Pondering the mysteries of essential writing fuel – coffee

I’ve long held that coffee is an essential writing fuel. Of course, it’s not what it used to be. Luckily.

When I was a kid in 1970s New Zealand, ‘bought coffee’ came in pyrex containers that had been left on the edge of restaurant buffet tables to stew through the day and turn into a kind of funny brown liquid that looked like, but wasn’t, mud.

Writing fuel!
Writing fuel!

Today? Smorgasbords with drip-filter coffee bars are long gone and instead we’ve got a bewildering array of Italianate names for different ways of mixing hot water and ground coffee beans at high pressure but only 68 degrees C in a machine that looks like a mutant Dalek and sounds like a K4 class steam locomotive. Of course, really they all lead to the same thing. Viz:

  1. Cup of coffee. What it says.
  2. Espresso. As (1), but less water and more ground coffee beans.
  3. Americano. As (2), but more water and less ground coffee beans (this makes it exactly the same as (1), but for some reason it has a different name).
  4. Ristretto. As (1), but less water and less ground coffee beans, making it a miniature (1), which probably explains why it’s served in a demi-tasse cup, so it looks exactly the same as (1) anyway, only smaller.
  5. Mocchacino. As (1), but with chocolate powder and foamed milk poured into it. I have no idea why anybody would want to ruin great coffee by adding instant migrane starter to it, but there you are.
  6. Capuccino. As (1), but with foamed milk poured into it, thus creating a kind of warm foamy milkshake, and if I wanted to have one of those I’d have gone to a soda siphon, thank you.

See what I mean?

As for me? I drink Journalist Coffee, which is the same as (1) only with a lot more ground coffee beans in it. I would add Hemingway-style Traditional Scottish Amber Coloured Writing Additive (single malt variety) to the mix, but I hardly ever touch that stuff, and if I did, I wouldn’t ruin it with coffee.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


18 thoughts on “Pondering the mysteries of essential writing fuel – coffee

  1. I’m afraid that I entered the world of coffee drinking in my teens and never looked back. My son, while occasionally flirting with tea (which my mother greatly loved) has joined me.

    I’ve actually cut back which means I now drink about four cups or so (maybe three, maybe five) before I go to work each morning. I stop now at that, but I used to drink more when I was at work. I’ve long thought that coffee is the fuel of the law. It’s always a relief, I must say, when I read something that says coffee is going to help stave off Alzheimer’s or something, as opposed to all the bad new that it was going to stunt my grown (as opposed to my genetics) or damage my hear, which I used to hear as a kid.

    Being a part time stockmen, I’d note, coffee is also the fuel of stock raising.

      1. I never have fathomed the cost of a cup of coffee. It seems slightly disproportionate to what is actually served. I suppose the coffee making machinery carries an overhead. But even so…

        1. I suppose it is supplied by a somewhat amazing distribution system, particularly considering that it was already so much a part of daily life by the mid 19th Century.

          But then, that’d be true of tea as well.

          I’m not sure what that says about us overall, but probably something.

  2. Many an ebook (indie-published, of course) costs less than certain types of coffees — another shocking truth of our times. I drink a non-trivial amount of the stuff, but not while writing, probably because in the evening I switch to tea — often so-called “herbal” but green tea as well. Coffee for reading or socializing and tea for writing, that’s how it works for me.

    1. It begs questions to think that many ebooks – the product of hundreds or maybe thousands of hours work by authors – sell for less than the price of a cup of coffee. Ouch!

  3. Coffee. First thing in the morning do NOT get between me and my coffeemaker. I will not be responsible for the results.

    As for single malt variety additive, everything in its place, and that would not be in coffee. Simply my opinion! Others are free to do as they wish.

    Just don’t get between me and my coffee, that’s all.

  4. Having actually worked as a barista at one point I’m right there with you regarding the confusion on the Americano. Though in some varieties the Americano contains a dash of milk and coffee not (or is that the other way around?)

    You left one out: Latté – As (6) but with more milk and less foam. I rather like lattés, especially with a dash of almond syrup.

    Starbucks is coming to SA, I hear. I don’t see them doing very well against our own local chain of coffee shops that serve real coffee. But the McDonalds is still standing strong in spite of several local chains that use actual meat in their burgers, so apparently we have a thing for American rubbish in this country.

    1. Oh, I did forget lattes too! I tend to be a bit vague about coffee with any sort of dairy in it – not a mix I go near unless it’s a milkshake…

      We have Starbucks in NZ – not sure when it arrived. It was kind of, just, there suddenly. Not anything I paid too much attention to owing to avoiding their ‘coffee simulations’ at all cost. We have, I think, all but one of the big US fast-food franchises now.

      One chain expanding over in SA is a Kiwi one: Burger Fuel. I know there’s a restaurant in Durban but am not sure how far it’s otherwise been franchised. It’s mildly gourmet and not too bad. The schtik is motoring: for a while, the restaurant/takeaways here had Mini bodywork as decor, broken down and welded into a pipe framework as if they were a 1:1 scale Airfix kit. The burgers had names like “Piston Burger”, “Bambina” (the name under which the Fiat 500 used to be sold here) and Ford Freakout – though of late they’re expanding that into names such as “Big Bastard”. I haven’t ever ordered coffee from them.

      1. I’ve never heard of Burger Fuel, so I don’t think they’ve expanded very far yet.

        I don’t get gimmicky names like that. Call a spade a spade and a cheeseburger a cheeseburger, for crying out loud. “Big Bastard” does sound sufficiently descriptive, though. I can almost picture it.

  5. Always start the day with a cup of tea and then settle into the day with a coffee, Italian coffee maker style, just the one cup! Interestingly, I learned from soemone working in the drinks industry that here in France coffee consumption increases during a recession, (and other drinks go into decline), it’s because coffee is the cheapest drink in the cafes, and the French drink their short, black espresso, so they’re declining other options and sticking with coffee. It’s also the social aspect, because many people go out to meet up in the outdoor cafes and a coffee is the cost of being able to sit and chat.

  6. A cup of coffee out with my other half is the highlight of my day. Just love that hot little cup of optimism and energy!

  7. I don’t mind cappucino and mocha, but I draw the line at all the flamboyant hipster-filth that gets served in certain tax avoiding international coffee shop chains. I don’t drink espresso because the cups are too small and I’ve heard Italians say it should only be drunk at breakfast anyway. (And I believe Americano is watered down espresso, dating from WW2 when American soldiers in Italy found the local espressos too strong.)

    Rather than follow the coffee I follow the prices. One of my local supermarket cafes offers free coffee with a single food purchase. A 65p Kit Kat sets me up for three to four cups of coffee costing nothing. At the end of the afternoon I feel like I’ve had my fingers stuck in the electrical sockets.

  8. Coffee is a sore subject for me because people always say it’s the fuel of writers, and I’m a writer, but I can’t drink a single sip of coffee without my stomach murdering me. Even the smell of coffee hurts. So I drink my herbal tea and I like it, but I’m not happy about it, lol.

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