Coffee is a way of life for the American Sailor. No other food or drink comes close to approximating its role in shipboard life. It is the one constant—24/7/365.
Certainly there are many special memories of sustenance in the Navy and Coast Guard psyche—bean soup, steel beach barbecues, pizza at seaward Happy Hour (mostly a Coast Guard tradition), Z-burgers, chipped beef on toast (though SOS, as it is known, actually has Army origins), and holiday dinners.1 But by and large those are special occasions. Coffee, on the other hand, is truly a daily ritual.
The Continental Congress declared coffee to be America’s national drink in the wake of the 1773 Boston Tea Party, when the Sons of Liberty dumped English tea imports into Boston Harbor. That protest—of both excessive taxes and a government-engineered monopoly on the tea trade for the British East India Company—had actually been spawned in a coffeehouse. Thus has coffee been prominent in the national identity since before there was a nation.
1. “Z-burger” is a service-academy term for lunchtime hamburgers—a meal said to have a guaranteed sleeping-pill effect for afternoon classes. Its origin is the Coast Guard Academy, but it has made its way elsewhere—including some restaurants in the South and Pacific Northwest.
2. In 1675 Charles II attempted to shut down England’s coffeehouses, fearing they could spawn revolutionary activities. But the public outcry forced him to rescind the order two days before it was to take effect.
3. Nicholas Monsarrat, The Cruel Sea (Harmondsworth, England: Penguin, 1956). Monsarrat served as executive officer to Captain Sam Lombard-Hobson, aforementioned author of A Sailor’s War.
4. George MacDonald Fraser, Flashman on the March (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005).