When someone says the word “writer,” our thoughts immediately place him/her in some café somewhere, listening to indie music, absorbing the aroma of coffee that has bonded itself with every air molecule. There’s a kind of atmospheric lighting – a little dim, but still well lit enough that you can see exactly what you’re doing without straining your eyes. Laptops clickety-clack, books might be piled on the table nearby.
Writers everywhere make jokes about their need for caffeine. Even writers who don’t guzzle coffee by the gallon make this joke. I drink tea, generally and my cut-off time is noon. The only time I drink coffee is when I’m in for a truly long day of work and driving (usually an SCA event is involved) and even then I have to cut the espresso with hot chocolate (because I’m a coffee wimp) – and yet, I still make the same damn jokes about how I need coffee and if you want to find a writer, go to a local café, hunker down in a corner and wait for about 10 minutes. 30 minutes if it’s a slow day.
The writers will come. Just like the animals of the Savannah drawn to the only watering hole for miles, the writers will come.
The vast majority of bars in the United States don’t have bookshelves, and yet, a large portion of bookstores offer coffee of some kind. Sometimes a coffee shop will have its own bookstore inside. Some libraries have started doing this. Goodwills even offer free coffee in their stores now, right next to the book section.
People will sagely point to the 1960’s in America as when this connection between authors and coffee houses occurred. They would be incorrect.
Since the 1500’s coffee shops were where people would go to converse, play a few games of checkers or chess or what-have-you, and write. They were banned in various Muslim communities around this time because it was feared that the free-thinking atmosphere would promote revolution. The same thing happened in various European countries in the 17th century. There are engravings dating back to the 1700’s in which men gathered in cafés, with paper and pen to write. Several well-known clubs of intelligentsia who were the first big publishers of books began in coffee houses.
But seriously – why is it that cafés became the big clearing house for manuscript ideas? Why has coffee become linked with creativity? Does coffee really stimulate your brain so much that it measurably and positively affects the average writing output in terms of quality and quantity?
We all know that caffeine blocks certain receptors in your brain to fool you into thinking you have more energy than you do. And sometimes one makes mental connections faster after a cup or two of java, but it’s probably not that much faster.
We also know the more you drink, the more you need to maintain the effects, just like any stimulant. And then there’s that crash afterwards – not exactly conducive for silly things like coherent thought.
So why are we convinced that writers/artists naturally gravitate towards coffee and coffee houses?
My theory for the café hangout is that it’s a way to get out of the house and people watch without looking creepy.
As for coffee? I don’t know. Maybe we’ve been culturally conditioned to link coffee with creativity over a period of centuries of observations that were never scientifically tested, kind of like how in the West only women are supposed to wear dresses.
Or maybe the morning after an all-nighter with Muse is just too rough to even pretend at humanity without that first cup of joe.