By John Petersen
The history of Coffee: The coffee plant, which was discovered in Ethiopia in the 11th Century, has a white blossom that smells like jasmine and a red, cherry-like fruit. Back then, the leaves of the so-called “magical fruit” were boiled in water and the resulting concoction was thought to have medicinal properties.
Pops was a truck driver, his career started during his tenure in the Air Force building runways at Travis AFB in the very early 60’s. Throughout his 40 some years jamming gears across the highways and byways of this country, his savior was the the black elixir, that liquid starter fluid for the human soul, coffee. I spent my summers as a teenager not hanging around with others my age being bored and finding ways (some not entirely acceptable) to pass the time, but on the road with Dad. Learned to drive a 72 two-axle Freightliner (short sleeper) COE at the age of 14, those 13 gears attached to a 400 Cummins were worth the respect for power that I carried with me into my Navy days as an MM. Dads love for a strong thermos of coffee (sometimes accentuated with a shot of JD #7) carried into my DNA. I swear to this day coffee was the breastmilk that nurtured me.
Reporting for Basic Training at RTC San Diego in February 82. My first Navy breakfast (scrambled egg soup, rubber bacon strips, and taffy toast, all to be consumed in less than 10 minutes), introduced me to what would become a virtual transfusion of the beet-red stuff that flowed through my veins to the dark, near acidic, somewhat pungent yet life inhibiting swill labeled Navy Coffee. Not just coffee, but Navy coffee. For the uninitiated, trust me, there IS a difference.
Aboard ship, coffee is King. No matter where one can grab a cup, it is welcome, it is reveille in a tan plastic or decorated porcelain container. It is a re-awakening upon staggering into the mess decks once you’ve found your way back from the bright lights, loud music, and the fulfilling outcome of the well spent currency laid out for that irresistible cutie at the Tigers Den on Rizal, along with the six sticks of BBQ consumed on your return journey. Rejuvenation mis-spelled COFFEE.
In any fireroom or engine room (or any other space aboard ship, I would imagine), there is a small but revered space reserved for the, for want of a better term, wake up first aid kit. This kit would normally consist of the following; One 10 or 12 cup battered stainless steel coffee pot, at least 12 mugs, all unwashed of course, of various sizes (each touched only by those who owned them, and all knew which one belonged to whom), and possibly (for the booters), some sugar and creamer (gag). It was the off-going messengers duty to ensure that that battered pot was churning out a freshly brewed tank of 2190-tainted grog for the incoming watch. This small but glowing little shelf held more power than any CHENG I have ever known.
This little shelf, my friends, is a shrine. The Mud Rack.
NOTE: During the first century of our Navy, the galley fires were extinguished when a ship “cleared for action” (went to General Quarters). At the Battle of Manila Bay, Admiral Dewey ordered that the galley fires stay lit and coffee be provided to stations at all times. This precedent grew into coffee being available to sailors twenty-four hours a day.