Coffee, Tea, or Vitamin V? A San Francisco Writer’s Drink of choice?

On the Spot is written by Nancy Louise McCormick-Kovacich

A writer's drink of choice is often debated among those who drink, write, and read. Not so much which is the better choice, but why such a choice is made, why some have a habit and some don’t. For myself, I tend to drink what my character might drink. It puts me in the mood to hear the muse. Vitamin V (Vodka) however is something I strictly avoid, including the S (Scotch) W (whiskey) and little b (Bourbon) varieties all of which simply put me to sleep before I can compose a thing.

Vitamin V is a term that Herb Caen came up with for Vodka. For those outside his sphere of influence due either to never reading a newspaper (the paper kind), his passing in 1991 being way too long ago, or simply never having heard of Baghdad By The Bay, Herb Caen, hailed from my hometown I did and moved to the most beautiful city in the world, just as I did. I think I might have unintentionally followed him. However, I walk with a different crowd. His was the life of glittering lights, of glamor, of expensive restaurants, North Beach names and wine, Pacific Heights invites and the like. Mine is the more bohemian Mission, Treasure Island, Market Street, Van Ness, and lower Pacific Heights / Upper Class Western Addition (neither name is official, you won’t find it on any map, its just what we locals call the area between the two ‘hoods’.)

Our choices of drink in this crowd are mostly Coffee, the expensive stuff, and Tea.

Yes, even San Francisco has moved on from the Rebel of the Boston Tea party of December 1773 to the reemergence of Tea with a distinctive American Twist, the all popular Iced Tea. You may know of the Southern variety, so sweet it often hurts the teeth of any not brought up at the southern table. Or the simple black ice, herbal ice, and fusion ice. Iced Tea, you might be surprised to find, is a distinctly American tradition, a tradition I might add I introduced—or tried to—to Canada—on a trip to Saskatchewan when we stopped at a town called Shellbook on the way to Prince Albert. At a diner there, I asked for iced tea for it was a warm summer day.

The waitress was taken aback and asked, “A what?”

"Iced Tea." I repeated, "tea over ice."

I realized I was faced with a newbie to the delight of this drink. And so with the short order cook peeking over the order counter to watch, I demonstrated the making of ice tea. A pot of tea, a glass of ice, and an empty glass. I made it all in front of them as they looked in askance of what I was doing to their delicate tea leaves. While I could not hear their mutterings as they walked away, I am have no doubt the word ‘crazy’ made it in there somewhere.

Oh, but then we do that ghastly thing, called Tea Bags. That simple blessed invention from 1908, credited it is said to Thomas Sullivan. Tea started to make its come back after China lifted its embargo in 1971, and we have been rolling in leaves ever since.

Coffee, while long the drink of American Patriots, Cowboys, and South Americans, has not totally supplanted tea.

Coffee is for the surly long hours of editing or NaNoWrMo marathons. Ah, but Tea coats the writerly mind to wax wondrous word smithy works over the leaves from mountains. Or herbals from around the world, while a sniff from stiff British noses and their territories does nary but make us smile. We drink our tea for the comfort it brings. In San Francisco, with moderate weather, hot for winter and cold for summer does not stand a chance on being a standard. On a fifty degree day, one may be covered in a pea coat and gloves wrapped around a mug of mocha, or another in shirt sleeves and short sipping a delighted herbal fusion (me for example) standing on the same street corner or sitting at the same cafe table perfectly comfortable in our own cultures and temperate zones of personal taste.

No wonder writers flock to this city. Where else can one see such diverse tapestry of the Americas spread as we all wish it to be?