Coffee and cigarettes are a classic apocalyptic flavor combination
EC: The Unhealthy Pleasures of a Cigarette Breakfast
Credit: Photo by Flickr user .jocelyn.

The coffee-and-cigarette breakfast is the cheapest, least labor-intensive meal I know. It centers you and lets you ease meditatively into the day without exerting yourself. It’s an ascetic’s breakfast, the meal of an amoral monk. It’s something I have on days when the psychological weight of preparing a meal or purchasing one at a nearby bodega is just too much, at an early hour, for my frail countenance to handle.

I’ve been indulging in this sinful combination since college, when the pressure of term papers and copious pages of reading often distracted me from the fact that I should have been getting something into my stomach. The need for coffee and a cigarette at breakfastime only intensified in the three years I wrote for a weekly newspaper in New York, where the unrelenting prospect of deadlines often distracted me from the fact that I had a life outside work.

I’ve come to accept the coffee-and-cigarette breakfast as a kind of unholy asterisk, right above sweets, on the food pyramid. You could argue that, for someone who can’t even summon the energy to boil an egg, the coffee and cigarette breakfast is a particularly intense way to start the morning—and I agree. Why not, overlooking the health concerns, just have one or the other? But there’s something about the combination that demands they stay together. The harsh cigarette smoke (Marlboro Reds), subsequently extinguished by a sip of strong coffee (black), back and forth, is conducive to reflection. Coffee and cigarettes, as Jim Jarmusch knew, complete one another.

While the coffee and cigarette breakfast puts you in a reflective mood, it also progressively jolts you into action. It’s a bitter breakfast for depressives who need nothing less than a hit of caffeine, chased by nicotine (Caffotine™?), to wake them from their morning somnambulance.

There are other tobacco options, of course. The morning cigar, for instance, which is typically richer and takes longer to smoke. (Not my style; mostly, I imagine, for New Jersey dons like Tony Soprano and Chris Christie.) Then there’s the breakfast pipe, which sounds appealing in The Hobbit, when Gandalf requires a few early morning puffs after a sumptuous meal. I’m sure that would keep a wizard centered, but few have time for such decadent consumption. But the combination of the quick-burning cigarette balanced with coffee heightens the senses, gets you in an antsy, pugilistic mood that primes you for the tasks ahead.

For writers, the coffee-and-cigarette breakfast is a particular blessing, though I have been told it’s effective across the vocational gamut. (The coffee-and-cigarette breakfast is best consumed on weekdays.) Maybe it’s the masochist in me, but I’ve found that a full stomach can sometimes make me feel complacent, my mind sluggish as I sit down before my computer. Cigarettes suppress the appetite, which allows you to get through the morning without feeling uncomfortable.

For all those merits, the coffee-and-cigarette breakfast does have clear downsides. It has an air of the apocalypse to it. It’s suicidal. A terrible idea. Maybe the worst thing, diet-wise, you could do for yourself in the morning. (I should add here, to name one incidental benefit, that the coffee-and-cigarette breakfast is a natural laxative, insofar as coffee and cigarettes are “natural.”)

In recent months, have been trying to cut back on my morning smoking habit. There are times, as I light up, when I feel a creeping sense of dread, as though my body knows I am doing something terribly wrong. It’s a heavy emotion so early in the day. But then I tell myself that there are worse ways to spend the morning than contemplating your own mortality.