Honoré de Balzac Writes About “The Pleasures and Pains of Coffee,” and His Epic Coffee Addiction

163 years after his death, Hon­oré de Balzac remains an extreme­ly mod­ern-sound­ing wag. Were he alive today, he’d no doubt be pound­ing out his provoca­tive obser­va­tions in a cof­fice, a café whose free wifi, lenient staff, and abun­dant elec­tri­cal out­lets make it a mag­net for writ­ers.

One has a hunch Star­bucks would not suf­fice…

Judg­ing by his humor­ous essay, “The Plea­sures and Pains of Cof­fee,” Balzac would seek out a place that stays open past mid­night, and the strongest, most arcane brew­ing meth­ods. The Buck­et of Black Snakes was his Green Fairy. He was that most cun­ning of addicts, some­times imbib­ing up to 50 cups of cof­fee a day, care­ful­ly hus­band­ing his binges, know­ing just when to pull back from the edge in order to pro­long his vice.

Cof­fee — he called it a “great pow­er in [his] life” — made pos­si­ble a gru­el­ing writ­ing sched­ule that had him going to bed at six, ris­ing at 1am to work until eight in the morn­ing, then grab­bing forty winks before putting in anoth­er sev­en hours.

It takes more than a cou­ple of cap­puc­ci­nos to main­tain that kind of pace. When­ev­er a rea­son­able human dose failed to stim­u­late, Balzac would begin eat­ing cof­fee pow­der on an emp­ty stom­ach, a “hor­ri­ble, rather bru­tal method” that he rec­om­mend­ed “only to men of exces­sive vig­or, men with thick black hair and skin cov­ered with liv­er spots, men with big square hands and legs shaped like bowl­ing pins.”

Appar­ent­ly it got the job done. He cranked out eighty-five nov­els in twen­ty years and died at 51. The cause? Too much work and caf­feine, they like to say. Oth­er spec­u­lat­ed caus­es of death include hyper­ten­sion, ath­er­o­scle­ro­sis, and even syphilis.

Here you can behold The Cof­fee Pot That Fueled Hon­oré de Balzac’s Cof­fee Addic­tion.

via The New York­er

Relat­ed Con­tent:

“The Vertue of the COFFEE Drink”: London’s First Cafe Cre­ates Ad for Cof­fee in the 1650s

The His­to­ry of Cof­fee and How It Trans­formed Our World

How Cli­mate Change Is Threat­en­ing Your Dai­ly Cup of Cof­fee

A Short, Ani­mat­ed Look at What’s Inside Your Aver­age Cup of Cof­fee

Black Cof­fee: Doc­u­men­tary Cov­ers the His­to­ry, Pol­i­tics & Eco­nom­ics of the “Most Wide­ly Tak­en Legal Drug”

Ayun Hal­l­i­day has­n’t touched the stuff for two whole weeks. Fol­low her @AyunHallliday


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Comments (5)
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  • Margaret Rose STRINGER says:

    This is good news! — I mean, he lived till 51 after drink­ing up to 50 cof­fees a day??? One would’ve thought hyper­ten­sion would get him at around 35. :-|nLooks like I don’t need to wor­ry then: my pathet­ic 6u20137 ough­ta see me to … oh, 130?n(grin)

  • RayAlanHarvey says:

    Thank you for the link-love, friend.nnnIt’s a beau­ti­ful arti­cle you write. If I’m not mis­tak­en — and I usu­al­ly am — Balza­c’s cof­fee con­sump­tion was exceed­ed only by Voltaire’s, who also did most of his work in cof­fee shops, and who was rumored to some­times con­sume up to 80 cups per day.

    • AyunH says:

      Thanks, Ray­Alan! These dudes hearts must have flut­tered like hum­ming­birds!

      • RayAlanHarvey says:

        Please, call me Ray. nnn­Hearts flut­ter­ing like hum­ming­birds … baby, that’s how you made my heart flut­ter when you ref­er­enced my arti­cle. I spent a lot of time writ­ing that suck­er, and almost no one read it, or cared about it. And then here you are, one year lat­er, with all these read­ers. Thank you.

  • Neil Williams says:

    Very inter­est­ing.
    Thank you.

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