Stalking the Wild Muse: Writer Habits & Rituals: The Altar of Coffee

MusemedA series exploring the props, habits, and drugs that fuel the writer’s productivity. Past, present and future! This week, we discuss why coffee is the Food of the Gods, closely followed in this exulted position by chocolate and green tea.

by Cat Kimbriel

So do you mean habits or rituals?

When I was a child, my mother would open the magical can of Juan Valdez’s finest, pure Colombian coffee.  I would insist on sniffing the scoop of fresh grounds before she made the pot.  I knew nothing about coffee except that it smelled divine, and that my parents loved it and drank it straight up.  Hidden calories, my Dad would say with a shake of his head.  Sugar and cream will get you in troubleIf you like coffee, don’t put anything in it.

That’s ritual.

Always having a hot beverage at my side as I started writing?

That’s habit.

But it seemed that it was not to be.  Coffee straight up, whether brewed in a coffee shop or at work, seemed to make me sick.  Even half with cream was no guarantee of success.  This was not fair!  I felt like the kitten in “Space Time for Springer” — coffee would make me an adult human!  Had I been cut from the herd?  What was the problem?

My coffee-loving friends shook their heads sadly.  My boyfriend did not understand this thing I had with this bitter drink.  Instead I cultivated a ritual for teas, both true and tisanes, my familiar cup at my side as I wrote.  Indeed, saffra in my Nualan books was inspired by Celestial Seasonings’ Red Zinger.  The Nualans were refugees, cast upon their world with no coffee or tea plants.  They had no chocolate plants!  Half their battle to become spacefaring once again was probably to get their hands on coffee, tea, and chocolate plants.

Young coffee bushes ready to plant on cooperative plantation.

Young coffee bushes ready to plant – a Third Coast Coffee source of beans.

But in the back of my mind, as I wrestled with Life Interrupted, taking me further from coffee and good Earl Grey and even fine green tea, I was determined to make my way back to the Real Stuff.  And as I conquered other challenges, I discovered something important.  It was not blessed coffee, tea, or chocolate that was making me ill.

It was contaminants.

And so I went forth, learning what to search for that would not make me ill.  Finding out how to get the Really Good Stuff, as far as uncontaminated went, is a story in itself.  The important part of that story is, if you want your creative brain firing at supersonic levels, you need to figure out what high quality Food of the Gods works for you.

In my case, it’s…drum roll please…single origin, high altitude, wet process Central American coffee beans, which I then grind myself.  (Yes…I have become a coffee snob for health and creativity reasons.  It can happen to anyone.)  In a pinch I also use organic Japanese green tea or 70% gluten and milk free chocolate.   Then I add to that coffee or tea…butter.  Irish Butter.  My current addiction is Kerrygold, but I am sure there are other great brands of butter from grass-fed cows.  Here in the US, all the American brands I can find are salted.  (Americans like salted butter.)  Guess what?  When you cut back to the wall on added salt, you discover that good butter and beef naturally have a lot of salt!  Plus, added salt in coffee=yuck.

Then the ritual starts.  Add extra virgin, organic, unprocessed coconut oil or MCT oil into the blessed fluid.  Stir until things are nicely mixed, and drink.

Logo for Third Coast Coffee Roasting Company

Photo taken at Mimosa Screen Printing, which prints bags for Third Coast

Once a day.  It’s Ritual.  It starts my brain.  It feeds my soul.  And thank the heavens for that Japanese tea, because my doctor doesn’t want me drinking coffee right now for boring reasons.

But soon.  Because Ritual is healing on so many levels.  And my characters want my butt back in that chair.  (Sorry, Dad — I traded gluten for butter.  No regrets!)  I buy my outstanding coffee beans at Third Coast Coffee here in the Texas Hill Country (currently Nicaraguan beans) but here’s how to find them in your city.  Write on!

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Stalking the Wild Muse: Writer Habits & Rituals: The Altar of Coffee — 19 Comments

    • Ah, but is the water filtered? Distilled? Filled with strange, interesting off flavors? ;^)

      Down here in Texas we have lake water or aquifer water as tap water, with the usual chemical additives. Seasonally, the lakes turn over, and this makes some parts of town have water that is…interesting.

      Safe, but interesting.

      Still — coffee keeps offices working!

  1. This is fascinating. I did not drink coffee until I was 40 (didn’t drink wine until I was 45 and went on a trip through Sonoma with my youngest sister). My parents loved it. I shudder to think of the contaminants in my coffee over the years (used to be sugar, still is half and half) because I liked: wait for it: : : flavored coffee. I know. Heathen. But now I have become enamoured of dark roasts, and I just may seek out that special source for less contaminated beans. Who knows, I just may learn to drink it black. Learn something new at the BVC blog every day.

    • I have enjoyed the taste of flavored coffee, Kelly, but I can’t drink it now — just like with blends, there’s more of a chance of contamination. I used to love French Roast, which is low acid (and I thought that was the problem, acid.) But no, I can drink other coffee now.

      I can have it if I follow my rules. There are a lot of fine coffees out there that I can’t have that might work great for you. I find that it’s just paying attention to what your body is telling you.

  2. I am in the process of reinventing myself. Due to one of my medications, everything tastes like sawdust. Including coffee and chocolate. There is more to coffee than caffeine and I miss it. My brain is too tired to work without the lovely ritual of savoring every mouthful and letting it infuse the body.

    I’m headed to Grounds For Change: shade grown, free trade, organic coffee.

    • I am always in favor of organic or heading in that direction coffee, Phyl. Hope it works for you! Happy to check a recent roast at 3rd Coast and send you names, if you want to try some of that, too. Mostly organic or in the seven year transition process.

  3. The school I went to in Greenwich Village was right next door to Porto Rico Importers, a coffee importer. I would get to school five minutes early to smell the coffee I was too young to drink.

    Then I grew up and tasted coffee for the first time and…it was horrible. That watery, black, sour stuff (made from instant crystals) that my father drank was vile, vile, vile. Surely coffee should taste like coffee ice cream, except hot? With that same rich, dense texture? It took me a couple of years (and a block of final exams to get through) to appreciate coffee. The first thing that helped was discovering non-instant, which improved matters 1243%. Then, learning to brew a proper cup of coffee. Then discovering that it really does matter what sort of coffee you use. For me, the lower the acidity, the better the flavor (and the happier my stomach lining is).

    By the time I started doing my writing in coffee shops, I had come to embrace–and make demands of–my coffee. An inestimable aid to the writer’s art.

  4. Tell you what I have discovered. Grinding is key. Whole beans, which you grind yourself in a burr grinder, just before brewing. This one change in the household coffee ritual makes an astonishing difference in flavor. Everything else stayed the same — the way we were brewing it (in a press), the beans, the water.

    • I have a wonderful wooden-box hand grinder I found in one of the antique malls down in New Braunfels for grinding my coffee beans every morning. But I don’t travel with it, meaning I have to buy ground coffee when I stay with my sweetheart in Oakland (he’s a tea drinker, so he does not come equipped for coffee). Some of the coffee vendors out there refuse to sell ground coffee. I’m sure they’re right in principle, but it’s very snooty of them. There are times when even coffee purists like me need to buy ours ground.

      • Nancy, grind enough for a couple of cups and Ziploc it, see what you think. As long as you keep the grounds cool and use quickly, you may find it higher quality than buying a pound of ground out there. Or can you get a quarter pound?

    • Since I am the only drinker, and right now can’t have more than a cup every ten days or so, I freeze my beans, and take out what I need to grind. I still get excellent bubbling action, so CO2 is still in the beans.

      I’m with you, Brenda — it makes a striking difference. My parents admitted it was outstanding, when I sent them coffee beans. But they would not spend that much on themselves.

      I consider coffee an affordable luxury. Much cheaper than a lot of things!

    • I believe you, but right now I just have a Mr. Coffee grinder. It gets the job done. Then I pour hot water through a gold plated filter.

      Now I want coffee, and it’s too late today!

      I don’t have a room for WorldCon yet — not sure I can stay more than driving in for the day — but sounds like I need to bring fresh beans, grinder, and tools of the trade. I have a little drip pot with a gold filter I haven’t used recently because my coffee buddies all moved out of town! It could get a workout!

  5. Lucerne (in the Western US) makes unsalted butter (so does Sherm’s Thunderbird Butter, but that is a *very* local brand). Buy the Lucerne at Safeway Supermarket, which is a chain with a website. I would have to check and see if Tillamook butter comes in an unsalted version, can’t remember off the top of my hat.

    • The trick is unsalted butter from grass-fed cows, Jean. Somehow it seems to make a difference; I do not fully understand how. I’m just running with success!

  6. I just watched the video on “brewing” at Science Friday, where it compares clarity VS body in brewing. They consider my gold filter something that will gather off flavors, but guess what? Properly chosen coffee (bless you, Dave Asprey!) just continues to taste great, and if you don’t grind too fine, no sludge.

    http://www.sciencefriday.com/

    There are other videos on the science of coffee that I will enjoy later on.

  7. Coffee tastes as bad as cheese smells. Cheese tastes as good as coffee smells.

    Of course, I have somehow developed a taste for coffee anyway.

  8. I think I need to bring my coffee maker and some good beans to Worldcon, Pooks. We will do Real Coffee. Just ignore me dumping butter in it.

    A friend who smokes cigars tells me that a properly rolled cigar tastes the way a good pipe smells, and a pipe tastes like burning air/cigar odor. Go figure.