5 Famous Coffee Addicts Throughout History
When we opened shop in Atlanta thirty years ago, the coffeehouse culture we first experienced in Northern California was still foreign to most Americans. Today, it's hard to find a main street in America that doesn't boast at least one coffeehouse, whether a big chain store or a community coffeehouse like Apotheos.
But history is full of coffee fiends, powerful and impactful people who were as habituated to coffee as we are today. Over the centuries, coffee has fueled some of the most significant artists, musicians, philosophers, and theologians, not to mention its role in revolutions. So who are history's most famous coffee drinkers? Let's take a look at five.
1. Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Bach is known to have spent much of his time at Zimmerman's Coffee House, where he performed many of his pieces with a tight-knit musical ensemble. Among the compositions Bach debuted at Zimmerman's was The Coffee Cantata, a comic opera that tells the tale of several coffee addicts.
The heroine of the cantata is told by her father to give up her coffee habit and find a husband, but she begs him to find a suitor who is also addicted to coffee. In one line, she sings:
"If I can't drink my bowl of coffee three times daily, then in my torment I will shrivel up like a piece of roasted goat."
It may sound dramatic, but what are you like before your morning cup?
2. Voltaire (1694-1778)
Voltaire was a philosopher and a satirist who wrote comedic stories like Candide, which lampooned various members of French society. Of course, all of his work was powered by a perpetual caffeine buzz. The thinker was noted for drinking upwards of forty cups a day, which he often liked to mix with a bar of chocolate, just in case there wasn't enough caffeine in the brew itself.
Voltaire often worked inside the Café Procope, a legendary coffeehouse that still operates in Paris. Like so many coffeehouses, the Procope was also a meeting place for artists and thinkers, which not surprisingly, served as an assembly house for activists during the French Revolution.
3. Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
One of America's most beloved founding fathers, Ben Franklin was a frequent guest in coffeehouses, where, like Voltaire, he mingled with philosophers, writers, and common folk.
In London, Paris, and his adopted home of Philadelphia, Franklin loved the stimulation of a coffeehouse, where coherent conversation was easier to find than in other meeting places like, say, a tavern.
But it wasn't just the coffeehouse ambiance that Franklin loved. He adored the taste of coffee, too. The following endorsement is often attributed to the legendary statesman:
"Among the numerous luxuries of the table…coffee may be considered as one of the most valuable. It excites cheerfulness without intoxication; and the pleasing flow of spirits which it occasions…is never followed by sadness, languor or debility."
Okay, maybe a little caffeine crash, but nothing major.
4. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
The 26th President of the United States may well have been the country's most caffeinated commander-in-chief. As a child, Roosevelt struggled with asthma, so his doctors prescribed him the very appropriate prescription of dark coffee and daily cigar puffs. There's no double-blind study proving the combination's effectiveness.
But after forming a coffee habit as a child, Roosevelt grew up to drink coffee at every hour of the day, from breakfast until bedtime. His son, Theodore Jr., once quipped that his father's preferred coffee cup was "more in the nature of a bathtub." And popular historian Doris Kearns Goodwin notes that, while she could not confirm his actual daily intake, she says, "One of my friends thought [Roosevelt] drank 40 cups of coffee a day." Perhaps that explains his iconic ear-to-ear smile.
5. Jerry Seinfeld (1954-present)
If you've ever seen an episode of Seinfeld's classic, self-titled sitcom, you'll know that Jerry and his pals spend much of their time drinking coffee in a New York diner. In fact, the premise of the "show about nothing" was inspired by Seinfeld's experiences with series co-creator Larry David when they'd discuss the mundane, often while sitting in diners over a cup of coffee.
Years after Seinfeld wrapped, the comedian launched another successful series that leaned even further into that simple premise. With Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, Seinfeld and his guests engage in unscripted conversations while, you guessed it, getting coffee.
Still, it might surprise you to learn that Seinfeld did not become a true coffee drinker until later in his life. While promoting the first season of Comedians in Cars, he admitted that he never really liked coffee until he got older, when he suddenly realized what the hype was all about. Asked about the universal appeal of coffee, he said the following on NPR:
"I think the answer is we all need a little help, and the coffee's a little help with everything — social, energy, don't know what to do next, don't know how to start my day, don't know how to get through this afternoon, don't know how to stay alert. We want to do a lot of stuff; we're not in great shape. We didn't get a good night's sleep. We're a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup."
We agree, Jerry.