Columns > Published on October 16th, 2014

Caffeinated Lit: 9 Coffee and Book Pairings

You have the day off, and you decide to spend it participating in one of the most luxurious activities imaginable: reading a book at a café while enjoying a cup of coffee. You arrive at your favorite spot, order your drink in a “for here” cup, and sit down at a quiet corner table. Tell me this doesn’t sound like heaven on earth.

There’s one huge piece missing from this perfection puzzle. What are you reading? You may have a go-to coffee beverage, but it’s less likely you have a go-to book. Luckily, I have suggested coffee and book pairings here for you to consider.

1. 'The Testament of Mary' by Colm Toibin

Pair with: Espresso

Flavor profile: Biting, dark. A shot of espresso is a no nonsense way to caffeinate, and The Testament of Mary is a no nonsense novella told from the perspective of Mary, years after her son is crucified. This is a version of Mary that I'd never encountered before, and she easily got me listening. When you add milk to coffee, it acts as a buffer. Fair warning: there is no buffer included in this pairing. If you're more of an audiobook person, plug in those headphones and listen to Meryl Streep read. Yes, Meryl Streep.

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2. 'Day Out Of Days' by Sam Shepard

Pair with: Drip Coffee

Flavor profile: Smoky, pine. Sam Shepard’s short story collection takes you on a journey through a lesser known America, and what it feels like to exist in this savagely lonesome place. A cup of black coffee is the perfect companion to these stories, for like the beverage, Shepard's stories give it to you straight, leaving out all unnecessary frills. There is no doubt that these stories will leave a strong taste in your mouth, like coffee on the tongue.

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3. 'Congratulations, By the Way: Some Thoughts on Kindness' by George Saunders

Pair with: Macchiato

Flavor profile: Sweet, floral. Espresso with just a spot of milk! You’ll drink your macchiato quickly, but you can squeeze in this quick read before you're through. Saunders gave this speech at Syracuse University, but it applies to everyone at all times. We could all use a little more kindness, which is much like the milk added to your coffee. The ideas behind Saunders’ speech and a macchiato are both simple, but here, excellent execution makes each stand out.

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4. 'Shortcomings' by Adrian Tomine

Pair with: Cappuccino

Flavor profile: Sharp, silky. You will probably recognize Tomine’s art from The New Yorker, but have you picked up any of his graphic novels? Similarly, you might have had a cappuccino before, but have you had one that was made really, really well? It makes a huge difference. Tomine is not only an impressive artist. He can also tell a beautiful, gripping story. A good barista is also an artist; I would plan on going to a specialty coffee shop for this combo. Really treat yourself! 

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5. 'The Moviegoer' by  Walker Percy

Pair with: Latte

Flavor notes: Complex, citrus. The Moviegoer follows Binx Bolling, one of my favorite literary protagonists, and also paints a portrait of the spirited, vibrant city of New Orleans. It’s an engrossing delicacy of a novel, best enjoyed with a drink that also feels like a treat. Lattes are generous with their milk, but they are not too sweet. They still pack a punch, just like Percy's novel.

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6. 'Waiting For Godot' by Samuel Beckett

Pair with: Cold Brew

Flavor notes: Nutty, combining blends. Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like my iced coffees never end. By the time I take my next sip, some ice has melted and brought the drink back up to its previous liquid level. The whole thing is absurd, much like Beckett’s most well known play. Vladimir and Estragon’s search for life's meaning is just as confusing as my never-ending cups of iced coffee. 

[amazon 9780802144423 inline]


7. 'The History of Love' by Nicole Krauss

Pair with: Turkish Coffee

Flavor notes: Rich, dark chocolate. Sections of The History of Love moved me so much that I had to put the book down and process before continuing. My copy is full of dog-eared pages, highlighter marks, and scribblings. Turkish coffee has a strong taste, meant to be savored and enjoyed, like this gorgeous novel. 

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8. 'The Road' by Cormac McCarthy

Pair with: Blended Coffee Drink

Flavor notes: Sugar, syrupy. A ridiculously sweet, sugary blended drink is the only way to get through The Road and preserve any previous hope or happiness. You should only attempt to read this book while enjoying a beverage of this nature. If you're a glutton for punishment, go ahead and pair it with an espresso, but don't say I didn't warn you.

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9. 'The Chronology of Water' by Lidia Yuknavitch

Pair with: Americano

Flavor notes: Bold, lingering. Yuknavitch’s memoir dives into dark, troubling places, but it’s not all bitter. She comes back to swimming and water again and again, so an Americano (espresso with hot water) is the perfect partner drink. The flavor is just as real, it's just a slower release.

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Do you have any books that you think are best enjoyed with coffee?

About the author

Christine J. Schmidt is a writer originally from New Jersey. After receiving her BFA in Dramatic Writing from SUNY Purchase, she worked at Seattle Repertory Theatre as their artistic literary intern. She recently left Brooklyn, where she was a bookseller and events host at WORD, to reside in Los Angeles. She has previously written for New York Theatre Review, and her plays have been read and produced at theaters in New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Washington. Coffee is her favorite thing.

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