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Coffee's history in the United States military

How coffee has fueled our nation's military since the beginning

Americans' love of coffee is quite patriotic. The history of coffee travels backlong before we were even known as the United States of America — and it's fueled our military since.

As we celebrate Veterans Day, we wanted to give a brief history of coffee in the military, all while thanking our veterans for serving our country. It's because them that we can enjoy a cup of coffee in freedom today. Mugs up to you! Get a fresh cup ready, it's time to dive into history.

A black and white photo of two soldiers during WWII drinking coffee in the trenches
Photo: The Mighty

Coffee arrived in the western world by the 17th century and Boston welcomed the first coffeehouse in 1689, HistoryNet states.  By 1773, American colonists were dumping tea into Boston Harbor out of their frustration and anger stemming from England’s decision to impose taxation without representation.

Tea time became faux pas and coffee breaks became the preferred choice for Revolutionists. Coffee houses became the nerve center for political discussions during the American Revolution. This was the start of more than one kind of national movement – smells like coffee and freedom.

The Civil War introduced those dressed in blue and grey to a form of instant coffee known during this time period as “essence of coffee.” Substitutions were commonly found by the Confederate Army, as a pound of coffee could cost as much as $1,000.00 dollars, by today’s standard.  Chicory coffee is still a popular option in the South.

A sketch of Civil War-era soldiers in a field drinking coffee.

President Andrew Jackson added coffee to the official military food ration in 1832 and it remains to date. By 1864, the U.S. government was purchasing 40 million pounds of coffee beans. Americans have seriously loved coffee for years.

Future-President McKinley served during the Civil War and was responsible for hauling vats of hot coffee to the front lines to keep those on the forefront going. McKinley’s presidential campaign shared this war story repeatedly until it became legend. The William McKinley Coffee Break monument in Maryland is named in his honor.  

President Woodrow Wilson's U.S. Navy Secretary Josephus Daniels banned alcohol for the Navy, beginning with World War I. The void that was left was filled by coffee, hence the nickname “cup o’ Joe” out of their complaints to the prohibition of alcohol on ships.

A black and white photo of WWII soldiers receiving coffee from two women

Café Americano was created during World War II, so be sure to thank a vet if you’re a fan of this. American soldiers preferred to water down their Italian espresso shots, which they found to be too strong.

The Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf War and Operation Enduring Freedom kept coffee at the forefront, also.

Coffee is the choice of our military for many reasons, according to Military.

There is no rank at the coffee pot. First one up and the last one who emptied the pot are assigned one task – brew it. 

Coffee helps camouflage exhaustion by troops, who rarely get a full eight hours of shut-eye — the Army even did a study about how to get the most out of your coffee because of this. It's also a great reminder of civilian life and allows for a “take five” for soldiers who sacrifice so much. One sip of coffee can remind a soldier of being home, hopefully a sign of their return home soon.

Death Wish Coffee salutes those who sacrifice so much by proudly supporting Operation Sandbox. This is merely a small way we thank our Veterans for the many freedoms they protect for all Americans every day.  

Related: Death Wish Coffee and the Armed Forces

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