Tag Archives: Coffee

Coffee and Johnny Yank Coffee Kept the Union On the March

Gun with Coffee GrinderThe 19th century was a tumultuous time for the United States of America,

and no time was more so than 1861 to 1865 when we were engaged in a

great Civil War. From New York to Texas, and beyond, the The Union Army

marched, and feeding the troops was a difficult task. In a time before

refrigeration was in use, foods had to either be fresh or be preserved.

Cattle “on the hoof” kept fresh and the men surely appreciated food that

transported itself. But this blog is all about coffee, and the same for

this article.


Coffee was a staple cherished by the northern troops. It was fairly

plentiful to the North where the soldiers received regular rations of

staple foods that included coffee. A quick pick-me-up was afforded by a

hot cup of coffee even when time was short. When out of camp and on the

march, when a rest period was called, the men would immediately gather

some twigs and sticks, light small fires, and begin boiling water for



The preparation method was quite simple and readied ahead of time.

Ground coffee was mixed with their sugar ration, and once the water was

hot, a measure of this prepared coffee mixture was scooped into the

water. This practice was so ubiquitous that the Confederate soldiers

often referred to the Union soldiers as “the Coffee Boilers.” There was

a bit of jealousy in that since the South had very little coffee

available to them, particularly once the naval blockade of the South was



But as with all things, necessity gives way to solutions.When there was

a sustained break in the fighting, Union and Confederate soldiers would

communicate across the lines in remote areas. The young men set up

personal cease-fire zones and traded goods across the lines. Two items

regularly crossed the lines. The South, being predominantly agrarian

meant that the Confederate soldiers had regular rations of tobacco and

this was happily traded to the Union soldiers for coffee.


But coffee wasn’t always coffee. There were times when the Union

soldiers received their coffee ration pre-ground and this was not

preferred. There was a lot of underhanded dealing in the supply chain

and pre-ground coffee could be adulterated with filler such as cheaper,

easily-sourced, roasted grains. This increased profits to the suppliers

and lessened the caffeine level in the coffee. Carrying a coffee grinder

was pretty much out of the question to individual soldiers so they

improvised. A rifle butt against a flat rock was often found to work

just fine.


Whenever the subject off coffee and the Civil War comes up, the

Sharps Carbine Model 1859 Coffee Mill is often mentioned. This firearm had a hand mill built into the stock. These came into use late in the war and were not widely distributed.

Likely, less than one hundred of these were made and only about a dozen

are known to still exist. It is said by some that they were for coffee,

and some experts who have tested them with grains and coffee have stated

it seems they were intended for grain. Both are likely correct. The

coarse burrs in these grinders are reminiscent of bulk grinders today.

Many hand grain mills on farms well into the 20th century were used for

grain as well as coffee.


Thankfully, things haven’t changed much in the most important way

concerning coffee (this is a coffee blog, after all). Those who look for

the very best from their coffee would never consider pre-ground as a

substitute for whole bean. Roasted coffee beans, if stored properly,

will keep for as long as two to three weeks. Commercially packaged in

nitrogen under pressure can be good for a bit longer until opened. And

much like those soldiers of over one hundred fifty years ago, you pretty

much know what you are getting. So next time you measure out your

“morning ration” of coffee beans and are running them through your

grinder in preparation for the day’s march to the office, remember the

boys back in the 1860’s who did much the same.

Stale Coffee Mug

Ten Ways to Make a Bad Cup of Coffee

ONE: Use Old Coffee – You find a bag of coffee in the fridge, way in the back. You ask yourself, “How badly do I need a cup of coffee?” If you don’t remember when you bought it, then you must need it really badly! Once coffee is roasted the clock is ticking. From the back of the fridge, behind the old jar of mayonnaise, in a bag that is stuck to the shelf? That’s a very good start to the worst cup of coffee you have ever made!

Two: Buy Your Coffee From the Open Bins in the Supermarket – No old coffee against the back wall of the fridge? Head to the market! Sure, whole bean coffee is great, but when it has been sitting out in the open bins which are hazed-over with old coffee oils so thick that it looks like the beans are in a San Francisco fog, you are well on your way to making a bad cup of coffee.

Three: Buy Pre-Ground Coffee – At the market you could always just pick up a big “jug” of pre-ground coffee and save all the trouble of grinding it yourself. You will get consistency that way. Since oxygen is an enemy of coffee, there is no better way to get coffee to get stale than grinding it and then letting it sit around. By the time you get to the bottom of that jug the coffee will be so stale that you might as well be brewing sawdust.

Four: Spend $10 on a Coffee Grinder – So you read that pre-ground coffee is bad so you went to the store and found an economy grinder, and it is so easy to use! Just put in the beans, press the “ON” button and the little helicopter blade inside grinds the coffee. Fortunately for you, this is a chopper and not a grinder. Even better, since your goal is to make the worst coffee possible, all that coffee dust you are creating is sure to add extra bitterness to the already-bitter coffee you are about to brew.

Five: Buy the Espresso Roast – Since there is no such thing as “espresso roast” (regardless as to what the little tag on the bin says), this is a sure sign that whoever roasted this or whoever is selling it really does not know coffee, and who better to buy your coffee from? If the espresso roast is not available, check for “expresso” roast which doesn’t exist either.

Bad Coffee

Don’t Do It

Six: Get the Oily Beans – A good coat of oil on the coffee beans often signifies that the coffee has been poorly stored in a hot environment and the heat has brought the oils to the surface. The oils are a big part of the taste of the coffee, and so exposing them to air will accelerate the staling process. We are over half-way there to a bad cup of coffee!

Seven: Look for a “Best if Used By” Date – Knowing when coffee was roasted is a good thing. Finding a “Best if Used By” date on the package is a sure way of knowing that the coffee you are buying is already past its prime.

Eight: Made From Coffee Beans – Try to find a coffee that is called something like breakfast blend, morning wake up, or mountain delight. Stay away from specifics like Colombian, Hawaiian, and Ethiopian. Since you are looking for the worst coffee possible, it’s best if you don’t know where your beans actually came from.

Nine: Spend as Little as Possible – The worst beans cost the least amount of money. Find a roasted coffee that is selling for about $2.00 to $3.00 a pound. Since that is well under half the cost of most high-quality, un-roasted coffee, you can be assured that your coffee will be from the lowest-quality coffee beans possible. They might even be adulterated with artificial aroma!

Ten: Use a Cheap Coffee Brewer – The “economy” coffee brewers which sell for $20 (or less) are sure to brew too fast and at too low of a temperature to ever extract the goodness from your coffee. But that’s OK since your coffee came to you wholly lacking in goodness anyway.
by Randy Glass of EspressoMyEspresso.com

Help for making a perfect pot of coffee

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