15 Famous Coffee Fiends

You seriously could not talk to these people before their morning cup of java.


François-Marie Arouet reportedly downed between 40 and 50 cups of a chocolate and coffee mixture every day and paid enormous fees to have luxury coffee imported. While his doctor told the writer and philosopher that his habit would kill him, Voltaire lived to the ripe old age of 83.


Kierkegaard was like Voltaire in that he needed a little something sweet to cut through coffee’s bitterness. Biographer Joakim Garff writes of his ritual: “Delightedly he seized hold of the bag containing the sugar and poured sugar into the coffee cup until it was piled up above the rim. Next came the incredibly strong, black coffee, which slowly dissolved the white pyramid.” It added up to about 30 sugar cubes in a single cup. He also owned about 50 coffee cups, and tasked his secretary with not only choosing one for each serving, but also providing a sound philosophical reason for the decision.


Beethoven played a strict numbers game when it came to his cup of joe. His morning routine consisted of counting out exactly 60 beans per cup of coffee.


The 26th President of the United States accomplished a lot in his life, and much of the credit in the history books should be given to caffeine and sugar. Roosevelt drank a gallon of coffee a day and would often add five to seven lumps of sugar to the drink, though he eventually switched to saccharin. His son described the volume of Teddy’s consumption as “more in the nature of a bathtub.”


The writer of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was a morning person. He got up at 8 a.m. every day, ate a hearty breakfast, and downed five cups of strong coffee with cream and sugar. Then he’d visit the garden for some time with the flowers and only begin writing after lunchtime. He’d write in the garden if the weather was nice, with a cigar dangling from his mouth. Now that’s an admirable workday.


The Canadian poet might be the most emphatic coffee fiend on our list, lending her name to Balzac’s Coffee Roasters’ "Bird Friendly" blend to raise money for Canada’s Pelee Island Bird Observatory. “The Atwood Blend” is mild and contains a “supple, caramel finish,” and will only cost you $18 a pound. In her daily life, Atwood subsists each morning on a breakfast of coffee with cream or steamed milk. In her novel Cat’s Eye, a little of Atwood’s coffee bias takes shape in her prose: “I don’t even glance at the herbal teas, I go straight for the real, vile coffee. Jitter in a cup. It cheers me up to know I’ll soon be so tense.”


The mind of David Lynch doesn’t seem like it would need much stimulation, and yet the director reportedly drinks four to seven cups of coffee with sugar each day. The most famous character he created—Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks—was a nut for the stuff, and Lynch even has his own David Lynch Signature Organic Coffee. He's written about his coffee obsession and describes the habit in the sort of feverish nostalgia we’ve come to know and love in his work: “For seven years I ate at Bob’s Big Boy. I would go at 2:30, after the lunch rush. I ate a chocolate shake and four, five, six, seven cups of coffee—with lots of sugar. And there’s lots of sugar in that chocolate shake. It’s a thick shake. In a silver goblet. I would get a rush from all this sugar, and I would get so many ideas! I would write them on these napkins. It was like I had a desk with paper. All I had to do was remember to bring my pen, but a waitress would give me one if I remembered to return it at the end of my stay. I got a lot of ideas at Bob’s.”


While many of the writers and thinkers on this list seem to get more from consuming more, Proust got his energy from a kind of regimented deprivation. According to his housekeeper, Celeste, the writer had two bowls of black coffee, hot milk and two croissants upon waking in the late afternoon, and then consumed little else. “I’ve never heard of anyone else living off two bowls of café au lait and two croissants a day. And sometimes only one croissant!” she wrote. Proust occasionally did dine out in the evenings, where he reportedly ate enormous quantities. The life of the artist: feast or famine.


Louis XV of France reigned in the 18th century, but he would have been very popular today in the age of locally-grown, organic and DIY sensibilities. He grew his own coffee beans in greenhouses at Versailles, handpicked them, roasted and ground them, and loved to serve his carefully crafted brew to guests.


A deeply held—and cognitive as opposed to physical—appreciation for the virtues of coffee is its own kind of devotion. Of coffee, novelist Stein wrote: “Coffee gives you time to think. It’s a lot more than just a drink; it’s something happening. Not as in hip, but like an event, a place to be, but not like a location, but like somewhere within yourself. It gives you time, but not actual hours or minutes, but a chance to be, like be yourself, and have a second cup.”


Among the Founding Fathers of the United States, Franklin was also a bit of a coffee snob as well as one of the first well-known coffee shop frequenters. Franklin used coffee shops to hold meetings, play chess or just hang out with his friends. When he was in London, he had his mail sent to his favorite Birchin Lane shop (which was common at the time). 


Franklin wasn’t the only one of our nation’s founders to harbor a serious love for a cup of mud. The Declaration of Independence author called coffee “the favorite drink of the civilized world”—though, admittedly, that might have had a thing or two to do with an aversion to British tea.


Balzac’s work regimen consisted of punctuated periods of intensive work and then pure relaxation—extremes that were aided by caffeine consumption. During periods of work, he ate dinner at 6 p.m., then went to bed, waking at 1 a.m. to work for the next seven hours. The all-nighter was rewarded at 8 a.m. with a nap, and at 9:30 the coffee parade began. Balzac drank as many as 50 cups a day and later as his tolerance rose, he ate pure coffee grounds. He suffered physically for it, plagued with stomach cramps, twitches, headaches and high blood pressure until he died of heart failure at 51. There are a plethora of his powerful, coffee-related quotes out there in the world, but here’s one for the road: “Were it not for coffee one could not write, which is to say one could not live.”


The French military and political leader reportedly asked for a spoonful of coffee while on his deathbed, and the subsequent autopsy revealed coffee grounds in his stomach. He is also responsible for a quote that has appeared on many a coffee cup: “I would rather suffer with coffee than be senseless.”


Bach loved coffee so much that he literally wrote a song about it: the Coffee Cantata, about a father and his coffee loving daughter. I don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say that a lot of turmoil ends in a joyous celebration of song and a marriage contract.

Ah! How sweet coffee tastes,
more delicious than a thousand kisses,
milder than muscatel wine.
Coffee, I have to have coffee,
and, if someone wants to pamper me,
ah, then bring me coffee as a gift!

Andrew Burton/Getty Images
job secrets
11 Behind-the-Counter Secrets of Baristas
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Andrew Burton/Getty Images

Being a barista is no easy task, and it’s not just the early hours and the don’t-talk-to-me-unless-I’ve-had-my-coffee customers. While people often think working at a cafe is a part-time, temporary gig, it takes extensive training to learn your way around an espresso machine, and most baristas are in it for the love of coffee, not just to pay the bills. Mental Floss spoke to a few baristas working at the New York Coffee Festival to learn what exactly goes on behind the counter, and why you should never, ever dump your extra coffee in the trash.


One of the biggest misconceptions about the profession, says New York City-based barista Kayla Bird, is “that it's not a real job.” But especially in specialty cafes, many baristas are in it for the long haul. Coffee is their career.

“It's a chosen field,” as barista Virgil San Miguel puts it. “It's not like you work in a coffee shop because it's a glamorous job,” he explains. “It's more like a passion.”


“Being a really good barista takes a lot of studying,” explains Jake Griffin, a wholesale representative for Irving Farm Coffee Roasters who has worked in the coffee industry for almost a decade. “It can take a few years. You have to start to understand origins, production methods, where your coffee came from.” You have to go through an intensive education before you start pulling espresso shots for customers, so it's possible that the person taking your order and fetching your pastry isn't even allowed to make you a drink yet. “They have to be what we call 'bar certified' before they're even allowed on the machine,” he says. “Usually people start off in our cafes in various support roles, then start to go to classes and go through the training program.”


Sure, baristas take full advantage of all that free coffee. And if they work in their company’s training programs, their whole job is to drink coffee. But it has its downsides. “I taste—at minimum—ten shots of espresso a day,” John Hrabe, who trains baristas at Birch Coffee in New York City, says. On his busier days, it might be as many as 20. You get used to all the caffeine, he claims—at least until you take a few days off. “Then when you go on vacation and you're not working ... everyone's like, 'Why's John so tired?’”

Other baristas who have worked in the field for a long time say the same. “I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and I used to have five or six coffees a day,” Michael Sadler, who helped develop the barista education program at Toby’s Coffee, says. “Now I do two,” he says, both because of the caffeine-induced anxiety and the withdrawal headaches he would get on his days off.


Like any job, there are things that go on in coffee shops that the boss would definitely not approve of. According to one barista who has worked at both a corporate coffee chain and specialty cafes in Delaware and New York, coffee shops can get pretty rowdy behind-the-scenes. “If you see a barista with a lidded cup behind the bar, there's probably a 50/50 chance: It's either coffee or beer,” he says. “You never know.” And it’s not just the booze, either. “I’ve been a part of secret menus that have cannabis-infused coconut milk,” he explains. “I had a pretty good cappuccino.”


You don’t want to hold up the line telling a barista your life story at 7 a.m., but even if you’re in a hurry, don’t forget to say hi before you jump into demanding that large coffee. “Walking up to somebody and saying 'Almond latte,' when they just said 'How are you today?' is probably the biggest thing you can do to get on a barista's bad side,” Toby's Coffee's Sadler says. “It's like, exchange pleasantries, then get to business.”


Not everyone is super perky in the morning, but if you can’t be civil, you’re better off making your own coffee at home. At some places, if you get snippy with the employees, you’re going to get worse than furtive eye rolls between baristas (though you’ll get that, too).

“Be nice to your baristas, or you get decaf,” warns one barista. While it varies from cafe to cafe, multiple baristas told Mental Floss that it happens. Rude customers might get three letters written on their cup: “They call it DTB—‘decaf that bitch.’”

There’s a less potent way a barista can get back at you, too. If the hole in your coffee lid lines up with the seam of your paper cup, you’re going to get dripped on. And sometimes, it’s not an accident. “When a barista puts the mouth on the seam, they want it to leak on you,” a New York City-based barista explains.

Others are a little more forgiving of rude patrons. “I like making them the best drink that they've ever had, just to kill them with kindness,” one coffee shop employee says. “I don't want them to be like, ‘She’s a bad barista.’” Just to be safe, though, it's better to be nice.


“The longer you work in coffee, the more when someone walks in the door you read their personality type and say, I know exactly what you're going to drink,” Jared Hamilton, a self-described “espresso wizard” at the Brooklyn-based chain Cafe Grumpy, says. When I ask him to predict my drink, he proves his skills. “What you're going to drink is like, an alternative milk, flat white or cappuccino. So maybe soy, probably almond. Nonstandard. You don't want a lot of milk, just enough.” He’s not too far off—my go-to is, in fact, a non-standard, some-milk-but-not-too-much drink, a decaf cappuccino, though I drink regular milk in it. He points to another festival visitor who is dressed in business attire. "That guy right there, he drinks espresso all day," he guesses.

Depending on the coffee shop, the barista might know what customers want more than they do. Dominique Richards, who started her first barista job in Brooklyn three months ago, says she has to order for her customers around a third of the time. “Usually if someone's looking at the menu for more than 30 seconds, I jump in and say, ‘Hey, what would you like?’” She then asks them a few questions, like whether they want hot or cold coffee, and goes from there, often recommending lattes for people who are just getting into specialty coffee. “It's kind of a learning experience for the majority” of her customers, she says.


“People treat cafes like they're [their own] kitchen,” according to Cafe Grumpy’s Hamilton. “My favorite thing people do is when they walk in and they rearrange the condiment bar. Then they order, then they go use the condiments.” Apparently, some people are really particular about the location of their sugar packets. And if you throw off their routine, watch out. One of his colleagues describes a customer who threw a fit because the shop didn’t have a cinnamon shaker, demanding a refund for both her coffee and her pastry. (They eventually found some cinnamon for her.)


Even if you ask for room for milk in your drip coffee, the cup is still sometimes just a bit too full. It’s tempting to just pour a little into the trash can, but whoever has to take out that garbage is going to pay for it. “Please don't pour it in the garbage,” Bluestone Lane barista Marina Velazquez pleads. “Because at the end of the night, it ends up on our feet.” If the shop doesn’t have a dedicated container for you to pour out your excess coffee, take it back to the counter and ask them to dump a bit in the sink. Your baristas will thank you.


When you’re waiting in line, it may look like baristas are doing the same thing over and over for dozens of drinks. But in fact, every order presents its own challenges.

“There's probably not an appreciation for how much a coffee can vary,” explains Katie Duris, a former barista of 10 years who now works as a wholesale manager at Joe Coffee. High-quality coffee is “really dynamic as an ingredient,” she says. Baristas “have to make micro adjustments all day long. You have to change the grind based on the humidity in the room or a draft or how much coffee is in your hopper—if it's an espresso machine—so they're tweaking all day long … good baristas are making adjustments all the time.”


Making espresso drinks all day long can wear you out, and not just because you’re on your feet all day. There are also repetitive stress injuries to consider. “There's physical wear and tear on your joints when you're a barista,” Birch's Hrabe says. He’s worked in coffee for 11 years, and says that tamping espresso shots (compressing the grounds before brewing) day after day has given him tennis elbow. “It's totally common for baristas,” he says.

In short, baristas are probably doing more work behind the bar than you give them credit for, whether it’s dealing with customers or actually making coffee. “Being a barista is fun, but it's hard work,” Bluestone Lane's Velazquez says. “Everybody should be a barista at least once. I think it teaches humility.”

Can You Get to the Bottom of This Coffee Brainteaser?

Is your brain awake and energized? If not, you may want to grab a cup of coffee to figure out this head-scratching puzzle.

According to IFL Science, the brainteaser was shared by Twitter user @_herbeautyxo and has been stumping web users ever since. The image shows coffee being poured into a network of pipes and boxes. It seems there are four places the liquid could end up and each is represented by a numbered cup. Based on the shape and arrangement of the pathways, you have to guess which vessel will catch the coffee first.

Plenty of users had guesses, but few of them answered correctly. But once you know what to look for, the puzzle becomes deceptively simple (scroll down if you want to find out the answer). 

Three of the four pipes are blocked off, so the only possible spot for the coffee to exit from is the remaining pipe above cup five.

Your brain doesn’t always interpret what you see in front of you accurately, even when it’s given a caffeine boost. If you need more evidence, check out these award-winning optical illusions and brain puzzles.

[h/t IFL Science]


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