Give Tea A Chance
Updated: Nov 10, 2021
I drink a lot of coffee. I drink a lot more coffee than I used to do, nowadays, because my writing is more or less coffee-powered.
I might scribble a little on the bus, it's true, or anywhere else that I may find myself sitting, with nothing to do and the Scrivener app beckoning enticingly from my phone, but that isn’t Writing. Real, capital W Writing requires that I clear my mind, set up my laptop, obtain a truly enormous cup of coffee, and type furiously, not looking up until the contents of the cup have been reduced - presumably by osmosis - to the slimy dregs.
It’s a pretty romantic stereotype: the hard working writer, typing heavy-eyed into the small hours, while their coffee cools unheeded beside them, joining the unwashed graveyard of cups that already litters the paper-strewn desk.
I’m letting the side down, really, by taking my coffee not black and bitter, but heavily dosed with sugar, chocolate syrup, foamed milk, and very possibly squirty cream as well. And I go to bed at a more or less sensible hour too. The shame, I assure you, is unbearable.
It makes sense, though: coffee - when it isn’t the decaf abomination I prepare - helps you stay awake when you’re on a deadline.
Even when you aren’t on a deadline, if you’re going to be sitting in one place for any length of time it’s good to have a hot drink standing by. It staves off hunger and prevents dehydration when lost in thought, provides comfort in times of writer’s block, and helps prevent RSI by forcing you to use your hands for something other than frantic, wrist-cocked typing. Mostly it’s just rather nice. I hadn’t realised, though, just how many of my favourite writers I associated with particular beverages.
Some take tea, some drink coffee, some prefer something else entirely, but the more I looked into it, the more I realised that an awful lot of my favourite authors have what might be considered their signature drink. And that drink, more often than not, spills over into their work.
Take Gail Carriger for example: her books are full of tea, and of teatimes, and all the delightful accoutrements thereof. No one reading any book in the Parasol Protectorate series would be surprised to learn that she herself enjoys - and has firm opinions on the preparation of - tea.
At this point it’s pretty much part of her brand. I don’t think she’s playing it up for her fans, mind you: I think she just genuinely loves tea.
It makes sense: if you enjoy a thing you’re likely to want to write about it, to want to share your observations and your pleasure with others. They do say “Write what you know,” after all. Authorial beverages can be oddly polarising, though.
There’s a sense that if a writer is known to drink, say, coffee, they cannot possibly also drink tea. Which is odd, when you think about it.
They aren't that different really. Both drinks work pretty much the same way: heat water to required temperature, pour onto semi-soluble material, doctor resulting fluid with acid or dairy products, add sugar to taste, and administer via the large hole at the front of the head. There may be a few variations as to vessel, water temperature, brewing method etc, but by and large the result is something brown and caffeinated -or de - which will hopefully not scald your throat too badly when you swallow.
They don’t taste exactly - or, for that matter, even slightly - the same, but they both perform largely the same functions of warming, hydrating, keeping awake, stretching the fingers, and, unless you’re on the third espresso in the last hour, soothing.
So it’s odd that one can associate an author - Douglas Adams, say - so strongly with one beverage (tea) that we can’t even imagine them drinking the other (coffee).
I have absolutely no idea what Douglas Adams used to drink, by the way: it was Arthur Dent who had the tea fixation, not his creator. Mr Adams might have subsisted entirely on evaporated milk and the tears of editors for all I know about it. Still I can’t help but associate him in my mind with really very dangerously alcoholic cocktails (thanks to Zaphod Beeblebrox) and tea (the aforementioned Dent, Arthur Dent).
Most of the people I actually know will, if they drink one, then willingly, if not entirely happily, accept the other. There are a few outliers, admittedly, but I know few people who, when their drink of choice is not available, will refuse even a very good cup of the alternative.
So why do we (and I say “we” but it’s entirely possible that I’m in a little bubble of beverage fixation all by myself, while everyone else is entirely calm and reasonable about it) imagine that any writer who has ever expressed a preference for, or written extensively about, a particular hot fluid, must drink that, and only that, in perpetuity?
Unless they write vampire novels anyway. Or porn. Or probably some other things I can’t think of just now. Anyway, why, just because they write about enjoying a drink that actual human beings actually drink, do we assume they can’t enjoy other things as well?
I suppose in part it’s the brand thing we mentioned. Or perhaps it’s part of some imaginary transatlantic feud dating back to the days when a bunch of Bostonians dumped a load of perfectly good tea in the harbour for reasons rather more complicated than are usually stated. Or maybe we imagine tea and coffee as opposites of a kind: up or down, rich or poor, science or fiction, tea or coffee - you can’t possibly have both.
Mostly I suspect it’s because we trust the authors. If we can trust that the reason they don’t tell us there are hyper-intelligent flying squid floating through the skies in each of their novels is because there are, in fact, no squid, then we trust also that if they haven’t talked about the pleasures of a nice cup of coffee it must be because they do not, in fact, like coffee. Which is daft, because they probably haven’t gone to the trouble of telling us what underwear every single background character is wearing, either, but we don’t imagine that every single one of them is scampering commando through the backdrop of each and every scene. Still, it is what it is.
Personally I quite like tea. I like Earl Grey, or Jasmine, properly made, in a nice teapot - and I own the best teapot: if you don’t believe me take a closer look at the picture at the top of this blog - with another pot of water at the same temperature ready to top it up.
I just don’t drink it any more, because I can’t have caffeine, and decaffeinated tea tastes disconcertingly fishy. If I can’t have really good tea, I might as well just have coffee instead. My coffee is not really good coffee, mind you: it is a decaffeinated abomination. If there were a hell for coffee lovers, then mine is the coffee they would serve there. And I can’t drink more than a cup or so without getting palpitations from residual caffeine.
I still prefer it to tea that tastes like fish. At least when I’m working. The rest of the time I might just settle for peppermint tea, or ginger, or some other tisane, or, if I’ve been an especially good and diligent writer that day, a cup of chocolate - rich, frothy, and tasting of contentment.
When it comes to warm, brown, mostly-uncaffeinated beverages, can there ever be