At my favorite local coffee shop, Lorraine gives me shit when I purchase coffee in a paper cup, “You… are not saving the world.”
She’s right. I’m not, and it’s actually worse. Each time I reach for a sip and this sad little corpse of tree flesh greets me with its pathetic weight and palpable sense of Al Gore guilt, I’m lonely.
I’m missing a key member of my creative posse.
A Box Full of Fail
The next chapter in documenting the accessorizing of my obsessions was an investigative report on paper. I’ve got 27 links regarding the history of paper queued up and ready to be read, but I don’t honestly care a lot about paper. I can’t separate the notebook from the paper.
In fact, I’m pissed at paper. Forget about the environmental guilt, cups made of paper are a sure fire way to ruin any cup of coffee because they change the taste. Coffee mugs are the only way to go and I’ve spent a lot more time fretting about mugs than paper. That’s the other thing Lorraine doesn’t know: I’ve got a box full of failed coffee mugs.
Unlike prior excursions, with coffee mugs, we can brief. There is no need for comparison tables. There are just two use cases that define a great coffee mug: Driving and Writing.
The Driving case is tactical. How do I move from point A to point B without spilling scalding liquid over me and the car? Technology has provided a bevy of James Bondian metal travel mugs guaranteed to safely transport a hot beverage, but this technology comes with a cost. After three uses, like paper, your coffee tastes like whatever material your mug is made of.
This means I’m paying two bucks for the privilege of not being scalded by a cup of coffee that tastes like old aluminum.
Plastic, while less hip, suffers from the same taste degradation over time. Glass-lined or not, three uses and the taste of old coffee and angry plastic permeates every sip. This conveniently leads us to the first key construction point for the perfect mug:
It must be made of ceramic. After years of foul tasting cups of coffee, I’ve discovered a ceramic travel mug, while a hazard if dropped, is the only material that doesn’t affect the taste of the coffee. Combine this with the cleverly designed removable plastic top and you have the Pottery Barn travel mug:
Will it last? I don’t know. Can it survive a drop? Probably not. Will I lose the top? Probably. Does it deliver my coffee as intended? Yes. I have six.
The Writing use case is strategic because it’s an essential part of my writing process. Right this second, I’m editing this article and, as you might expect, there is a process. First, I sit up. Writing is serious business for which your spine must be straight. I also lean my head slightly downward, looking up at my words as I write. Occasionally I mumble what I’m typing… no clue why.
And then I stop and I take a sip of something from a ginormous coffee cup… which is when I really start writing. The sip of coffee is a pause with weight. As I described in I Don’t Multitask, these moments of silence are invaluable. They are when I step out of what I’m doing to consider what I’m going to do, and for this brief journey I need a companion, and that’s my coffee mug.
To understand this relationship, you have to consider the sip. It’s a conversation and that conversation has two elements:
It must begin with character. The appearance of the coffee cup needs to speak.
It must continue with weight. A full coffee cup is a two-handed affair. The coffee must be blistering hot and a threat sitting three inches to the left of my keyboard. Reaching for my mug is a commitment. It is a reminder that, “Hey, we’re focusing elsewhere for moment. Don’t screw this up. I’m hot.” My coffee mugs are ginormous. My sips — carefully orchestrated.
It’s a brief conversation and it has only one goal: a creative elsewhere.
I’m only addressing half of this situation. There’s a coffee bean article to be written, but it’s time to get back to management and design, so I’ll cut to the chase: whole bean + grind at home + French press = FTW.
A great cup of coffee is not just a gorgeous caffeine administration vehicle; it’s part of your creative posse. On my desk, all within a 12 inches my hands, I have the iPhone, the Zebra Sarasa gel pen, a sweetly decaying Field Notes, and the Life is Short coffee mug. None of these items are required for me to write — they are conveniences — but they are essential to accessorizing a moment of creative, companionable silence.