Which begs the question: does coffee hold the secret to being a creative genius?
It’s David Lynch.
Renowned for shattering visions of white picket fences across American suburbia in neo-noir cinematic classics like Blue Velvet, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, Lynch already had a huge cult following before the show aired on ABC in 1990.
But it was only with the advent of Twin Peaks that “Lynchian” ways of creative production were splashed all over the mainstream media; earning the master surrealist kudos as being a thought-leading figure to modern television.
Coffee, donuts and cherry pie
If you were one of the 35 million Americans who first tuned in to watch the mystery of, “Who killed Laura Palmer?”, then you might understand what “Lynchian” means already. Remember the Red Room? Think about how disturbing that felt to watch…
That’s Lynchian art.
A feeling of discomfort, created by twisting social cues associated with day-to-day normality to seem unfamiliar. Unsettling visual sequences or offbeat turns of phrase usually work to achieve this, like when local lumberjack, Pete Martell, asks Special Agent, Dale Cooper:
“How do you take your coffee?”
“Black as midnight on a moonless night”.
Cooper’s graceful reply stuns his humble entourage into perplexed, even irritated, silence. To academics, creatives, and movie buffs, it’s this deliberate but delightful idiosyncrasy that makes Lynch’s weird and wacky work so special.
But let’s be honest here.
For most of us, the one thing that we truly couldn’t get enough of during the show’s short but influential run on TV (apart from its quirkiness and instant quotability), was the endearing obsession of Agent Cooper with cherry pie at The Double R Diner, bountiful portions of donuts and, of course, drinking “good, hot, black coffee”.
Coop’s love for coffee became such an iconic feature of the show that Lynch even directed a successful advertising campaign for Georgia Coffee in 1993; starring Cooper in a bid to catch onto the Twin Peaks hype still raging in Japan.
However, the team at Iberital espresso machines isn’t truly convinced the special agent would have taken to canned coffee very enthusiastically. Quite the contrary. Coop was far too invested in uncovering the best “damn fine cup of coffee” in town to comfortably settle for a quick fix.
Just like Lynch himself.
Coffee and creativity
It takes for a bonafide coffee enthusiast to invest time and energy into developing their signature brand roast; but sure enough, Lynch, who claims that he gulped down his first cup of coffee aged three, did exactly that back in 2009 by launching the David Lynch Signature Cup Coffee line.
“I like to drink coffee when I work”, the tagline explains. “Not only is the flavor great, but I like to think there’s good ideas in every bag”.
There must be a lot of those packed in there — because he swears by drinking at least ten cups of “smooth and rich” espresso with milk a day. Lynch doesn’t usually brew his cuppa joe to the same “black as midnight” color adored by Coop, but it’s clear that his real-life obsession surpasses any addiction harbored by the over-caffeinated TV characters who feature in his ouvre.
It begs the question: is drinking coffee the secret to sustaining creative genius?
If history has anything to show for it, the answer is yes. It’s well-known that caffeine can intensify our ability to focus and maximize concentration. Figures why a host of classical composers were extremely meticulous about the way they liked their coffee. Beethoven was maddeningly insistent on grinding 60 beans into every cup that he made.
Coffee and cultural development
When coffee first made its way to Europe from Arabia, consensus marked that the suspiciously bitter brew was the Devil’s drink. Fortunately, Pope Clement VIII ended up taking a sip of the lovely stuff and reportedly exclaimed:
“Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it!”
One baptism later, and boom: coffee was blessed to become part of good, Christian diets everywhere. Praise be the arabica beans. However, even as some of the first Enlightenment coffeehouses began to welcome visitors in cities like Vienna and London, a steaming hot cup of java remained tainted by controversy.
Bach, who was as much a “coffee fiend” as Beethoven, became so infuriated with the situation that he composed the Coffee Cantana: a “mini-opera” about a despairing father who attempts to make his daughter give up consuming copious amounts of caffeine and get married instead.
She says no.Wholly relatable, right? Watch it here.
Other intellectuals shared a weirdly passionate devotion to the bitter brew as well — especially during the 18th century, when cafe culture really started to take off. Voltaire, for one, was known to consume 40 to 50 cups of coffee each day, and his favourite place to drink it was the Café Procope in Paris.
Procope hosted everyone from distinguished playwrights such as Beaumarchais to American revolutionaries like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin — another caffeine crazed intellectual, who drafted his fair share of political treatises while enjoying the lively buzz and chatter of early coffeehouses.
In fact, the high quality of discussion that happened over a hot brew earned coffeehouses in England the nickname, “penny universities”, a nod to the cheap entry fee and, for the first time, non-exclusive learning opportunity that lower-class citizens could benefit from by participating in conversation.
So…does coffee hold the secret to being a creative genius?
Not quite; but drinking coffee does encompass everything that a creative mind craves.
A seat for observation, space and time to contemplate passing thoughts, and the chance to discover new ways of thinking through meeting other people. Perhaps that’s why thought-leading geniuses have tended to over-indulge on the stuff, or at least, why they associated a cup of smooth java with good ideas.
And so, it makes sense that Lynch channeled his desire to make a deeper sort of connection with the world around him through Agent Cooper, “who is at his best in that place where curiosity and community intersect”, says Melissa Buote:
“Coffee helps him to make that connection”.