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Philosophers with an Eccentric Love for Coffee

Can’t start your morning without a cup of coffee? You’re in good company. Some of philosophy’s greatest thinkers were certified caffeine addicts, developing some eccentric habits around the drink.

Voltaire Drank 40-50 Cups a Day

Voltaire

François-Marie Arouet, better known by his pen name Voltaire, is one such philosopher. Voltaire purportedly polished off between forty and fifty cups of coffee on the average day. Contemporaries noted that Voltaire painstakingly imported his coffee from all over the world, which was atypical for the time. Voltaire frequented the famous Café Procope in Paris, which would later serve coffee to the likes of Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones, and Thomas Jefferson. Inventor of the caffè mocha might also be added to Voltaire’s long list of achievements, as he preferred mixing his coffee with a little chocolate.


The scientific community at the time was unsure of the health status of coffee. One assessment written during Voltaire's life reads, “coffee drank to excess is at least as pernicious as the moderate use of it is wholesome to many person. The inconveniences in this case which do attend it are, that it hinders people to sleep, makes them lean, suppresses venereal inclinations, and enfeebles the body.”[1] Voltaire’s doctor warned him that coffee was a “slow poison” to which Voltaire wittily replied, “Yes, it is a remarkably slow poison. I have been drinking it every day for more than seventy-five years.”[2] Voltaire lived into his eighties, never giving up his love of coffee.

Kant's Caffeinated Cravings

Immanuel Kant

Kant, built quite a caffeine addiction towards the end of his life, according to his biographer Thomas De Quincey. De Quincey noted that, "there were two things, and no more, for which Kant had an inordinate craving during his whole life: these were tobacco and coffee."[3]

According to De Quincey, Kant would drink a cup of coffee after dinner with neurotic regularity. If this regularity was disturbed, perhaps by a guest carrying on a conversation past the end of dinner, it "might disturb the rest of his night." After his dinners, Kant would order for coffee making clear he wanted it, "on the spot ... and in a moment."[4]

Kant had little patience for the delay between when he ordered his coffee and when it was brought to him. Others around the table would try to assure him that "coffee [was] coming immediately," but to Kant any delay whatsoever proved unsatisfactory. He would respond with such remarks as, "Yes, and so is the next hour: and, by the way, it's about that length of time that I have waited for it" and would thank that there was no coffee in the afterlife, so that he wouldn't have to wait for it there.[5]

Kierkegaard Took His Equal Parts Sugar and Coffee

Søren Kierkegaard

Renowned Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard also developed peculiarities around his love for coffee. Kierkegaard's biographer, Joakim Garff, notes that he had a cupboard full of at least 50 sets of mugs and saucers, each of a different kind. After his dinners, Kierkegaard would select a different mug and bring it to the table along with a bag full of sugar. Garff writes, "Kierkegaard had his own quite peculiar way of having coffee: Delightedly he seized hold of the bag containing the sugar and poured sugar into the coffee cup until it was piled high above the rim."[6] Strong, black coffee would then be poured in to fill the remaining volume of the mug, leaving a saccharine, glacial mass to melt away as Kierkegaard enjoyed his coffee.

Coffee certainly brought out some eccentricities in Voltaire, Kant, and Kierkegaard. However, one must wonder if coffee is to credit for the vastness of these prolific thinkers' bodies of work. Next time you reach for your morning cup of coffee, remember that the greats enjoyed their fair share, or much more in Voltaire's case, of the caffeinated beverage as well.

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Know of any other philosophers who had a love for coffee or developed interesting habits around drinking it? Let us know in the comment section below!


References:

[1] Lémery, Louis, A Treatise of all Sorts of Foods, Both Animal and Vegetable, 1745, pg. 369

[2] von Kotzebue, August, Historical, Literary, and Political Anecdotes, and Miscellanies, 1807

[3-5] De Quincey, Thomas, The Last Days of Immanuel Kant, 1873, pg. 118-127

[6] Garff, Joakim, Søren Kierkegaard: A Biography, 2005, pg. 291

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