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coffee and the us navy
butch burton
being an old salt - supply corps officer in the navy I am very well acquainted with navy coffee. We would get it in large 20 quart tins and once we had a Navy League member aboard ship and I had breakfast with him as I was the wardroom mess caterer and treasure. Incidentialy that is against navy regs to be both but it was much simpler for me to do both as the line officers screwed up all the paperwork. To join the Navy League you have to be either a former navy person or a VIP and that reads lots of money and a lot of political pull.

We were operating on the east coast of Panama and this man was involved in the coffee business and told me this coffee was lowland coffee of low quality. Breakfast then would cost 35 cents in the wardroom and we had so few guests, I paid this myself to avoid the hassle.

Well I am quite familiar with the giant coffee brewers that had a huge container in the top with small holes that would hold the 20 quart container of coffee. Never drank the stuff myself - although in the wardroom we used the sterling silver coffee pots that had a handle on the side. We had great fun watching first time Marine Officers trying to pour coffee from these beasts and then folding their linen napkin into the stainless steel napkin ring. After a few hoots - the salts would show them how to fold their napkin.

Before going into the shipyard which is a big deal to get your ships bottom cleaned we ordered a huge amount of extra coffee. You could get tons of work done and even some cumshaw or freebies that would cost thousands of dollars if we had to go through the requisition process.

Here is the story of USN coffee by a very old homeroaster organizer - long but really well written and informative.

Topic: Coffee and the Navy (from a.c.) (357 lines)
1) From: Ben Treichel

Coffee and the Navy
By Rear Admiral Frank J. Allston, SC, USNR (Ret.), and
Captain Kathleen Jensen, SC, USNR
Grande, skinny, light foam,latte, cappuccino, frappaccino, mocha.
These are names of beverages that have crept into the English language
recently as various coffee-based drinks have brought a high degree of choice
to consumers in all walks of life. As these choices have expanded, Navy
officers and enlisted personnel have become more sophisticated in their
beverage choices. This still-growing range of coffee choices in the U.S.
Navy has evolved slowly over more than two centuries, as commercial coffee
makers and purveyors developed imaginative techniques that today whet the
thirst of men and women throughout the world.
When men first went to sea thousands of years ago, their solid food
and beverage needs were major concerns. In earliest recorded time, ships
rarely sailed beyond sight of land, where they could easily put in to shore
to obtain food and water.
Later, as ships became larger and voyages longer and more hazardous,
crews were sustained with substantial stores of food containers and jugs of
water, requiring development of procedures for stowing, issuing and
consuming them. Sanitary conditions at sea affected liquids and other foods
aboard ship, leading to boiling water or adding alcohol to make it
palatable. Before coffee came into use, water was supplemented by mead, a
drink of fermented honey and water, flavored with fruit or spices. The
meager rations were carefully doled out during each voyage.
Inevitable onboard shortages on long cruises frequently became major
issues among the crews, leading to occasional refusals to participate in
manning their stations and even mutinies. Exhausted supplies of liquids far
at sea could be replenished solely by capturing rainwater in sails, buckets
or whatever else was at hand.
The Old Testament indicates that wine was a popular beverage in
biblical times. Archaeologists have uncovered ancient hieroglyphics
describing how to brew beer and have located jugs that were used for
containing beer more than 5,000 years ago. Although there is strong evidence
that a strong alcoholic beverage was originally distilled from sugarcane in
ancient Asia, it was not until the 15th century that Europeans learned to
convert sugarcane readily into a thick, sweet liquor that became known as
Rum was quickly adopted by Great Britain's Royal Navy. The fledgling
American Continental Navy was modeled along the lines of the RN and, early
in 1794, the Continental Congress enacted into law that a daily ration for
American sailors would be "one half pint of distilled spirits," or in lieu
thereof, "one quart of beer."
Royal Navy officials soon noticed that allowing enlisted ratings to
drink straight rum hampered their performance at sea and endangered the
safety of their ships. The Admiralty solved this problem by specifying that
rum be diluted with water, creating a beverage called grog, which satisfied
Sailors' need for a more thirst-quenching drink than water alone.
Influenced by their English heritage, some American Sailors preferred
drinking tea. Both coffee and tea could easily be brewed aboard ships. As a
result of King George III's instituting a tax on tea and retaliation by
colonists in the famous Boston Tea Party in 1773, the Continental Congress
declared coffee the national drink of the colonies and aboard U.S. Navy
ships. American Sailors promptly switched from tea to coffee.
Preserving coffee beans proved to be a daunting task aboard Navy
ships and in warehouses ashore. Wormholes in the beans roused considerable
concern because of the unknown effect upon the final brewed product from the
holes and the insects that caused them. Paymaster F.T. Arms addressed this
concern in the Navy Cook Book, published in 1902, which he authored and
distributed. Arms wrote, "The presence of wormholes in coffee should not
occasion its rejection unless it is of inferior quality and strength, since
they (the wormholes) generally indicate age, weigh nothing, and disappear
when the coffee is ground."
Coffee was served primarily for its satisfying taste and warming
characteristics, but necessity sometimes fostered other innovative uses. In
the spring of 1914, the Navy flotilla of destroyers was sen to Tampico on
the Caribbean coast of Mexico where Marines were landed to secure release of
arrested American seaman. The skipper of one destroyer, realizing that some
of his Sailors, who would accompany the Marines, had only blues and whites
in their sea bags to wear ashore in the semitropical climate, turned to his
officers for suggestions.
One unknown destroyer paymaster resolved the problem of providing
more comfortable tropical uniforms by dipping white uniforms into pots of
coffee, which effectively transformed them into khakis. A future flag
officer and chief of Supply Corps, then a yeoman, third class (later VADM),
Charles W. Fox, reported that there was "absolutely no comfort in wearing a
uniform soaked from having been dipped in a pot of coffee dregs."
Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, scandalized by reports of
drunkenness aboard ship, issued an order 1919 banned the serving of wine in
the wardroom and any consumption of alcoholic aboardship. Daniels, a
teetotaler, decreed that only coffee or tea should be served. This was not a
popular order and Sailors promptly dubbed a cup of coffee as a "cup of joe."
Popularity of coffee continued to increase during the period between
two world wars as supply officers strove to assure that coffee of suitable
quality was available in sufficient quantity to sate the thirst of officers
and Sailors afloat and ashore.
The importance of coffee to officers and Sailors was driven home on 7
December 1941, when supply officers of undamaged or lightly damaged
combatant ships following the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor prepared to board
supplies for immediate deployment no later than early the next morning. CAPT
(later RADM) John J. Gaffney, senior Supply Corps officer assigned to the
Navy Yard Pearl Harbor, issued a series of emergency orders to his staff.
Among officers he dispatched into action was LTJG J. B. Andrade, SC, USNR,
one of five Naval Reservists already serving on two weeks active duty in
CAPT Gaffney's Supply Department. He instructed Andrade to drive into
Honolulu to make emergency purchase of five tons of the popular Kona coffee
for issue to fleet units preparing to put to sea.
The young officer was unable to obtain the entire five tons as
hastily opened wholesale firms turned over their entire Kona coffee
inventory to him. Anticipating that it might not be possible for LTJG
Andrade to purchase the full five tons, Gaffney had authorized substitution
of commercial brands. Andrade purchased and delivered five tons of Kona and
other acceptable coffee by late evening that day.
As America went on a full wartime footing, soldiers were issued
instant coffee in their ration kits. Back at home, shortages of coffee
eventually led to rationing.
One frequent World War II saying boasted that Navy ships operated on
fuel oil and their crews operated on coffee. Many Sailors were convinced
that U.S. Navy combatant ships in World War II had more unofficial "coffee
messes" (or coffee pots) in place than crewmen aboard - about 2,000 in
battleships. Most of these unauthorized "messes" consisted of a single
electric coffeemaker plugged into the nearest electrical outlet in crew
quarters, offices, workshops and sometimes even at battle stations. The
number of individual messes and the frequent need to substitute lesser-known
brands of coffee were among several factors that raised questions about the
quality of Navy coffee, particularly in the fleet.
U.S. Navy officials, motivated by the belief that coffee is as
important to personnel in the fleet as ammunition is to its weapons systems,
were concerned early during wartime expansion in 1942 over the widely
varying quality of the roasted coffee being supplied to ships and shore
stations. The solution was to open Navy fresh coffee roasting plants on both
the East and West coasts and later in Hawaii.
The coffee roasting plant at the Naval Supply Corps Depot Oakland,
capable of roasting 13 million pounds an hour, went on line on Oct. 27,
1942. The plant annually produced 13.5 million pounds of freshly ground
coffee from approximately 16 million pounds of green coffee beans obtained
from Central and South America, usually from Brazil and Colombia.
During the period from opening in October 1942 to June 1948, the
Oakland Coffee Roasting Plant blended, roasted and ground 115,830,896 pounds
of green coffee into a total of 98,456,264 pounds of freshly ground and
roasted coffee and packed them in 50-pound sacks of high-quality freshly
roasted coffee for the Pacific Fleet. Coffee was also shipped to other Navy,
Marine Corps and Army units throughout the Pacific, including bases in
Western states.
A second coffee roasting plant, located at the Naval Clothing Depot
at Brooklyn, N.Y., provided a similar service to the Atlantic Fleet and to
other American military services in the North African and European theaters
of operations. Both plants were operated until disestablished in 1956. An
older Navy coffee roasting plant at Mare Island Shipyard in California was
dismantled, shipped to Pearl Harbor, and began operation in July 1943 to
meet expanding coffee needs of growing and rapidly advancing forces in the
Central Pacific.
Anecdotes about coffee in the Navy abound. Attorney Harris Meyer, son
of the late CAPT Sam Meyer, USNR, shares one story that his father-in-law,
Bernie Eisenbach, told fondly with pride. Eisenbach, a trained and
experienced tool and die maker, enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and was
designated a torpedoman, second class. He was ordered to the destroyer
escort, USS Richard W. Suesens (DE 342), deployed to the South Pacific that
already had a full complement of torpedomen. Eisenbach could type, so he was
assigned as assistant to the ship's cook.
The cook promptly gave Eisenbach the task of assuring that there was
ample coffee for all watches. Bernie soon noticed that large quantities of
coffee were left in the 20-quart containers in which it was brewed. The
crewman who had this task before him, simply filled large pots with water,
threw in large cheesecloth wrapped bags of coffee, turned on the heat and
left them to boil. Sailors strongly criticized the bitter taste and drank
little of it.
Not being a coffee drinker, Eisenbach wrote to his father, a
professional baker, and asked for the exact formula and procedure for
brewing great coffee, which he subsequently received. His father stressed
how much coffee he should put in for each gallon of water, exactly how long
to brew the coffee and he emphasized that when the coffee was brewed, the
grounds should be removed immediately.
When the crew tasted the strong, well-brewed and improved coffee,
prepared according to instructions of Bernie's father, they enjoyed the
change. Thereafter, coffee usually disappeared by the middle of the watch,
requiring Bernie to prepare additional quantities. Bernie's successful
improvement in coffee definitely raised crew morale, but it had an
unintended side effect that doubled his workload. The seemingly miraculous
improvement in the ship's coffee formula soon spread throughout the
CAPT Len Sapera, SC, USN (Ret.), recalls a shipboard coffee incident
that had a less pleasant outcome. As a lieutenant, junior grade, in 1962, he
was assigned as food services officer in USS Cavalier (APA 37) and caught a
seaman apprentice one day making the morning coffee for the mess decks,
using dirty dishwater. "I nailed him and took him to captain's mast where
the CO busted him down to seaman recruit and processed him out of the Navy.
That was the first time I put someone on report and nailed him at mast."
At special times, military families traditionally have taken their
holiday meals at base dining halls and dining facilities. CDR (later CAPT)
Thomas J. Ingram, SC, USN, believed that the food service staff should be
rewarded with a big holiday turnout, so he took his family to Thanksgiving
dinner at the Cheatham Annex, Va., General Mess in the late 1960s. As a
teenager, Alison Ingram (later CDR, CEC, USN, Ret.) accompanied her family
for a special turkey dinner. When a mess attendant took her dessert order,
she asked for pumpkin pie, but was served coffee, a beverage she never
consumed. As the attendant stood by to determine her satisfaction, Alison
reluctantly drank the coffee and found that it was delicious. CDR Ingram now
says that she has been drinking coffee ever since.
In 1974, as the U.S. Navy's communications station in Asmara,
Ethiopia, was closing, a warehouse filled with remaining excess stores, was
opened to the Ethiopian public for one visit per person to take whatever
could be carried. Although beer was the popular choice, many 20-pound square
cans of roasted and ground coffee departed on tops of heads or under arms.
These square 20-lb. cans are still used today, primarily aboard American
submarines, and DLA sold $556,000 worth in fiscal year 2003.
Coffee has always been employed as a medium of exchange for
enterprising Navy Supply Corps officers afloat. Two former chiefs of Supply
Corps recall just how valuable coffee is around the world.
RADM Jim Miller, 37th Chief, reports, "When I was a young junior
supply officer, skippers of my ships would always warn me to have 5-pound
tins of coffee aboard when we visited Hong Kong. There, a sampan captained
by 'Mary Sue' with a crew of young girls, would pull alongside arriving U.S.
Navy ships and offer to paint our hulls in return for tins of coffee. We'd
supply the paint and rollers and the women would use them to paint our
ships." RADM Ted Walker, 35th Chief, adds, "A 5?pound tin of coffee would
get almost anything done at a Navy shipyard."
Worldwide consumption of coffee expanded throughout the 20th century
and continues into the 21st century. One reporter's article, published in a
Chicago suburban newspaper in 2002, provided his perspective on coffee in
American society. Jake Herrle wrote:
"It (coffee) jump starts our mornings and fortifies us for winter's
freeze. It can summon the courage to face a particularly dreadful day at the
"Coffee is a warm and inviting friend that greets us again after
dinner to smooth over a rough day or to help digest an ample meal. The day's
last cup of joe signals the mind to shift gears into the inky night and
begin to slow down.
"Not to slight our furry four-legged friends, but coffee is a
constant and reliable companion to most of our lives."
Much has been written in the popular press about the phenomenon of
coffee shops as popular gathering places for refreshment, fellowship and
conversation in other parts of the world. Coffee shops are becoming equally
popular as social institutions in the United States. Serving a wide variety
of coffee, tea and chocolate beverages, these occasions have tempted
Americans from middle school students to retirees, including the American
military personnel. As reporter Herrle put it, "Ever stopped in the floral
shop of a strange town to get the scoop on the local gossip?"
Historically, individual military services were responsible for
procuring, storing and distributing all commodities, including food.
Beginning in October 1961 with formation of the Defense Supply Agency, now
the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), within the Defense Department, methods
of supplying subsistence items changed drastically. The mission of the
Defense Supply Center Philadelphia (DSCP) includes providing subsistence for
United States military personnel worldwide.
CAPT Jeffrey Bradley, SC, USN, Director of Subsistence, DSCP, reports
that from World War II until the early 1990s, roast and ground coffee was
centrally purchased under a military specification, placed in military
depots and issued. In 1993, the Department of Defense replaced the military
depot system for garrison feeding with the Subsistence Prime Vendor Program,
utilizing commercial distributors.
"Today's warfighters don't select coffee with the same regularity as
their predecessors and tend to choose sports drinks, sodas or other popular
fountain lines. The familiar coffee urn in the dining halls that are full 24
hours a day, have in many instances, been replaced by fountain dispensers
using reconstituted liquid coffee at a cost of $800,000 a year," Bradley
Despite the changing trends in beverage consumption by members of
U.S. military services, use of roasted and ground coffee is still
substantial with reported purchases of approximately $3 million a year.
Bradley reports, "Initiatives are underway by DLA Defense Supply Center
Philadelphia, in cooperation with the National Institute for the Severely
Handicapped, the government of Puerto Rico and the State of Hawaii to
develop a domestic source of roast and ground coffee that could be made
available to the U.S. military."
Navy Exchange Service Command operated direct-run retail fast-food
outlets on Navy facilities in the early 1970s, but sales were lackluster.
Recognizing the success of name-brand fast-food stores near Navy
installations, NEXCOM executed a local contract that Burger King won through
competitive bidding and, in 1974, was awarded the right to operate at four
Navy waterfront sites - Norfolk, Pearl Harbor, Long Beach and New London -
where Sailors could purchase coffee. NEXCOM Commander RADM William Maguire,
SC, USN, explains, "Revenues were terrific and so we decided at the term of
the existing contract, we would resolicit."
In 1984, McDonald's Corporation was awarded a contract to operate at
multiple sites, now totaling 52 systemwide. Under separate contracts,
Wendy's operates a store in Iceland and Burger King operates two in Europe.
These contract locations do a lively business in coffee sales. Eurest,
operating as 5 Star Cafe, was awarded a contract in 2002 to provide food
service at The Pentagon, including brewing and selling Starbuck's coffee
under license.
Even with constantly changing public tastes, coffee remains one of
the most popular beverages sold and consumed in the United States, trailing
only soft drinks, milk and bottled water in annual volume of consumption.
Suppliers can be anticipated to continue their quest for innovative new
techniques for packaging and presenting coffee worldwide to the public,
including military personnel.
Much has been written in the past about the alleged negative effect
that caffeine in coffee causes to individual health, but reports of recent
studies have resulted in a reassessment of the health effects of coffee
drinking. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal reported that
"Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health have found that men who
drink four to five cups of coffee a day cut their risk of developing
Parkinson's disease nearly in half." The Journal article further reported
that "German researchers have also identified a compound in coffee that may
offer protection against colon cancer."
Obviously, additional research will continue as the pros and cons of
drinking coffee remain under constant scrutiny by health authorities and the
providers of coffee products, as well as consumers. In the meantime, it is
safe to conclude that coffee will continue to be a significant part of Navy
life aboard ship and ashore and that consumers will welcome the newer
choices as they come on the market.
RADM Frank Allston had 34 years of active and Reserve duty when he retired
in 1985. He was commissioned an ensign in the Naval Reserve Supply Corps in
1952 and served on active duty during the Korean War. He was presented the
Department of the Navy Distinguished Public Service Award in 1998 for his
10-year effort in researching and writing Ready for Sea, an extensive
history of the first 200 years of the U.S. Navy Supply Corps. RADM Allston
has been selected as the 2004 Navy Supply Corps School Distinguished
Alumnus. He now serves on the Newsletter Editorial Board.
CAPT Kathleen Jensen is currently Project Manager/Virtual SYSCOM Support at
Naval Supply Systems Command Headquarters. Her recent Reserve assignments
include Commanding Officer, AIRPAC Supply 0189 and Executive Officer, NR
Defense Distribution Center Detachment B120.
Great story, Butch, thanks for sharing. Tomorrow morning I'll share my Navy coffee story.
1 pound electric sample roaster, 3 pound direct-flame roaster, both handmade; modified Mazzer Mini grinder, LaSpaziale Vivaldi II automatic espresso machine. When the electricity goes out I make vacpot coffee from beans ground on my Zassenhaus hand grinder, and heat the water with a teakettle on the gas range.
I did my turn as a mess cook on a mine sweeper and put egg shells in the grounds so it was (barely) fit to drink. That was a long time ago.
That's galley duty for all not petty officers on surface ships. One member of each division. Even petty officers do galley duty on subs.

Ken in NC
Backwoods Roaster
"I wish I could taste as well as I wish I could roast."

As Abraham Lincoln said "Do not trust everything you read on the internet".
butch burton
While steaming above the arctic circle, our ration allowance for the enlisted mess got significantly increased. We let the crew have all the ice cream we wanted - Norwegian ice cream is wonderful. We tried to buy some smoked fish - no luck. Bought some for the wardroom and nobody ate it but the stewards and I. Similar thing happened when I caught a 20# blue fish. The stewards went out of their way and made a magnificent meal from the blue fish. Next day for dinner we even had a great souffle - fun to watch the rednecks in the wardroom ponder a souffle.

Also we had hamburger heaven starting at 10PM or just after the movie which even in the arctic was held on the flight deck. Sometimes we hot reeled the movie between the flight deck and the wardroom. Even in the midnight sun which was truly fantastic - you could see the movie.

We bought lots of extra coffee because we had a yard period coming up.

Yup $222 per month and effectively being in prison as soon as the BM of the Watch said, "Underway", I never looked back and left the Navy after 39 months and had 2 months of leave on the books - being an ex DO - I knew exactly how much I could get paid for.

Finally made it to NYC only to be interviewed by a guy I knew in the Navy - a bird farm officer - ah those were the days. Interestingly enough had all great officers in the wardroom - had one guy who was a looser - he was kicked out just before a caribbean cruise. good riddance
Doing Mine Sweeper 'games' with EOD & SEALS onboard/diving in Santa Cruz Straights off the coast of Ca, my last year in the Navy, the divers came across some crabs in a refrigerator. They had it hauled up on deck, and we had 1 1/2 55 gal drums full of crab. The cook went to fire up the steam pots immediately.

Some fond memories, but, war is hell.

Ken in NC
Backwoods Roaster
"I wish I could taste as well as I wish I could roast."

As Abraham Lincoln said "Do not trust everything you read on the internet".
I worked in a local factory one summer making money for college. Like most places with timeclocks we were forbidden from clocking in even one minute early. The owner hired a high school buddy of his freshly retired from the Navy until his pension checks began arriving. He went on and on about how bad our coffee company coffee was (I think we used Maxwell House) and how good Navy coffee was, so he finally said he'd fix that.

The next day he brought in a big tin of coffee painted gray with no label, just US Navy - Coffee. We had a West Bend 30 cup percolator, the kind with the plastic spigot on the side. Normally, the basket was 1/3 full of grounds. He filled it and struck it off flush! Gawd what awful, strong coffee. We hated it... even diluted we hated it! He loved it. Ignoring our complaints and smiling proudly like a new Dad, he said he'd make coffee for us every day until his stash was gone.

That afternoon the owner of the company asked me to begin clocking in fifteen minutes early and make coffee so his friend couldn't. That was the last time we drank Navy drek. I made a lot of friends and one enemy that summer. :)
1 pound electric sample roaster, 3 pound direct-flame roaster, both handmade; modified Mazzer Mini grinder, LaSpaziale Vivaldi II automatic espresso machine. When the electricity goes out I make vacpot coffee from beans ground on my Zassenhaus hand grinder, and heat the water with a teakettle on the gas range.
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