Sunday, July 13, 2014

The caffeine of war

How Coffee Fueled the Civil War -

Here's something a bit out of the blue:  a great read about the huge importance of coffee to the soldiers in the American Civil War.  For example:

The Union Army encouraged this love, issuing soldiers roughly 36 pounds
of coffee each year. Men ground the beans themselves (some carbines even
had built-in grinders) and brewed it in little pots called muckets.
They spent much of their downtime discussing the quality of that
morning’s brew. Reading their diaries, one can sense the delight (and
addiction) as troops gushed about a “delicious cup of black,” or fumed
about “wishy-washy coffee.” Escaped slaves who joined Union Army camps
could always find work as cooks if they were good at “settling” the
coffee – getting the grounds to sink to the bottom of the unfiltered
This actually explains something.  As a child, I had a quite nicely detailed soldier set of the Civil War.  It came from my eldest sister, who had married an American.  Actually it might have been my brother's set, as there was also a set of American World War 2 soldiers fighting the Japanese, if I recall correctly, and maybe we had one set each.  In any event, I ended up playing with both sets, although it is possible that my brother eventually took them with him.  He retained a fondness for setting up war scenes with soldiers well into his marriage!

Although these sets were made of plastic, I have never since seen ones that were of similar detail, perhaps short of what you can buy and paint in modeller's shops in those boxes where you only get 6 or so in a tiny set.   (I can't remember how many figures we had in ours:  I would guess a good 30 to 40 figures on each side, together with equipment.  The pieces were not designed for painting - they were able to be used just as they were, and a human figure was perhaps 3 cm high.  You sometimes see really ultra low quality soldier sets of similar size in KMart or discount variety stores, but they are absolute rubbish compared to the quality in the sets I'm talking about.)

Anyhow, I remember that the Civil War set included little pieces of camp cooking equipment, which included something that did look like a coffee pot.   So, this is the reason why, and it was indeed accurate.

PS:   it also brings up one of those fascinating odd points about the US - obviously, coffee has long been important to Americans, but it seems almost universally agreed by Australians and Europeans who visit there that the "standard" version of coffee they now consume is pretty bad compared to what we have after developing a "coffee culture" in the space of only about the last 30 to 40 years.  Did their making do with coffee brewed from whatever water was available in a field in the Civil War permanently degrade their taste for it?   Just wondering.  (And a disclaimer - I am not really a coffee snob, and I did not have a coffee habit
when I was last there over 20 years ago.  So maybe it is just coffee snobbery I am hearing - but the complaint does seem so common, I assume there is something to it.)

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