This is a guest post by Jim Strutzin. Learn more about how you can guest post for Daily Shot Of Coffee.
“The philosopher Sir James Mackintosh had said the powers of a man’s mind were proportionate to the quantity of coffee he drank, and Voltaire had knocked back fifty cups of it a day, so Ianto reckoned there had to be something in it.”
Francois-Marie Arouet Voltaire, most commonly known as simply Voltaire, is one of the most celebrated thinkers in the history of Western philosophy. He was equally well known for his writings on the importance of civil liberties, promoting the notion that men and women everywhere have the right to live their lives as they see fit. While this is still a radical notion these days Voltaire’s opinions were practically unheard of during his lifetime spanning most of the 18th century.
During his lifetime Voltaire wrote over 2,000 publications, and though we often attribute his prolific nature to his passionate belief in his ideals there’s another potential explanation for how he was able to put down such an incredible body of work- Voltaire was a committed coffee fiend and even toted a special coffee mug.
Voltaire performed the majority of his writing at coffee shops in Paris and especially favored Le Procope. While it’s unknown exactly how much coffee he drank a day historical records and expert estimates peg it at no small sum. It’s safe to say Voltaire consumed at least 30 cups of coffee a day while most experts believe he drank a minimum of 50 cups a day. If that sounds like a lot consider the fact that some experts estimate he may have consumed as many as 80 cups of coffee a day!
Without minimizing his obvious genius it’s safe to say the massive amount of stimulation Voltaire experienced from his massive daily coffee habit contributed to the depth, creativity and frequency of his writing.
It would come as no surprise to learn that Voltaire himself attributed much of his, and others’, genius to the then-exotic elixir of coffee. For much of the 20th century Europeans saw coffee as being both an exotic, primarily Muslim, concoction as well as a very potent medicinal drink. Voltaire was said to personally mix cups of coffee with chocolate, another substance renowned for being both a Middle Eastern delicacy and a powerful mental stimulant.
Now Voltaire’s coffee habit and preference for writing in coffee shops should come as no surprise to students of café history. Coffee houses, especially those like Le Procope, were known as intellectual hotbeds from their inception. Throughout the 18th century Parisian coffee houses were among the favorite establishments of the intellectual elite. Not only were cafés filled with educated upper class patrons but they were also filled with intellectuals who specialized in spreading scandals and gossip- an attitude towards the interconnection of social and political life, which is readily apparent in Voltaire’s satire.
Knowing Voltaire’s penchant for working in cafés it’s easy to understand why his beliefs influenced revolutionary thought throughout Europe and all the way to the Americas. Not only did Parisian cafés house many other enlightenment philosophers expounding on the rights of man, such as Rousseau, but Le Procope was frequented by the leaders of the American Revolution, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, during the decades Voltaire indulged his dozens-of-cups-a-day coffee habit.
The specifics of Voltaire’s love affair with coffee may be up to debate but there’s little doubt the prodigious amounts of the elixir he consumed contributed to his incredibly clever and prolific nature, and it’s even less debatable his deep affiliation with Parisian café culture both contributed to the nature of his writings and the importance they took in world politics, both during his time and for centuries after he put his finally put his pen (and porcelain coffee cup) down.