How Writer Warren Ellis Does Breakfast
"I am mostly made of espresso right now. Espresso and tears"
Warren Ellis is a writer who works in many different forms: novels, graphic novels and prodigious rants about coffee. His writings generally blend big ideas with a deeply felt humanism, including his earlier novels, Gun Machine and Crooked Little Vein, and his work in comics, from the creator-owned series Trees and injection to his work on characters ranging from the Avengers to Moon Knight to James Bond. His latest novel, Normal, is a kind of locked-room mystery set in an isolated retreat for thinkers and futurists overpowered by the nature of their world—but it rapidly evolves into something more surreal, a haunting meditation on where surveillance and technology are headed.
One of his projects is the weekly newsletter Orbital Operations, a dispatch that has included musings on ambient music and tips for making cold brew alongside conversations with some of Ellis’s fellow writers (Catherynne M. Valente, Benjamin Percy). The talk of cold brew, along with things like Ellis’s advocacy for the hyper-caffeinated beverage known as The Black Blood of the Earth, is what prompted this conversation about breakfast routines, coffee preparation, and the ways in which food has shown up in Ellis’s fiction.
Extra Crispy: Lately, what has a typical breakfast been like for you?
Warren Ellis: When I remember—which hasn't been often lately, I've been way too busy—I mix up a jar of overnight oats before I go to bed. Basic cheap oats, nut milk, a big shot of hemp protein powder, whatever nuts are still in the cupboard, cacao nibs, a little cinnamon, a little date syrup, and either nut butter or muddled berries—the last jar I made was blackberries, blueberries and figs. Literally just shoveling all that into a mason jar in layers, stirring it through and sticking it in the fridge for twelve hours. Eating it after my morning routine of sitting outside in the back garden, drinking through four espressos while I listen to podcasts and read the news.
If you're starting your day out with four espressos, is that generally it for you and coffee over the rest of the day, or do you end up having a couple more at various points?
Usually a couple more later in the day. Depending on what's going on. I've been rewriting a movie for the past week and it's been waaaaay more than a couple extra cups a day. I am mostly made of espresso right now. Espresso and tears.
Your writing was the first place I'd heard about the hyper-caffeinated beverage known as The Black Blood of the Earth. How did you first come into contact with it?
God, I don't even remember now. Maybe I just came across its creator, Phil Broughton, writing about it? Phil's a fun guy—he's actually a radiation safety specialist, who was once a bartender in Antarctica, where he may have actually invented cryogenic cocktails, and then came home and created this terrifying supercoffee which I ended up as a sort of high-tolerance tester for. I might have been the first person to drink significant amounts who didn't have to be taken out for walkies or be pulled off the ceiling with a broom handle.
What is your preferred type of coffee?
Espresso, unsweetened. I usually get my beans from Deepmills in Suffolk. Now we're into autumn, I'm sometimes spicing it with cinnamon and a little ground ginger. Do not even come near me with your pumpkin spice shit—you people ruin autumn for the entire fucking hemisphere. A Parisian hotelier once lectured me that, when especially tired, I should make a ristretto instead, so sometimes that happens.
I'm intrigued by the idea of ginger in coffee, which is something I'd never thought to try. Do you generally grind it yourself or go with something pre-ground?
If I'm doing it first thing in the morning, it's a tiny pinch of pre-ground. If it's late on a winter day, I'll take a microplane to the end of a piece of fresh ginger and finely grate a little in.
How have your experiments with cold brew been going?
Very occasional, especially now it's gotten colder. I don't do anything fancy, mind you—it's pretty much prison cold brew, where I just steep a couple of scoops of ground espresso in spring water overnight and then drive it through an Aeropress with two paper filters in the end before I mix it with a nut milk. I've gotten the mixing ratio about right—no more than 150 ml of the mixer, for one thing.
Do you have a preference between different varieties of nut milk?
Oat milk or almond milk, whenever possible—cashew milk at a pinch. I like oat cream, too, from Oatly, but I suspect it's not the best for cholesterol.
Food has come up in some of the newsletter writing you've done, and I'm curious if that's had any impact on some of your recent prose and comics. I'm thinking of the riff on Soylent in Normal, and the unsettling scenes in kitchens in both Injection and Shipwreck...
Food has always come up in my newsletters—I've been newslettering since the 1990s—so that's really nothing new. Soylent has been sitting there waiting for me to make fun of it in fiction for ages, and I've only just gotten around to it. Though I do feel a little bad about mocking it, because, as time's gone on, I feel like at least some of the Soylent crowd have issues beyond food.