I turned the hot water on and got the coffee maker down off the shelf. I wet the rod and measured the stuff into the top and by that time the water was steaming. I filled the lower half of the dingus and set it on the flame, I set the upper part on top and gave it a twist so it would bind.
The coffee maker was almost ready to bubble. I turned the flame low and watched the water rise. It hung just a little at the bottom of the glass tube. I turned the flame up just enough to get it oer the hump and then turned it low again quickly. I stirred the coffee and covered it. I set my timer for three minutes. Very methodical guy, Marlowe. Nothing must interfere with his coffee technique. Not even a gun in the hand of a desperate character.
— Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye
Percolator, French press, drip or Keurig, from carts and convenience stores, artisanal shops and vending machines, coffee is the unsung hero of the crime novel. Black and bitter or hot and life-saving, it can sooth an anxious gunman, fix a hangover or keep you up long enough to solve that murder/heist/kidnapping that has plagued you for 200 pages.
My own writing time starts with a coffee ritual. I wake up, usually around 6 a.m. (having set the alarm for 5:51 a.m., which gives me enough time to hit snooze once and snuggle with my husband and cat). I use a French press, a tip I picked up from the same college English professor who taught me about crime fiction (and who gave me the copy of The Long Goodbye that I re-read every year) and coarse-ground coffee, preferably from Fairway (I stock up at the store at 74th and Broadway). I will make due with other coffee, if I have to. I vary on the flavor; currently I’m using the traditional Fairway blend.
I heat the water in the red teakettle my husband and I bought when we first moved in together. Not quite to boiling; I listen until it just starts to rumble a little. While the water is doing its thing, I prep the French press. Two scoops, with about a quarter of a scoop extra. I don’t know why I do this. Luck, maybe. A couple flicks of cinnamon too, just to help me wake up. Brain food.
While the coffee is brewing, I make my playlist. Can’t write without the playlist.
I used to take mine with Carnation evaporated milk when I was going through a weird 1950s housewife phase. Then I took it with half and half, but lately, I’ve been drinking it black, with raw sugar.
I feel like you can tell a lot about a person by what kind of coffee mug they use. Is it personalized? Did it come from a special event, a concert, a vacation destination? Or is it plain, nondescript, something that came in a set of four from WalMart. Maybe it was stolen from a stakeout at a fancy hotel. I only have a handful of coffee mugs, all of them from special events – the 2016 Steely Dan tour, my beloved Beverly’s in Oklahoma City, a bookstore in Austin, Texas, where my Dad proudly bought copies of The Big Rewind for his co-workers. Guess he figured I already had a copy and bought me a mug instead.
When it’s ready, it’s ready, and I can finally sit down to write.
But maybe your detective drinks tea instead. Or yerba mate. Or energy drinks that make his heart feel like it’s going to explode all over his laptop. Whatever it is, make a ritual of it. Let her live fully in that moment, that ritual. Let it be a piece of his day, ahead of the robberies and the dead bodies, tap into a grand genre tradition.
How do you make and take your coffee?