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 squadron.
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 office.
"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 explains.
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
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.