Does coffee help creativity?

coffee-cupI remember a scene from an old television show. The Darren McGavin, playing private investigator Mike Hammer, met his client in a coffee shop. He had met her at a coffee shop each time he had something to report. Each time he ordered coffee. Finally, her curiosity got the best of her and she asked, “How much coffee do you drink every day?”

He answered, “Fifteen or twenty cups.”

The client said, “Doesn’t it keep you awake?”

Our hero said, “It helps.”

I’m like Honoré de Balzac, the early 19th century French author, who said (translated by Robert Onopa): Coffee is a great power in my life… [It] sets the blood in motion and stimulates the muscles; it… chases away sleep, and gives us the capacity to engage a little longer in the exercise of our intellects.

Balzac is said to have drunk up to 50 cups a day, although his cups were much smaller than today’s mugs. Best-selling author Lee Child reportedly drinks 30 cups a day.

Compared to these writers, my coffee habit is modest. I am usually at my desk by 8:00 a.m., having risen at 5:30, read three newspapers, and breakfasted with my wife. My first cup of breakfast coffee is the normal high-octane stuff to knock the cobwebs off my brain. Years ago a doctor told me after a routine physical that too much caffeine is bad for people, so for the rest of the day I restrict caffeine to times when the cobwebs come back.

After working in my study until about 9:30, I start to feel the cobwebs lurking in the far corners of my mind. Bang! Back to high-octane coffee—only now, I switch to iced coffee. Over the rest of the day, I’ll have three more iced coffees, occasionally four or five.

I discovered iced coffee in 2004 after Hurricane Frances.

11:00 p.m. Saturday, September 4. 2004, Labor Day weekend: Hurricane Frances moved ashore in Martin County, Florida with sustained winds over 100 mph. The eye passed directly over our house, knocking our two-story screened enclosure into our swimming pool. Fortunately, our townhouse was built to the stronger building codes adopted after Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992. Our home was otherwise intact. Even with underground utilities, our neighborhood electric power was knocked out for four days. (Which is one reason we now live in Lake County, Florida. But that’s another story.) My wife and I had evacuated to Georgia and returned to find our town in need of help.

I am a Volunteer Minister for the Church of Scientology and we worked with the National Guard and the Red Cross to hand out food and water to long lines of victims. The temperature was over 90 degrees in early September with humidity match. Three o’clock in the afternoon, after working in the sun since early morning, I was dissolving into a puddle of sweat and grime. Miraculously, an angel of rescue appeared in the form of a Dunkin’ Donuts panel truck. The Dunkin’ truck pulled into the shopping center parking lot where we were handing out water and ice. The back of the truck was full of huge containers of iced coffee for the volunteers. One sip of that delicious Dunkin’ Donuts iced coffee and I felt like I’d had a two-hour nap in an air-conditioned room. It was almost better than sex. Almost.

Ever since then, I’m a big iced-coffee fan.