Did Balzac Really Drink 50 Cups of Coffee a Day?

An investigation into whether the famed French author was indeed caffeine crazy — plus a recipe for his ideal cup of joe!

Many artists have turned to coffee as their drug of choice, including Voltaire, Bach and Beethoven, but the crown for literary-coffee-binging apparently belongs to Honoré de Balzac. The early 19th century French author wrote about his addiction in “The Pleasure and Pains of Coffee,” which may have inspired the rumor that he drank 50 cups of coffee a day, though the essay contains no such figure.

The 50-cups-a-day claim made its way onto the Internet long before Open Culture’s recent blog post or even Flavorwire’s 2011 list of author addictions. You can find it in a brief article in Lapham’s Quarterly from 2010 and on The History Channel’s “This Day in History” for March 19 (though the publication year isn’t noted). These venues might have ultimately sourced the number from a self-published book called Storied Words: The Writer’s Vocabulary and Its Origins by Jeff Jeske, which proffered the 50-cup figure back in 2004. But when I contacted Jeske over email, he wasn’t able to point me in the direction of his source.

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