Why all artists should drink coffee

I’ve always suspected that coffee fired my imagination. Today I found out that science and history backs up my suspicions.

History has it that coffee was discovered in Ethiopia over a thousand years ago by a poetic goat-herder called Kaldi who noticed that his goats would dance and make merriment after nibbling on the leaves of a certain plant. He wanted some of what they were having so he took the beans of the plant to a nearby monastery. The monks there threw the beans on the fire in horror. Those ‘roasted’ beans were later ground and added to hot water which resulted in the first ever expresso. What a happy accident.

I spend a lot of time in arty cafes

I spend a lot of time in arty cafes

Science tells us that drinking coffee improves spatial awareness, cognition, memory and reactivity. So driving or operating heavy machinery after coffee is a good idea. So is thinking and imagining. As Balzac said ‘This coffee falls into your stomach, and immediately there is a general commotion. Ideas begin to move like battalions in the Grand Army.’ That is exactly what coffee does for me. I often find that after a good cup of coffee in one of Shrewsbury’s many cafes I want to cycle home at high speed with the wind in my hair to draw, paint, write, think, sketch or plan.

Balzac and his ghost dancing cat - too much coffee?

Balzac and his ghost dancing cat – too much coffee?

One of my favourite authors, Marcel Proust, loved his cup of coffee. He was extremely fussy in how he took it. If it wasn’t just so he’d declare: ‘This coffee is revolting!’

I said I wanted coffee, not a cat!

I said I wanted coffee, not a cat!

Coffee is the tipple of choice of many other arty people from the past. Søren Kierkegaard would drink his in one big gulp. Voltaire drank between 40 and 50 cups a day, which he mixed with chocolate. Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the Coffee Cantata, a moral treatise on the place of coffee in daily life.

So I sing, and raise my mug, to the Ethiopian goats for discovering the nectar of the creatives. Art without coffee? Is that possible, or just more difficult.


Coffee Makers ‘Top 10 Famous Coffee Drinkers from the History Books. Available from: http://coffeemakersusa.com/famous-coffee-drinkers-in-history/ [last accessed 12 July 2015]

Foley, M. 2012 Embracing the Ordinary Simon & Schuster UK, London

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