Navy coffee

Famous with seamen around the world, Navy coffee is rich, dark, just a bit salty … and the best coffee you can get.

Called by many other names including black gang coffee, gunners brew, shaft alley juice, old black joe, it’s the same dark juice around the world, on all the seas.

Lifeblood of Navy: Good Coffee” by JOC Earl Smith, USN is the best article on Navy coffee out there. See also the poem by Cdr. Rod Mooney, USN (ret), “Navy Coffee.”

Brewing Navy coffee

True Navy coffee is a secret. Or is it? We know that the coffee’s ground just before it’s used, the brewing equipment is kept meticulously clean (yet never scrubbed out) and the coffee grounds aren’t ever reused. The coffee is strong, you drink it all day, and it has a trace of salt so you won’t get dehydrated.

If you want the recipe, you need to read “Brewing Coffee the Navy Way.” It’s an article from SeabeeCook, reprinted from the 1945 edition of the Cook Book of the United States Navy.

Another set of guidelines for making Navy coffee is given by the Urban Possum, who did his time in the Navy and knows what it’s all about. He says to use economy-brand coffee (the idea is we’re talking about government suppliers, but the US Navy has its own roasting plants in Oakland California and Brooklyn New York), citing Chase & Sanborn as an example. I’ve used it, and recommend it, but the best I’ve found is the dark French roast variety of the store brand from the Tops grocery store chain, currently in upstate New York and eastern Pennsylvania. (I’m sure that the Tops coffee is rebranded but have yet to verify this. It would be great to know their supplier and find out where else it can be obtained.)

It’s always drunk black, as TUP notes above, all morning and all day … and then with cream and sugar to start the night watch.

Another blogger’s recipe for black gang coffee is a mix of dark and light coffees with a pinch of salt. He uses Folgers. The dark French roast from Tops (defunct) seemed surprisingly close.

There is a whole literature about Navy coffee. See also the many reference to salted coffee (and especially black gang coffee)

Navy coffee’s metioned in many novels and books, including Bill White’s Intrepid: The Epic Story of America’s Most Legendary Warship. And there are a variety of crest Navy mugs available from Shopzeus, including special crests. The absolute plainest, most “Zen” Navy mug I’ve ever seen is this understated mug from DAS products.

First published on March 7th, 2009 at 9:36 pm (EST) and last modified on March 7th, 2009 at 9:42 pm (EST).