“Coffee roasts your insides,” wrote Honoré de Balzac, the famed French novelist and playwright who was rumored to have ingested 50 cups of joe a day. In his 1830s essay, “The Pleasure and Pains of Coffee,” Balzac described in detail how his brain loved the elixir for its creativity boost, but his stomach seemingly despised the black goop.
Balzac’s habit was also said to hasten his death — he died in his early 50s from “heart failure,” which was rumored to also be caffeine intoxication or artery damage from his coffee intake. Here in modern times, the FDA recommends sticking to four to five cups a day, or around 400 milligrams of caffeine — tops.
But don’t bother telling that to Charles Anderson, 39, a Canadian writer and illustrator who goes by “Rolli” online. Inspired by Balzac, he’s been drinking 25 cups of coffee a day for 15 years and, of course, posting about it on Twitter.
“I started drinking coffee when I was 10,” Anderson says. “Most parents would give kids soda that’s full of caffeine and sugar. Even if you load your coffee with sugar, it’s still less sugar than soda.” From there, Anderson started drinking coffee for studying as a teen and, he says, by his mid-20s “was up to this level” and hasn’t gone below that since.
You started drinking 25 cups a day in your mid-20s?
It was a gradual buildup. But now it’s become a ritual, a writer’s superstition. I find that it’s important for creativity. There’s an idea in every cup, and you need a lot of ideas to get one good one.
So that’s 25 cups a day for 15 years. Would you consider yourself a coffee expert?
I’m not really a coffee connoisseur. I’m very promiscuous in my coffee choices. I’m more of a coffee whore. I try a lot of coffee. I go from big brands to hip little places. But there’s nothing better than finding a great coffee that is cheap as dirt.
What’s a great “cheap as dirt” cup of coffee?
Now that everything is shut down, one of my go-to places is McDonald’s. I’m surprised at how good their coffee is! Usually fast-food coffee is a big no-no, but theirs is really good now, and dirt cheap. I also think Tim Hortons has a solid dark roast. That place is a Canadian institution.
Is there any coffee you just won’t touch?
I never drink decaf. Decaf was invented by Satan. When things started shutting down, I couldn’t find anywhere to get coffee and I almost went into a gas station. But I resisted. I knew better. Gas station coffee is usually terrible. Church basement coffee is almost always bad, too.
How do you take your coffee?
I used to take it with cream and sugar. But when I was in my late 20s, I met an old English woman who was in her 90s. We were both in the same small writing critique group. She lived through the Blitz! She was the most formidable person I’ve ever met. She told me that putting sugar in coffee is a sign of “weak moral character.” She had an effect on me. I haven’t had it with cream and sugar since. Now it’s just cream. I prefer a dark roast, or if I’m out I order an Americano.
How do you make your coffee at home? With that kind of intake, are you just popping K-Cups?
K-Cups can be good for a fresh single cup, but when I’m making it at home, I usually use a French press or just a regular drip unit. I don’t have an espresso machine, but that’s probably a good thing because then I’d never leave the house!
Do you get a lot of negative comments from people? I’m getting heart palpitations just thinking about that amount of caffeine.
People have criticized me for years — family, friends, doctors. I get messages from people saying it’s physically impossible to drink 25 a day. It’s not, obviously. People are constantly telling me that it isn’t healthy or it’s bad for my stomach or it can kill me. It does sound like a lot when you say “25 cups.” I drink about one-and-a-half cups per waking hour on most days. I know it sounds unadvisable. But my blood pressure is always perfect. I work for myself and I get seven to eight hours of sleep a night, not a problem. I might go to the bathroom a little more than the average person. That’s it.
Have you ever had a negative health experience from your habit?
Once in my mid-20s, when I first started drinking at this level, I wasn’t regulating the amount like I am now, and I had an experience of caffeine toxication — muscle twitches, palpitation, shortness of breath. I went to the ER, but by the time I saw someone, it had stabilized. That was frightening, so I started regulating it better.
How do you regulate?
The coffee selfies I post aren’t just for fun. They help me keep track and [prevent me] from going overboard. I also tend to use the same mugs at home and the same sizes when out and about. I’m a creature of habit and that helps to keep me on an even keel.
Did you see the 2019 study from U.K. researchers that found drinking up to 25 cups of coffee a day doesn’t increase the stiffness of the arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke?
I forwarded that study to everyone I could think of! It was a validation. Absolutely. Like, I’m not the crazy one. It’s everyone else.
Do some people reach out for coffee advice?
Some people are amused or weirdly intrigued. Some people just want to send me stuff to try. I’ve gotten gift cards to Starbucks in the mail from people. I have a “buy me a coffee” link on my website and I get a lot of that.
Regular people are just buying you coffee?
At least one person a day buys me a coffee on my website. It’s great.
Are companies sending you coffee for publicity? Are you a “coffee influencer”?
Brands send me coffee all the time. The cupboards overfloweth. They usually want an honest opinion. But I’m always swimming in coffee. Right now I’m enjoying Strava, a CBD coffee that you can drink before bed and you’ll feel mellow. On the opposite end of that, a New York company called Death Wish that supposedly has the most caffeine available knocked my socks off. Intense buzz and flavor. Definitely not for novices. Some other memorable brands [that have sent coffee] were Branch Street from Ohio, which was tasty, and a company called Biker Coffee had a killer dark roast.
Are you going to stay at 25 cups forever?
If I ever do decide to expand beyond 25 cups, my dream is to outdo Balzac’s reputed 50 cups a day, I’ll likely have to be more scientific about things, to prevent overdosing. But so far so good. I’m going to make another cup right now.