Coffee and Combat Throughout the Years.

Hector Santana
4 min readMar 8


WW2 US Soldier enjoying a cup of joe before the action. Coffee is a lifeforce for many of our soldiers.

You may think that drinking coffee is a ritual reserved for mornings over a coffee maker in the comfy, safe corner of your kitchen. But what about the guy in the middle of the field, facing enemy insurgents in some cold god forsaken place. Doesn't he need coffee too. You bet he does.

Coffee has its place in combat situations, and it has been a part of the kit soldiers have carried to this day. In every modern war ever fought on this planet there was a soldier brewing coffee. Ok, so they are not running around blasting with one hand and the other on the coffee pot. But coffee has been at the center of every break, before and after every battle, no matter what time it was, day or night.

US Marines enjoying coffee in 1944 after an obviously hard day. National Archives

You can bet your bottom dollar that even grunts that never drank coffee before their deployment drank coffee during their combat tour. Many of the GI’s I have spoken to learned to enjoy coffee while in the shitstorm. ‘It’s all in the grind” they will tell you. From the US Civil War to the streets of Iraq, soldiers have been downing barrels of coffee for obvious reasons. It lifts the spirits, calms the nerves, provides a shot of energy, and smells great during the AAR or after-action report. To hell with the enemy.

Canadian soldiers enjoying coffee after the Battle of Hill 70 in August 1917

In the 1930’s Nestle developed Nescafe, a powdered coffee meant to be more portable and easier to make while on the move. During WW2, those grinds eventually made their way to the battlefield to soften the hardship of combat life. In fact, the majority of the coffee produced during the war went overseas to the war effort. The result, after a hard day soldiers would sit around a drum fire drinking brew recounting the day’s tales. By the time the war was over, millions of veterans were consumers of the great wave of coffee generated during the war.

In Korea and Vietnam, grunts used ammo boxes and brushwood to make coffee in between firefights. Proof that soldiers are always innovating ways to get their cup of Joe, no matter what circumstances they may be facing. Iraq and Afghanistan changed things a bit as soldiers now had a choice, coffee or the traditional tea. Soldiers would often be offered the tea as they liberated villages. Once there, soldiers would sit with tribal leaders sipping on tea brokering the terms of engaging the local population. But soon tribal elders learned to drink coffee too. Coffee was often a gift offered during talks around a fire. While Iraq and Afghanistan were havens for tea, western soldiers accounted for ninety percent of the coffee in those countries at the time they were “in country”.

US soldier drinks a cup of coffee during operations. eurekalert

Why is coffee the preferred drink of most soldiers? Well, it’s warm and its smell gives you a sense of awakening. Nothing gives you the pep that you feel when you drink coffee. The military knows that and that is why the US armed forces include it in their meals ready to eat (MRE’s). Just open an MRE and you will find coffee. Yes, it’s instant coffee and not as good as grinding your own coffee beans. But under the stresses of combat, it's great that our troops are be able to have a cup of instant Joe.

So, what's next in the coffee and combat saga? Well, there are those that are encouraging a more robust approach. How about more Columbian or Brazilian coffee? Yes, we should be providing our troops with the best coffee in the world. Just like we provide them with the best equipment in the world. Well, don’t stray too far. The military is already looking at ways to include stronger brews in their rations. High on the list is how to preserve the grinds over time. Preservatives change the flavor of the coffee, so getting the right formula is a challenge. But not to worry, it's only a matter of time before we see that coffee around military campfires around the world.

Ukrainian Soldiers having some coffee during a break in the fighting.



Hector Santana

*Top Writer-Camping and Survival. I love to write about the great outdoors, survival and foreign policy. An avid outdoorsman and survival instructor.