A Short History of the Long Love Affair Between Coffee and Books

Image © A. and I. Kruk/Shutterstock

“Good. Coffee is good for you. It’s the caffeine in it. Caffeine, we are here. Caffeine puts a man on her horse and a woman in his grave.”

So says Ernest Hemingway’s character Bill Gorton in The Sun Also Rises. Indeed, Hemingway, indeed. Coffee, it is the caffeine. But it’s not just that.

Of all the drugs to hook writers, it’s coffee that’s probably been the most common and most prominent (and, yes, probably the most good for you). Think of that quintessential image of a writer writing, hunched over a typewriter or in front of a laptop. There’s probably a cup of coffee nearby.

Writers have written paeans to their favorite cafés, and the hipster writer hanging in the Brooklyn coffee shop is one of the most durable clichés repeated about the creative classes.

It doesn’t take a sociologist to figure out why this might be the case: coffee is stimulating, it’s focusing, and the din of a coffee shop is a welcome accompaniment to such a solitary task.


But coffee is not merely some proto-Adderall. Almost since it’s discovery a millennium and a few centuries ago, coffee has been associated with, well, association. Its ritual and the place of its drinking has provided the sociologists with a rich example of those so-called “third places,” the gatherings, the coffee klatches that have provided the sustenance, mentally and socially, for philosophers, intellectuals, and revolutionaries throughout the ages. It was coffee, some have even suggested, to which we owe the French Revolution. Before we get too jittery, we’ll let you debate the merits of that over a cup of your own.

Instead, we’ll stick with what we know. In honor of the potent alliance of coffee and literature (and music, as the two composers below attest), here are some fun facts about two of our favored stimulants. Oh, and if you’re also looking for some of the best books on coffee, you’re in luck.

Book Lovers Guide to Coffee