time living alone by the mountains.
- If you love books, are feeling a little lost right now, and would love some gentle comfort and guidance, join The Sanctuary, my seven-day course to rebalance your life.