Coffee in Australia - A drink so iconic it’s considered by many to be Australia’s national beverage (after beer, of course). As a staple of our local culture, for decades it fuelled our social, and working lives.
However, coffee has lived a double life.
A little known fact outside the stoic sandstone walls of dozens of Defence Barracks nationwide is the parallel influence of coffee in the service of our country.
The influence of coffee in wartime is well documented. In April 1865, at the bitter end of the Civil War, a Union cavalryman wrote in his diary, "Everything is chaos here. The suspense is almost unbearable. We are reduced to quarter rations and no coffee," he continued. "And nobody can soldier without coffee."
An analysis of war journals at the Smithsonian's Civil War archives uncovered that the word ‘coffee’ appeared more frequently than ‘war’, ‘bullet’, ‘cannon’, ‘slavery’, ‘mother’ or even ‘Lincoln’. Curator Jon Grinspan commented, "You can only ignore what they're talking about for so long before you realise that's the story."
The influence coffee had on the morale of Australian soldiers dates back to when AAFCANS (Army & Air Force Canteen Service) first gave support to our troops on the front line. Not only did the caffeine give our soldiers a much-needed energy boost, it became the beverage of choice when bonding with mates on and off the battlefield. The supply of hot drinks was also seen as crucial in maintaining soldiers’ health and morale, often the last comfort troops enjoyed before entering battle and the first sign of safety for those who survived.
A widely enjoyed tradition became known as the Gunfire Breakfast, a hot coffee with a shot of rum, providing liquid courage for soldiers before entering battle. This tradition outlived the war, resurfacing every ANZAC Day at dawn in honour of those that have served.
This trend continued, with the influx of American servicemen in Australia during WW2 stimulating coffee consumption and appreciation in Sydney far beyond where it previously stood. The transformation continued when, after the war we saw an influx of Italian immigrants with their espresso machines in tow - installing the first ever commercial espresso machine in Bourke Street, Melbourne in 1928.
These two histories, while operating somewhat in isolation, are undeniably linked. In a way, in 2022 the Union cavalryman's 1865 sentiment has never rung truer. Nobody can soldier without coffee.
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