My friend, a successful, award-winning, ground-breaking, innovative jeweller, was at the Creativity Cafe today, dispensing advice to creative start-ups on how to succeed. Her advice is invaluable and should be heeded by anybody fortunate enough to receive it, but the very name of the advice centre did make me think about why it is that we associate cafes and coffee with creativity. It’s like an unwritten assumption, isn’t it? We automatically associate coffee drinking with creativity – but why? It’s a mysterious and interesting question.
When I think back to it, my own high-tech, start-up company was founded around a tiny table in the Starbucks in Guildford, on the back of an envelope. It went on to do a million dollars worth of business in its first year.
A Google search reveals all sorts of interesting pages about “coffee and creativity” (try it). I’m not the first and only blogger to remark on this association (which makes me feel a little less odd and a tiny bit more normal). I doubt I will be the last (I also doubt the feeling will last).
Ever since Lloyds of London was established in (and indeed, named after) a London coffee house and the great scientists Hooke and Halley discussed matters of contemporary physics, science and metaphysics over a brew, we’ve assumed a connection between coffee and creativity. It’s written into the lore. There must have been a reason why so many creative acts owe their genesis to a cup of the warm, brown liquid (black, if you prefer espresso).
Parisian intellectuals and artists all have strong associations with coffee shops and drinking coffee. The image of Jean Paul Satre discussing philosophy over a cup is redolent. Pere Tanguy allowed starving artists to obtain food, drink and art materials in exchange for a canvas or two. I’ll bet lots of coffee was drunk. The Parisian Left Bank, a hub for creative people, would not be the same without its numerous coffee shops. There’s coffee galore.
In popular culture, many of the plots of sitcoms like Friends, Frasier and Seinfeld unfold in the coffee shop. Why should that be?
So why do we think about coffee and not macrobiotic, health smoothies? We don’t think about orange juice when we think about creativity. We think about these little roasted beans, ground up and steeped in boiling water.
Is it because of the relaxed atmosphere and easy conversation, coupled with the exchange and interplay of ideas? Is it because it is a social activity, which facilitates and fosters easy collaboration? Is it because you can concentrate on something, while sipping a coffee, in an undisturbed way? Is it the bustle and madness that surrounds you, while you are collecting your thoughts and contemplating creations? Is it the comfy environment, low lighting and soft furnishings, or else the al-fresco exposure to the sunlight, wind and weather? Is it the late nights, the intense focus over a long period of time and the need to remain alert?
Is sipping coffee actually a way to carve out thinking time – like a sort of Zen contemplation? Is it the warmth, the secure feeling you get when holding a coffee mug and the infinite, swirly, organic patterns in the liquid itself? Perhaps it’s the endlessly fascinating and constantly changing patterns formed by the foam and chocolate powder, sprinkled on top. Is it because there is no frenzy, despite the fact that you are imbibing a performance enhancing stimulant, waking the brain up and making the ideas flow?
Is it a form of familiar, comforting, distracting, displacement activity you engage in, while you muster the courage to create? Is it the sensual pleasure of the aromas and the funky background music? Is it because you have no particular place to go or rush to be there? Is it because there is always a new bean to try and concoction to sample?
Why do you think coffee and creativity so frequently go together?