The Coffee & Cigarettes Cult In Cinema And Literature


“I thought of you yesterday… and the day before. I laid in bed, pondering about ma vie Bruxelloise. I wanted a fag, but I didn’t smoke it–since we all know that each cigarette will take two seconds of our lives–I would have preferred to dedicate at least those two seconds fucking each other’s minds instead, like Martín Haché once said.”

I wrote this to someone I love (mind you, whom I’m no longer in love with). It’s been a while since I wrote this, yet somehow when writing this piece, I recalled the passion–my thoughts and soul all revolving between cigarettes and coffee–and how much I indulged in those two when writing that love letter. It also reminded of how deep, passionate and universal that line sounded and it still does: “I wanted a cigarette but I didn’t smoke it…”.

Coffee and cigarettes have for ages been used by artists and literates during their creative rituals, not only as means to enhance their creative process, but as ever-present customs, probably putting them into a state of mind (and soul) that would sparkle serendipity and make their brains open. The dark brew and tobacco have for long been the drugs par excellence I use to refresh my ideas, besides the rituals of preparing coffee which serves also for many as a gateway to the creative mood. Here are a few magicians and great artists whose mornings’ main partners were a full-on dose of nicotine and caffeine:

Walter de la Mare used to say that “he had to smoke when writing” and Stephen Spender mentioned about his very own behaviour that coffee was his own addiction, besides smoking a great deal, which he hardly ever did except when writing.

Truman Capote smoked and drank a brew not only in the morning, but he did so in a unique combination: lying down. This mix came to be linked to his creative and writing process in such a way, that he eventually would not be able to ‘think’ unless he was chilling horizontally.

Kurt Vonnegut started smoking when he was only 12 and kept on puffing until he died at the age of 84. He wrote a total of 14 novels and every-single-one is a masterpiece. He mentioned several times that smoking and coffee sped his creative process and made his synapses fire faster – if you’ve read what he’s written you will probably believe him.

Beethoven’s breakfast was coffee (Amen!). He made every single cup himself, with great care– he even counted the 60 beans that, according to him, his morning cup required. Every single bean, every single morning.

Kierkegaard, on the other hand, amusingly used to take hold of a bag of sugar and simply poured insane amounts into a coffee cup, basically until the sugar was piled up above the rim. Next came incredibly strong, black coffee, which then dissolved the white pyramid. He then downed the muddy molten concoction, which seemed like a cup of mud than anything else. Finally Balzac just drank ridiculous amounts – 50 cups of coffee a day! Yes, fifty.

Other artists who smoked and/or drank coffee to create:
Glenn Gould
Francis Bacon
Jean-Paul Sartre
Gustav Mahler
Andy Warhol
David Bowie
Kurt Cobain
Pablo Picasso

This is not to say that every cup of coffee Balzac had made his creativity sparkle or that every puff Pablo Picasso took in his life was the reason Guernica is Guernica. It rather suggests that history and those creatives making history set forth that greatness and creative bliss is paved with a thousand and one little self-destructive rituals and different forms of out-of-the-ordinary ceremonies to feel, to focus, and to create.