Honoré de Balzac
You think you really like coffee? Nope. Honoré de Balzac really liked coffee. “This coffee falls into your stomach, and straightway there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like the battalions of the Grand Army of the battlefield, and the battle takes place. Things remembered arrive at full gallop, ensuing to the wind. The light cavalry of comparisons deliver a magnificent deploying charge, the artillery of logic hurry up with their train and ammunition, the shafts of with start up like sharpshooters. Similes arise, the paper is covered with ink; for the struggle commences and is concluded with torrents of black water, just as a battle with powder.”
The Mulholland Drive Espresso Scene
Oh, the tension! (Fun fact: the coffee-obsessed mobster is none other than Angelo Badalamenti, Lynch’s longtime musical collaborator.)
Smith’s new memoir M Train finds the coffee connoisseur spending a significant amount of time in cafés around the world. As such, it’s hard to choose a single passage, but this part — which concerns a visit to Veracruz, the center of the Mexican coffee trade, to write about, yes, coffee — is particularly memorable:
The rest of the morning I sat watching the men come and go sampling coffee and sniffing out the various beans. Shaking them, holding them to their ears like shells, and rolling them on a flat table with their small, thick hands, as if divining a fortune… I finally admitted [to the proprietor] that I was not writing for a magazine but for posterity. I want to write an aria to coffee, I explained without apology… I settled my bill and showed him my notebook. He bade me follow him to his worktable. He took his official seal as a coffee trader and solemnly stamped a blank page. We shook hands knowing most likely we would never meet again, nor would I find coffee as transporting as this.
Given the fact that Ti Jean was given to extended writing binges and also extended drinking binges, it probably won’t surprise you to know that he drank a lot of coffee — that’s him second from left, in a café with (from left) Larry Rivers, Gregory Corso, and Allen Ginsberg. In his Art of Fiction interview with The Paris Review, he described how it factored into his writing process:
Bleary eyes, insaned mind bemused and mystified by sleep, details that pop out even as you write them you don’t know what they mean, till you wake up, have coffee, look at it, and see the logic of dreams in dream language itself, see?
Abd-al-Kâdir ibn Mohammad al Ansâri al Jazari al Hanbali
The man with the impressive name is the author of one of the earliest works about coffee, dating from 1587 AD. The book includes a thorough examination of the history, etymology, and effects of the drink, and also includes the following paean to its virtues:
O Coffee! Thou dost dispel all cares, thou art the object of desire to the scholar. This is the beverage of the friends of God; it gives health to those in its service who strive after wisdom. Prepared from the simple shell of the berry, it has the odor of musk and the color of ink. The intelligent man who empties these cups of foaming coffee, he alone knows truth. May God deprive of this drink the foolish man who condemns it with incurable obstinacy. Coffee is our gold. Wherever it is served, one enjoys the society of the noblest and most generous men. O drink! As harmless as pure milk, which differs from it only in its blackness.
Futurama: “Three Hundred Big Boys”
Matt Groening seems to have a thing for existential revelations catalyzed by everyday substances — The Simpsons featured Homer’s amazing psychedelic chili pepper odyssey, and then there’s this, wherein Fry decides to spend a $300 government refund on 100 cups of coffee. He spends most of the episode in a state of twitchy discomfort, but cup #100 propels him into such a speedified state that time seems to slow to a crawl. This allows him to save everyone from a fire, which goes to to show
Serious gourmet shit in Pulp Fiction
Quentin Tarantino: suspiciously good at playing a dick.
Coffee and Cigarettes
Of course we haven’t forgotten this. You could take your pick from scenes in Jarmusch’s extended tribute to caffeine and nicotine (the GZA and RZA, in particular, are strong contenders), but let’s go with Renee French, whose only wish for the perfect cup of coffee is that people leave it the fuck alone.
A doff of the hat to The Guardian‘s David Thomson for this one — in an article about great coffee scenes, he cites Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her, which is pure coffee porn: “A cup of coffee, as seen from above, nearly fills the CinemaScope frame. We see the ripples from stirring and the short life of bubbles on the surface. We scrutinise the range of colours glimpsed in a cup of black coffee. We feel it as an ocean on which we are engaged in a single-handed voyage. And all the time, Godard’s professorial voiceover is instructing us on the lessons in coffee.”
“Should I kill myself, or just have a cup of coffee?” The eternal question.