Carly Simon came up with the “Clouds in my coffee” line on a cross country flight. She explained the meaning of the phrase, saying:
“Clouds in my coffee are the confusing aspects of life and love. That which you can’t see through, and yet seems alluring… until. Like a mirage that turns into a dry patch. Perhaps there is something in the bottom of the coffee cup that you could read if you could (like tea leaves or coffee grinds).”
The phrase came courtesy of her friend and musical collaborator Billy Mernit, who was sitting next to Simon on the flight. Carly had the window seat, and Mernit noticed the clouds from the window reflecting in her coffee. He said, “look at the clouds in your coffee,” and mentioned that it looked like a shot from the 1967 French movie 2 or 3 Things I Know About Her, directed by Jean-Luc Godard.
In the film, there’s a poignant shot of cream swirling in a cup of coffee. According to Mernit, he and Simon both wrote the line down in their journals, and a few weeks later, Carly called him and asked if she could use it in a song.