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Why the Military Drinks Coffee

Brewing Victory: The Rich History of Coffee in the United States Military from the Civil War to the Present


Coffee, a beloved beverage worldwide, has played an integral role in the daily lives of soldiers throughout the history of the United States military. From the Civil War to the present day, the comforting aroma of brewing coffee has been a constant companion, providing sustenance and camaraderie to those who serve. This article explores the fascinating journey of coffee within the military, tracing its roots and examining its enduring significance.

Civil War Era: A Soldier's Comfort

During the Civil War (1861-1865), soldiers on both sides faced harsh conditions, enduring long marches, inclement weather, and the constant threat of battle. Coffee became a source of comfort for these weary warriors. Soldiers would often roast green coffee beans over an open fire and brew a crude, yet effective, coffee using whatever equipment they could muster. The act of brewing and sharing coffee not only provided physical sustenance but also offered a brief respite from the brutal realities of war. Soldiers brewed coffee at the first opportunity and drank it before marching, after marching, on patrol, and even during battle.

One popular anecdote claims that General John Sedgwick, a Union commander, proclaimed, "The Army is a mighty poor thing if it cannot make a cup of coffee." This sentiment underscores the importance of coffee as a morale booster and a symbol of normalcy amid the chaos of war. 

One Civil War historian noted that the word coffee was used more often in Civil War soldiers’ diaries and letters home than words like ‘war,’ ‘slavery,’ or ‘Lincoln.’  Union soldiers remarked on how often they made coffee, and Confederate soldiers commented on the lack of coffee, discussing and inventing recipes with odd substitutions in order to simulate the taste.  Insipid substitutions included whatever could be found and roasted in the field, including chicory, acorns, dandelions, rye, peanuts, and peas.  Recipes or unique blends were sent from home.  General George Pickett received one concoction from his wife, and enthusiastically thanked her: “No Mocha or Java ever tasted half so good as this rye-sweet-potato blend!”

World War I and World War II: The Rise of Military Coffee Culture

As the United States found itself engaged in global conflicts during the 20th century, coffee continued to be a staple in the military diet. Soldiers were issued instant coffee in their ration kits, providing a quick and convenient way to enjoy a cup in the field, ensuring they could enjoy a warm cup even in the most challenging environments.

The Korean and Vietnam Wars: Coffee in Combat

Coffee maintained its significance during the Korean and Vietnam Wars, becoming an essential part of the military experience. Portable coffee makers and instant coffee remained standard issues, and soldiers often sought solace in a hot cup amidst the turmoil of conflict. The act of brewing coffee became a communal activity, fostering a sense of connection and solidarity among troops in the field.

Desert Storm to the War on Terror: Coffee Adapts to Modern Warfare

As military technology advanced, so did the methods of brewing coffee in the field. The emergence of compact, efficient coffee makers allowed soldiers to enjoy a taste of home even in the most remote locations. From the Gulf War (1990-1991) to the ongoing War on Terror, coffee has remained a constant companion for troops deployed worldwide.


The history of coffee in the United States military is a testament to this beloved beverage's enduring role in times of peace and conflict. From the makeshift brews of the Civil War to the modern coffee makers on today's military bases, coffee has provided comfort, camaraderie, and a taste of home for generations of American soldiers. As long as there are men and women in uniform, the rich aroma of brewing coffee will continue to be a symbol of resilience and solidarity in the face of adversity.

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