Coffee is more than just a beverage. It is a cultural phenomenon, a symbol of creativity, a source of inspiration, and a medium of expression.
Coffee has been featured in countless works of literature and film, from classic novels to contemporary movies, from poetry to screenplays. In this article, we will explore how coffee has influenced and enriched the world of storytelling in various ways.
Coffee as a Symbol in Literature
Coffee has been used as a symbol in literature for centuries, representing different aspects of human nature, society, and history.
Coffee is also a symbol of modernity, urbanity, and alienation in the 19th and 20th century literature, such as Balzac’s La Comédie humaine and Kafka’s The Trial. Coffee can also symbolize love, passion, and intimacy in romantic literature, such as Proust’s In Search of Lost Time and García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude.
Cinematic Cafés: Coffee Scenes in Film
Coffee scenes are ubiquitous in film, especially in cafés, where characters meet, talk, flirt, argue, or simply observe the world around them. Cafés are often used as settings for character development, plot advancement, or thematic exploration in movies. Some of the most memorable coffee scenes in film include:
The opening scene of Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), where Audrey Hepburn’s Holly Golightly stands outside the Tiffany & Co. store with a coffee and a croissant in her hand.
The diner scene of Pulp Fiction (1994), where John Travolta’s Vincent Vega and Samuel L. Jackson’s Jules Winnfield discuss the meaning of life and the divine intervention over a cup of coffee.
The café scene of Before Sunrise (1995), where Ethan Hawke’s Jesse and Julie Delpy’s Céline have their first conversation and fall in love over a cup of coffee.
The café scene of Amélie (2001), where Audrey Tautou’s Amélie Poulain works as a waitress and orchestrates the lives of her customers and co-workers with her whimsical imagination.
The café scene of Inception (2010), where Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cobb and Ellen Page’s Ariadne test the limits of reality and dream within a cup of coffee.
Café Culture in Literature: Novels and Short Stories
Coffee and coffeehouses have been an integral part of literary culture since the 17th century, when they emerged as places for intellectual exchange, social interaction, and artistic creation. Many writers have frequented cafés for inspiration, collaboration, or relaxation, and have incorporated them into their works. Some examples of novels and short stories that feature café culture are:
The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger, where Holden Caulfield visits various cafés in New York City and encounters different characters and situations that reflect his alienation and confusion.
A Moveable Feast (1964) by Ernest Hemingway, where he recounts his experiences as a young writer in Paris in the 1920s, along with other members of the “Lost Generation”, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound.
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984) by Milan Kundera, where Tomas and Tereza meet for the first time in a café in Prague during the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
Norwegian Wood (1987) by Haruki Murakami, where Toru Watanabe reminisces about his past love affairs with Naoko and Midori over cups of coffee in Tokyo.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2005) by Stieg Larsson, where Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander investigate a mysterious disappearance and uncover a dark family secret over cups of coffee in Stockholm.
Coffee in Screenwriting: Dialogue and Character Development
Coffee is not only a prop or a setting in film, but also a device for dialogue and character development. Coffee conversations are often used as a tool for revealing characters’ personalities, motivations, relationships, or conflicts through their words and actions. Coffee can also serve as a catalyst for plot twists or dramatic moments in screenplays. Some examples of how coffee is used in screenwriting are:
In The Social Network (2010), Mark Zuckerberg is rejected by Erica Albright after insulting her intelligence over a cup of coffee at a bar, which motivates him to create Facemash, the precursor of Facebook.
In The Godfather (1972), Michael Corleone kills Sollozzo and McCluskey after pretending to go to the bathroom for a cup of coffee at a restaurant, which marks his entry into the mafia world.
In When Harry Met Sally (1989), Harry Burns and Sally Albright have their famous debate over whether men and women can be friends over a cup of coffee at a diner, which sparks their friendship and eventual romance.
In Fight Club (1999), Tyler Durden and the Narrator have their first conversation over a cup of coffee at an airport, where Tyler reveals his philosophy of life and invites the Narrator to join his fight club.
Coffee Table Books: Celebrating Coffee’s Aesthetic
Coffee table books are large, hardcover books that are usually displayed on coffee tables or other prominent places in homes or offices. They are often designed to be visually appealing, with high-quality photographs, illustrations, or graphics.
Coffee table books can cover various topics, such as art, photography, fashion, travel, or history. However, some coffee table books are dedicated to celebrating coffee’s aesthetic, showcasing the beauty and diversity of coffee culture around the world. Some examples of coffee-themed coffee table books are:
The World Atlas of Coffee: From Beans to Brewing – Coffees Explored, Explained and Enjoyed (2014) by James Hoffmann, which provides a comprehensive guide to the origins, varieties, and methods of brewing coffee.
Coffee Style (2016) by Horst A. Friedrichs, which captures the elegance and sophistication of coffee style, from baristas to roasters, from cafés to espresso machines.
Coffee Art: Creative Coffee Designs for the Home Barista (2017) by Dhan Tamang, which teaches how to create stunning coffee art designs, from simple patterns to complex portraits.
The Birth of Coffee (2001) by Daniel Lorenzetti and Linda Rice Lorenzetti, which documents the lives and cultures of coffee growers in various countries, such as Ethiopia, Yemen, Brazil, Colombia, and Indonesia.
The Art and Craft of Coffee: An Enthusiast’s Guide to Selecting, Roasting, and Brewing Exquisite Coffee (2010) by Kevin Sinnott, which explores the history, science, and techniques of making great coffee at home.
Coffee and Identity: Literary and Cinematic Exploration
Coffee is not only a drink, but also an expression of identity. Coffee reflects characters’ identities and cultural backgrounds in literature and film, as well as their tastes, preferences, habits, or moods.
Coffee can also be used as a means of communication or connection between characters from different backgrounds or experiences. Some examples of how coffee relates to identity in literature and film are:
In The Namesake (2003) by Jhumpa Lahiri, Gogol Ganguli struggles with his cultural identity as an Indian-American, as he prefers coffee over tea, unlike his parents who immigrated from India.
In The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014) by Lasse Hallström, Hassan Kadam adapts to his new life in France as an Indian chef, as he learns to appreciate French cuisine and culture over cups of coffee with Marguerite.
In The Joy Luck Club (1989) by Amy Tan, Jing-Mei Woo reconciles with her Chinese heritage after her mother’s death, as she drinks coffee with her father and learns about her mother’s past.
In Roma (2018) by Alfonso Cuarón, Cleo Gutiérrez faces the challenges of being a domestic worker in Mexico City in the 1970s, as she serves coffee to her employers and their guests while dealing with her own personal issues.
In Brooklyn (2015) by John Crowley, Eilis Lacey finds her place in America as an Irish immigrant in the 1950s, as she drinks coffee with her friends and co-workers while adjusting to her new environment.
Caffeinated Storytelling: Coffee’s Ongoing Influence
Coffee continues to be a source of inspiration for writers and filmmakers in contemporary works. Coffee is still used as a symbol, a setting, a device, or an expression in literature and film. Coffee also reflects the changes and trends in society and culture over time. Some examples of how coffee influences storytelling in contemporary works are:
In The Girl on the Train (2015) by Paula Hawkins, Rachel Watson becomes obsessed with a couple she sees from the train window every day, as she drinks coffee from a thermos and imagines their perfect life.
In The Fault in Our Stars (2014) by John Green, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters bond over their love for a novel by Peter Van Houten, as they drink coffee at his house in Amsterdam and confront him about the ending of his book.
In The Hunger Games (2012) by Suzanne Collins, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark survive the brutal games of the Capitol, as they drink coffee with their mentor Haymitch Abernathy and their stylist Cinna.
In The Da Vinci Code (2003) by Dan Brown, Robert Langdon and Sophie Neveu unravel the secrets of the Holy Grail, as they drink coffee at various locations in Paris and London while being chased by the police and a secret society.
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (1999) by J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and his friends discover the truth about Sirius Black, as they drink coffee at the Leaky Cauldron and use a time-turner to save him from the Dementors.
Coffee is a powerful element in cinema and literature, as it enhances and enriches the storytelling process in various ways. Coffee can be used as a symbol, a setting, a device, or an expression in literature and film, as well as a reflection of identity and culture.
Coffee can also be celebrated for its aesthetic and artistic value in coffee table books. Coffee continues to influence and inspire writers and filmmakers in contemporary works, as it remains a relevant and fascinating topic for audiences.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article about coffee in cinema and literature. Please let me know what you think about it and if you have any feedback or suggestions. Thank you for your attention.