“Even bad coffee is better than no coffee at all” – David Lynch
I’ve just finished writing a manuscript – the first readable draft of it anyway. I know there’ll still be plot holes to fix and pages to edit, but I can’t move on to my next project because I’m a writing monogamist. I can’t abandon my characters until I know they’re totally ensconced in their happily-ever-afters. So even though this peaceful interlude before I start revisions might be the calm before the storm, it’s also a chance for my brain to relax and my body to detox from all the caffeine I’ve put into it over the past few weeks.
Because I drink a LOT of coffee. I genuinely love it, and since I can justify it as an inherent part of the creative process, as well as a means of jump-starting my brain on a cold winter’s morning, that can be a dangerous thing. Balzac makes the point best –
“As soon as coffee is in your stomach… Ideas begin to move… Coffee is your ally and writing ceases to be a struggle.”
It’s reassuring to know I’m not alone. It’s the most widely-consumed psychoactive substance on the planet, stimulating the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, and so inherently addictive (although, weirdly, knowing this seems to have absolutely no affect on my feelings for it).
There’s also another reason why artists, specifically writers, like it, and it’s not just because those of us who were teenagers in the 90s will always associate it with Friends. Coffee shops are one of the few public places you can go to and write, like being part of the world and yet in your own too, which sounds pretty much perfect to me… Ultimately, without coffee, I think it’s reasonable to assume there would be a lot less art in the world.
I’ve always assumed that my massive coffee consumption was inherently tied to my writing, but curiously, after two days of not drinking it, I’ve found myself craving it not for the caffeine (I drink tea too, which I consider a kind of caffeine-patch), but for the ritual itself. There are so many ways to make coffee – in a machine, in a cafetière, in a stove-top coffee pot, or using instant granules (like my dad still insists on doing). So many types to choose from as well, each with a more luxurious-sounding name than the last – latte, cappuccino, espresso, macchiato, ristretto, frappé (ironically, my favourite is the flat white, though its name seriously lets it down). I love all the variations and I like baristas who take it seriously (especially the ones who make cute patterns in my foam) because it is a serious business.
So why isn’t it the same with tea? I mean, I love tea too, and making a good cup is definitely an art form, but then I was allowed to drink it from a pretty young age. Maybe that took away its allure of being a proper grown-up drink. But the key difference, I’ve decided, is that tea just doesn’t have a powerful enough smell. Surely there aren’t many scents as evocative as coffee. It’s almost impossible to resist, like a kind of liquid equivalent to frying bacon or fish & chips. For me it’s associated with reading and writing, two of my favourite pursuits, and it makes me feel cosy and happy. As the playwright John Van Druten once said –
“I think if I were a woman I’d wear coffee as a perfume.”
I would too – so get on that please, Chanel.
And is it really so bad for us? Yes it should be drunk in moderation, especially during pregnancy, and yes, it can potentially lead to anxiety, hypertension and insomnia, but studies have also shown a link (still unproven), between drinking coffee and a lower chance of coronary heart disease, as well as certain types of diabetes. According to the BBC, an average of 400 mg a day is considered safe, so long as you’re drinking water as well. That’s 4-5 cups a day, which sounds reasonable to me.
Ultimately, I guess what I’m trying to say is that although my detox didn’t last very long, I’m okay with that. I’m quite happy to have reaffirmed my love for the noble coffee bean, knowing it’s not just a work-based dependency. So I think we should all go ahead and have another cup because the alternative – Decaf – doesn’t bear thinking about…