By Fraser Raeburn |

As we all know, a PhD is fuelled as much by caffeine as it is by intellect or research skills. Glancing around the shelves of the PhD office space at Edinburgh now, only books outnumber the various types of caffeine and the related paraphernalia, and I guarantee you that the boxes of tea get opened more often than most of the books.

Each of us has our own method of coaxing our brain into a state of being able to do research, and the more I observe myself and those around me, the more I’m convinced that choice of caffeine tells you more about an individual than their research topic, their origins or their choice of drinking establishment.



Not herbal tea. Not boutique tea picked at midnight by cooperative farmers in the Himalayas. Just your standard, black tea that costs £1.49 for a pack of several thousand. This is the tea that won the Battle of Britain. This is a tea which says ‘I am only making one trip to the supermarket this year.’ You are no-nonsense, down to earth and efficient. Not for you the doubt which comes with choice of beverage. You’ll have what you had yesterday, and will continue to have the same thing until you die, surrounded by dull grandchildren somewhere in Yorkshire.

Instant coffee


You are the most dedicated to getting your dissertation finished. You’re willing to sacrifice anything: your social life, your family and, apparently, your taste buds. You aren’t going to hang around the kettle any longer than is strictly necessary to douse your reconstituted coffee-like substance. This is about re-fuelling, not enjoyment. You put a thumbtack on your chair every day to keep alert.

Green Tea 


You. It’s your fault that the AHRC makes people go on retreats with compulsory wellness sessions. You own a yoga mat, and actually use it. Worse, you encourage other people to try yoga. Yes, fine, you’re probably a lovely person who makes sure that each tea leaf is sustainably sourced and that each child labourer who picks it also goes to school twice a week, but your very existence inadvertently makes the rest of us feel worse. You’re the only person who doesn’t put on weight during the PhD. You can look in a mirror without crying. You consume so many antioxidants that you’re immune to rust.

(Diet) Coke/Energy Drinks


While perhaps none of us can claim to be real adults, you are not an adult even by PhD standards. You vaguely resemble an 11-year old who has just tasted wine for the first time, and wonders why on earth adults drink so much of it. You face the choice between going down the slippery-slope of entry level caffeine absorption over the course of your PhD, or maintaining your infantile stasis, eventually drinking so much out of desperation that you end up so full of different carcinogens that the only thing keeping you alive is their internecine struggle for dominance. You are also broke due to the prohibitive per-unit cost of caffeinating yourself.

Coffee in a French press


You’re the sort of person who spends ages planning out an efficient schedule, only to spend so much time planning and adjusting that you end up being less effective overall. See, it feels like genius to make a day’s worth of coffee all at once, and to just keep pouring as necessary. But then the first cup tastes like watery dirt, the second is lukewarm and by the time you reach the third you’re drinking cold sludge. Where did the day go? Why haven’t I written anything? Why do I now need to spend 10 minutes trying to dislodge grains of coffee from the plunger? Why did I trust the French to design something functional?

Stolen from a conference


You aren’t picky. You just know that if you wait until the post-lunch session starts, you can swoop in and claim the dregs of their tea and coffee. The truly nefarious might also pilfer teabags for later. Occasionally, there is a department-wide email asking people to stop taking things from conferences that they aren’t attending. It’s phrased as a general announcement, but the subtext screams that they know it’s you, please just stop already. At least you aren’t the person taking wine from the cupboard.

Barista-made coffee


I’m not talking about the Starbucks-lovers here. In fact, you just got insulted by the implication that I might be lumping you in with the Starbucks drinkers. You have a short list of cafes that make coffee to your exacting standards. Unless it was made from single-origin beans by a man with a beard that you are on a first-name basis with, you won’t touch it. Given half a chance, you’ll spend hours talking about coffee with anyone who’ll listen, and more than a few people who won’t. You’ve spent time in Australia, probably Melbourne. You talk about coffee culture without being sarcastic.

Yerba maté

Just… no. Put it away before we lynch you.


Fraser Raeburn is a Contributions Editor and Pubs and Pubs, and regularly imbibes caffeine using all of the methods listed above. Except for instant coffee. Even he has standards. You can learn more about what all the caffeine is fuelling at his page, or via his newly-minted twitter account @FraserRaeburn


(Image 1 ©; Image 2 ©; Image 3 ©; Images 4-6,8 and Cover Image ©; Image 7 ©