CappucinoIt is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer in possession of a great idea must be in want of a coffee (with apologies to Jane Austen).

It’s safe to say we live in coffee culture.

If you’ve read any of my books or short stories, you might notice that coffee features highly in most of them. In my most recent short story, Deus ex Machina Publicum (published June 2014), I even invented a diabolical smartphone app that gathers information about how you like your coffee and sends an appropriate recipe to the automated espresso machine where ever you are in the world, to deliver you the perfect coffee of your choice – the same, every time you buy one.

I have to admit I scared myself with the idea that this invention could very easily become a reality. We have all the technology we need to make this happen…

…But should we?

To me, one of the many joys of a good cup of Joe is that you never really get exactly the same thing twice. In Australia, the ubiquitous flat white coffee (Two shots of coffee, topped up with hot milk with as little froth as possible so the crema pops through, and the sugars in the milk are not burned to perdition) is a standard order in name only. In reality, each time I order it, even if it is made by the same barista in the same outlet using the same roast and the same brand of beans, a flat white is always just slightly different.

I love that about coffee.

It is never predictable.

In a one-horse town in the middle of outback Australia, you might find the perfect concoction – you know, the one you take that first sip of and know it is just what you needed and couldn’t be any better than it is.

In a hipster Melbourne street stall, you might smell that aroma and anticipate that first sip only to encounter burnt milk, charred bean aftertaste, or a watery approximation of what good coffee should be.

Funnily enough, I think coffee is a lot like writing in that way. Sometimes you get an idea and it works like a charm. Deus ex Machina Publicum was like that perfect flat white for me. The idea led to the story with a little ‘ah of contented enjoyment, from the first sentence to last. Every sip was savoured. At other times the idea has so much potential but ends up being a fizzer. I won’t bore you with the details, but those stories exist, floating in some half-formed limbo, never destined to see the light of day, let alone achieve greatness.

So next time you sit down to an enjoyable cup of coffee, think of us struggling writers. We rely on coffee as a fuel for our imagination, as well as our bodies.