Navy Coffee: Everything You Should Know

A 2024 Review of Coffee that was Started By the Navy

What exactly makes Navy Coffee so unique? And why does it seem to be such an integral part of life for so many people in the armed forces? 

Keep reading to find out everything there is to know about Navy Coffee!

Java Groove's Quick Answer

What is Navy Coffee?

Navy coffee is coffee prepared with approximately double the amount of coffee grounds than a typical cup. A pinch of salt is added to each cup to round off the bitterness.

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What is Navy Coffee?

Navy coffee refers to the exceptionally strong, bitter brew traditionally prepared aboard naval ships that is stronger than anything on a typical Starbucks menu. Sailors would combine up to twice the amount of coffee grounds as water and boil it directly, without filtering.

The resulting thick, black coffee contains 2-3 times the caffeine content of a typical cup of coffee. This intense preparation helped energize and fortify sailors for the demands of months-long journeys and difficult working conditions at sea.

Though hard to swallow for people today, navy coffee remains a naval tradition steeped in history.

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How much caffeine is in Navy Coffee?

Navy coffee earns its reputation as a caffeine powerhouse. A typical 12-ounce cup of coffee made by standard brewing methods contains around 120 milligrams of caffeine. An espresso packs a bit more punch, with 60-100 milligrams in a 1-ounce shot. 

But a 6-ounce mug of navy coffee blows both out of the water – we’re talking about 800 milligrams of caffeine, up to 13 times more than a shot of espresso! This sky-high caffeine comes from using an extreme ratio of coffee grounds, up to 1/2 cup crammed into a single 6-ounce mug.

Combined with the direct boiling method that fully extracts every bit of stimulant from those grounds, you’ve got a brew that’s thick, strong, and sure to keep sailors wired through days of grueling ocean travel.

Just the powerful preparation navy crews needed to stay alert through endless days and nights at sea, though it may be a bit much for landlubbers.

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How did they make Navy Coffee?

Remember, back then they didn’t always have proper equipment to make coffee. They used what they had on deck.

To make navy coffee, sailors would simply dump coffee grounds directly into boiling water in a pot at a ratio of up to 1/2 cup grounds per 6 oz of water. The grounds were left to brew together, completely unfiltered. Some crews even reused old grounds by continuously topping off the pot with hot water throughout the day.

Served black in heavy ceramic mugs, the resulting coffee was thick enough to chew. The mugs needed to be sturdy and difficult to tip over, as they were filled to the brim with hot, murky liquid. Sloshing hot coffee could be dangerous aboard a rocking ship. 

Sailors would grasp the hot mugs with rags or both hands firmly around the body. They’d take cautious sips of the scalding coffee, allowing it to briefly cool before drinking. This was an act of necessity, as coffee temperatures could reach near-boiling right out of the pot. 

The mugs required two steady hands and care to handle properly. But the reward was a jolt of caffeine that could keep sailors alert through endless days and nights at sea.

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Updated Navy Coffee Recipe

This coffee recipe comes from the 1945 edition of the United States Navy Cookbook (Official Navy Cook Book of 1945). The original recipe made 100 servings, with each serving being 1 cup of coffee.

For 100 servings, the recipe calls for:

  • 6 1/4 gallons of water
  • 3 pounds of coffee, finely ground

For a smaller batch, use:

  • 12 1/2 cups of cold, freshly drawn water
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons of finely ground coffee

Brew the coffee using the “bag method” as follows:

Bring the water to a boil in a large kettle. Place the ground coffee in a large, clean muslin bag. Tie the top securely but loosely so the grounds can swell. Make sure the tie cord is long enough to attach to the kettle handles for easy removal.

Once the water is boiling, add the bag of coffee. Tie the cord to the kettle handles. Reduce heat to keep the water just below boiling. Use a stick or paddle to push the bag up and down, forcing the water through the grounds.

Cover the kettle and allow the bag to steep for 10-15 minutes, depending on desired strength. Remove the bag, holding it over the kettle to drain thoroughly. Discard the wet grounds.

Rinse the muslin bag in cold water and keep submerged until next use. Hold the finished coffee at 186-190 degrees F until served. 

How to make Navy Coffee at home?

Here are some tips for making authentic navy coffee today:

Equipment:

  • Coffee grinder or mortar and pestle to grind beans into a coarse powder
  • Sturdy kettle for boiling water
  • French press or pot for brewing
  • Heavy ceramic mugs

 

Ingredients:

  • High-quality, dark roast coffee beans
  • Filtered water

 

Brewing Method:

  • Use a ratio of 1/3 to 1/2 cup freshly ground coffee per 6 oz water.
  • Bring water to a rapid boil in the kettle.
  • Place grounds directly into a French press or pot.
  • Pour hot water over the grounds, stirring briefly.
  • Allow to steep for 4-5 minutes, without pressing or filtering.
  • Pour coffee directly from the brewing container into a heavy mug.

 

Tips:

  • Brew it extremely strong, don’t dilute it.
  • Drink it black, without milk/sugar.
  • Sip slowly to allow the mouth to adapt to the bitterness.
  • Be prepared for a thick, sludgy texture.
  • Reuse grounds to make consecutive pots throughout the day.

 

Be prepared for a thick, black coffee concentrate with intense mineral flavors and a caffeine jolt like you’ve never experienced. Though it may seem undrinkable at first, take small sips and let your palate adapt to appreciate the bold, unfiltered intensity. 

With its choking bitterness and muddy sediment, navy coffee proudly reflects its utilitarian naval roots. Savor its harsh purity as you imagine grizzled sailors drinking the same crude mixture to stay alert for days on end out at sea.

It’s all about embracing the hardcore experience.

How Salt Transformed Navy Coffee from Bitter to Brew-able

Navy coffee is famous for being thick, strong, and bitter – but during WWII, salt played an unsung role in making it drinkable. Sailors would sprinkle salt into their mugs of dark, murky coffee to cut the harsh bite.

Salt’s magic trick is fooling our taste buds. When salty and bitter flavors combine, the salt overwhelms the bitter receptor nerves on the tongue.

It’s like a covert flavor mission – the salt draws fire, allowing coffee’s bitterness to slip stealthily by undetected. Suddenly, that once-grim brew goes down smooth.

Of course, there was another reason behind the salty coffee habit – desalination.

Converting seawater to drinking water aboard ships left a briny residue no filter could catch. So coffee absorbed a hint of ocean flavor, and sailors’ taste buds adapted.

A few grains of salt started to seem normal, even desirable, improving the daily cup. Salt added a touch of seasoning and drinkability to an otherwise harsh brew (source).

So next time you take a sip of navy coffee, raise your mug to the secret salty science that got sailors through those long days at sea. With a few crystals, they turned bitterness into brew-ability.

Modern Navy Coffee Tradition

Though rarely found off naval ships today, navy coffee remains an honored tradition in the seafaring community. Veterans and active military still brew it aboard vessels to honor the endurance and sacrifice of earlier sailors. 

The mess halls on naval bases frequently serve coffee in the strong navy style. Naval museums showcase the history and equipment behind this distinctive brew. For naval families, navy coffee represents pride in their heritage and connection to generations of sailors who relied on its rugged simplicity and potency while at sea. 

The crude brewing technique reflects the no-frills, utilitarian culture of life onboard naval ships. So while navy coffee may seem outdated or harsh to outsiders, for those with naval ties it’s a vital bridge to their collective past.

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