Coffee and the Writer

Let me preface this by saying I usually drink between 60 and 80 ounces of coffee every day. I’ll explain (further down the page) why that might not be as much at it seems.

I’m not going to spend any time on the history of coffee and/or its connection to writers. Just Google “coffee and writers” and you’ll find plenty of information about that. Here’s one link just to whet your appetite.

No, this post is just about my own personal coffee habits, which have varied considerably over the years. When I was younger, in high school and college, I didn’t drink much coffee (or tea for that matter), maybe just one 6 to 8 ounce cup in the morning. Full strength, with a couple of spoonfuls of sugar and some milk. I would often have iced tea at lunch, though. Yes, sweet tea. It was Texas.

When I started working at Rice University, we had a coffee room which had a couple of brew machines, one for Starbucks House Blend decaf, and one for Sumatra high octane. I would often arrive a couple of hours early, open a pre-measured packet of the Sumatra into the full-strength machine and brew a carafe (probably 3 liters) of the stuff. I would fill my 12-ounce mug, add a fair bit of creamer and take it upstairs to my office and work on one of my novels until everyone arrived. I’d be ready for a second cup halfway through the morning, but sometimes the caffeine would give me such a buzz that I started drinking green tea instead during the afternoon.

Once I retired in 2009, I continued to drink roughly the same amount of coffee, but mixed the grounds half-caffeine/half-decaf. I also stopped adding creamer to it. Over the past few years, though, I discovered that I really didn’t need the caffeine as much as I thought. I just wanted to have something to sip on while I worked.

So, about the 60 to 80 ounces of coffee a day. I do usually drink that much, but it might be the weakest coffee in existence. Here’s how I brew it. I have a 12-cup (72-ounce) Mr. Coffee brewer. Most drip coffee manufacturers suggest that you use a 1-tablespoon scoop of ground coffee for every 6-ounce cup, or ½ cup of grounds per 10 cups. Since my coffeemaker holds 12 cups, that would mean I should use 12 tablespoons (or ¾ of a cup of grounds) every time I brew a pot. That would be ridiculously strong coffee in my opinion.

1 tablespoon measure compared to 1/2 cup
A one-tablespoon measure compared to one-half of a cup

This is what 1 tablespoon (on the left) and ½ cup of grounds (on the right) looks like.

Just last year, though, I discovered Vietnamese instant coffee. I now make my coffee even weaker, then add water, reheat it, and add a little of the Viet coffee for flavor. Here’s that process step-by step. I fill the Mr. Coffee reservoir full. Drop a filter into the basket. Shake a little cinnamon into the bottom of the filter (old habit, when I was brewing it stronger, the cinnamon seemed to cut the acidity of the brewed coffee — I still do it anyway). I add 2 scoops of *decaf* coffee (so no caffeine to begin with), then brew it. After it’s brewed, I fill a third of a 20 ounce mug with the weak decaf coffee, add a third of a mug of water, nuke it for about 90 seconds, then add ½ teaspoon of the instant Viet coffee (more than enough to give me flavor, but still minimal caffeine), add a little creamer (something I started doing again during the pandemic so we wouldn’t have to go to the store for milk as often), then fill the rest of the mug with milk (2% milkfat). During the pandemic I would use more creamer and less milk. Now I’m gradually weaning myself away from the creamer because I don’t need or want the extra sugar.

Image of the Ingredients
Image of the Ingredients

I use the Trung Nguyên G7 3-in-1 brand of Viet coffee. It comes in a large bag with 100 packets (16 grams each) of the most flavorful coffee I have ever had. Available online for about $18 to $20 per bag, but if you have a good Asian market in your area, you may be able to get it for less. I usually get mine (three bags at a time, about a year’s worth) for $10 to $12 per bag. I don’t need to add much of it to my weak mixture to get a very flavorful brew. I take it upstairs to my study and place it on a warmer (a candle warmer I got at Bed, Bath & Beyond around ten years ago, still going strong), which sits atop a coaster made of a cross-section of a tree fossil to keep the warmer from scorching my desk.

Image of the mug on my desk
Image of the mug on my desk

As I work, I sip. When it’s empty I repeat the process. I usually finish one mug mid-morning, another before or just after lunch, and have a third or fourth mug during the afternoon (20 ounces x 4 mugs = 80 ounces). If I’m really focused on the writing I tend to drink less. Three mugs is the most common intake most days, but I have even occasionally (on a really good writing day) been known to have only had two mugs worth. It’s not about the caffeine, obviously, just about the flavor and having something warm to sip on. I drink just water with all my meals as well.

What are your drinking habits while you write (coffee or otherwise)?


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