Coffee and Writing

It’s essential to take proper refreshment during the writing process. In Reacher Said Nothing, Andy Martin discovered that Lee Child drinks over 20 cups of coffee a day, smokes slightly more Camel cigarettes and eats mostly breakfast cereals. This is nothing new — coffee has long been a key ingredient of literary success.

John Gruber defined success as coming from three essential qualities — being a ‘fussy coffee drinker’, using a ‘clicky keyboard’, and drinking lots of ‘over-carbonated water’ (in his case, double-fizzed water from a Soda Stream).

I’ve always been a coffee person. (And I like bubbly mineral water, so I’m two-thirds of the way there.) I drink one or two cups a day, so I’m nowhere in Lee Child’s league.

I used to have my own fussy coffee preparation technique using an original Melitta ceramic dripper cone with white Melitta filter paper. Filter paper used to be made using an environmentally unfriendly chlorine bleaching process. The upside was that it left no weird aftertaste. I haven’t found a non-bleached filter paper that tastes even half okay. In any case, I don’t want to used bleached filter paper now.

It’s possible to make great coffee in more of less any kind of container simply by pouring the coffee through a tea strainer. It sounds weird but it works fine. All you have to do is make sure you’re using medium coarse coffee designed for a cafetière. It does work with finely ground coffee, except that the sediment settles to the bottom, producing a sort of Turkish coffee. If you drink the coffee with a little care, it stays there. These days I use a cafetière because I like strong coffee and I like to let it sit and stew for a while. This is ‘cowboy coffee’, and coffee snobs would probably look down on this method, but for me it’s the only way to get the full flavour.

The second best thing to a hot coffee, is an iced coffee. Iced coffee is a great summer drink. Naturally, I have a fussy iced latte making technique as well. This is how you make it. Get a pint glass. Fill it a third full with milk. (I use regular milk. It should work with plant based milks, but I haven’t tried it myself.) Then fill the next third with cold water. Leave the last third empty. Pour the contents into a blender (preferably a powerful one. I have a classic Vitamix). Add decent instant coffee to taste. I use Clipper Fairtrade Super Special Arabica Coffee. Blend on full power for 25 seconds. Hey presto, pour it out into the pint glass with a few ice cubes and you now have a pint glass full of what looks like the creamy top of a Guinness pint — but the whole glass is the head of the pint. It even has the same gravity effect (as it settles, like a pint of Guinness). This drink is like nothing else. Paradise.

I don’t drink alcohol and write at the same time. If I did it would be either a Guinness or a pint of German pils, preferably something from Southern Germany, or Affligem (Belgium), or Lost & Grounded’s Keller Pils (which comes from, err… Bristol). If I’m going cheap it would be Bavaria, which is brewed in... Holland.

Fizzy water has magical properties. It transforms the nothingness of water into something tactile in your mouth. I thought about getting a John Gruber recommended Soda Stream, but I don’t drink enough to justify the purchase. Instead, I opt for cheap supermarket fizzy mineral water. If I’m going posh it’s Highland Spring.

Some people are mad about tea, Oolong’s and the like, which can get very expensive if you like the quality stuff. I was addicted to Genmaicha (Japanese brown rice tea) for a while but I’m back to coffee. Some teas, especially fancy Oolongs, are expensive. It’s cheaper to buy drugs. And, no, I don’t do that. Neither do I smoke cigarettes. I used to… a long time ago.

If you do smoke, smoking and writing go hand-in-hand. Smoking and coffee, and all-day breakfast cereal is the writing nourishment of champions.