Don’t Wash That Coffee Mug!

All Hands Magazine (August 1949)

The obsession began over seven years ago.  In 2006, I began at the Hampton Roads Naval Museum as a wide-eyed intern, ready to take on the new and fascinating world of naval history.  I thought the coffee mess at work was reserved for staff and volunteers only.  I did not feel comfortable partaking in the delicious brew until somebody told me I could.  When I finally got the green light, I happily brought my coffee mug in the next day, eager to drink from the well all working class souls go to each morning.

This was my first experience with “Navy coffee.”  It was hot and strong.  Very strong.  The thickness of it closely resembled crude oil.  It tasted both wonderful and terrible at the same time.  Your mind can trick you into believing anything.  When a supreme pot of joe is brewed, many of the volunteers would call it “Signal Bridge Coffee,” recalling the nostalgia of long nights and many cups consumed.

After that first morning of coffee, I went to the break room to wash my cup and let it dry for the next day’s angry fix.  As I washed out my cup, I felt the sting of glaring eyes from behind my back.  I’m sure whoever it was, they could sense my hesitation.  I turned around to see GMC Dana Martin, the museum’s active duty OIC.  He had a puzzled, concerned look on his face.  Chief Martin was grizzled and salty.  He was by far one of the saltiest sailors I have ever met.  He grabbled my arm washing the cup.  My hesitation grew to fear.  He leaned in close and told me to “never wash it again,” staring back down at my cup and back to me.  I looked at him, puzzled with fascination and disbelief.  Although I drink my coffee black, my mind struggled to find reason in the practice.

“I don’t understand,” I told him.  “I need to clean my cup.”  I was merely doing what I was taught.  Bills should be paid on time.  Five minutes early is five minutes late.  Coffee mugs should be washed out after use.  Simple, right? Wrong.  I held my  breath and found out just how wrong I really was.

He leaned in again, this time more relaxed (and less confrontational).  “I know you are just starting out here, but I want to let you in on a little secret.”  He was almost whispering.  “If you intend to stay here at the museum, you can impress the Navy guys with your mug.”  He went on to explain to me the significance of an unwashed or “seasoned” coffee mug, particularly in the Navy Chief community.  “And keep it as tarry black as possible,” he added.  “Sometimes it’s the only way you can drink this swill.  But you will grow to love it and depend on the taste.”  I would never think I would believe him.  Boy, was I wrong.

Old coffee in a cup signifies seniority and stature in the military, particularly on deployment.  As one blogger noted, “You may not be able to embrace your loved ones while you are gone, but at least you can still taste the same coffee you drank the day you left.”

To many in the military, this is nothing new.  Ask anybody who served or is currently serving in the military, and they will likely give you a story about an experience involving the practice of “seasoning” their cup.  Navy Chiefs, however, are considered by many to be the most Spartan of stalwarts to the unwashed coffee mug.  I spoke to some retired CPOs who counted four or five deployments on a single unwashed cup. The August 1949 edition of All Hands Magazine declared that coffee was the “Lifeblood of the U.S. Navy.”  The article goes on to discuss why many sailors take their coffee so seriously.  The article opens with this paragraph:

Screen shot 2013-11-25 at 10.21.11 AM

The 1945 Cookbook of the United States Navy lists several reasons why a clean mug and pot of coffee is essential to a flavorful experience.  All parts of the coffee mess had to be “scrupulously clean,” according to the cook book.  Sailors today might read those guidelines and laugh at the rules and regulations.

130715-28coffeemovingcolor397Several recent articles about the practice surfaced on the internet on message boards and military news blogs.  One blogger from the Military Times (Broadside Blog) wrote about it this past August.  “There are only a few things you need to know about Navy coffee, and most of it involves the cup,”  the blogger writes.  “You do not wash a Navy coffee cup. Ever.”

I took Chief Martin’s advice, but not at first.  For the first few weeks following our confrontation, I washed my cup out after he left for the day.  But I got lazy after a while.  I starting noticing dark brown rings inside my cup.  My mug started to look like the inside of a tree, and I started to like it.  The mug was white, so it was easy to measure my progress.

The rings grew larger and darker until the entire inside was jet back.  Although I was never in the military, I felt a swelling of pride at my Frankenstein creation.  Unfortunately, that mug did not survive.  My latest and greatest creation came about in 2009.  It has not been washed or cleaned since its purchase.  I don’t know if my peers understand it.  My wife surely doesn’t.  I have a similar mug at home that she avoids looking at, and, on rare occasions, will clean when I am not looking.

Here is my (meager) contribution to this fine naval tradition.  I warn you, if you are unfamiliar with the practice, you might be shocked.  Behold: My four year “seasoned” mug:

IMAG0594Do you have a similar story or an image of your mug?  Show it and share it here or email them to meng@navyhistory.org.

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139 Responses to Don’t Wash That Coffee Mug!

  1. Gil Bashore says:

    Wow … This brought back the memories of my four years (1967-70) of consuming the brew aboard the USS Oriskany (CVA-34) … After I broke a cup and had to start with a new one from the Ship’s Store, the coffee didn’t taste right until many weeks later !! … Thanks for the laughs, also !

  2. Bob G says:

    Having spent over 26 years in the Navy, and NOT being a coffee drinker, I am familiar with the practice of not washing one’s coffee cup. But there were a couple of times during my early Navy career that, for whatever reason, I felt a need to wash someone’s coffee cup. I mean, some of those folks just needed to be taken down a notch or two. Mind you, I did it surreptitiously so no one knew who to blame. I don’t regret doing it even now, but I would not do it again. Age has a way like that.

  3. Gary says:

    23 Years in the Navy, retired as a Senior Chief and my unwashed coffee cup sits right here in front of me still today. Although I will say, they don’t understand it as well in the civilian community….what was “salty” then is just “gross” now.

  4. Tommy says:

    I have used the same mug since December 1981 when I reported aboard the USS Forrest Sherman (DD-931). It is definitely well seasoned. Can’t imagine drinking from anything else.

    • Joseph says:

      Tommy
      My father was commissioning crew of the first USS Forrest Sherman!

      And I have had well seasoned mugs at each of my own commands. At an early one, my then fiancé came to visit and while I was out of the office, she grabbed my mug and cleaned it to my horror. From then on, I learned to hide my mug whenever she came to visit…

      • James Sirles says:

        The ex Forrest Sherman is in our cage here at Inactive Ships Philadelphia. Sorry to say, she smells like a dirty coffee cup.

    • Ed H says:

      My grandfather was a WW2 vet (radioman on a remote radio outpost on Guam) and very much a believer in the coffee patina. That’s how I learned, even though I never served (I was in ROTC in college, but was never commissioned.)

      After his death, my grandmother washed his decades-old coffee cup. She hadn’t realized until that time that the interior of his cup was actually white, not dark like the exterior (it was dark green.) She expressed a little sadness – she thought she was just cleaning it, not scrubbing the history out of it – until it was too late.

      I don’t “scrub” my coffee mug, but I do rinse it with boiling water every day it gets used. I also only drink plain black coffee in it. I wouldn’t dare leave a cup unwashed that had contained dairy or sugar. I have a separate cup I use for ‘foo-foo’ coffee drinks or tea. Basically, anything I add anything other than plain-black-coffee to. I just got a new coffee mug last week that will be my new “at work” mug – it’s already starting to build its protective layer.

      • Atkins says:

        An unwashed tea mug (or pot), dark from thousands of brews, isn’t bad either. As a kid I washed such mugs and pots when visiting family, and it was not appreciated. I didn’t quite understand it at the time.

        The most amazing (and admittedly horrifying) coffee mug I’ve seen was one owned by an old sailor. He was civilian, but may well have a military history. At any rate, he was well past the age of retirement, but still worked and still went to sea. His mug was… I lack words to properly describe it. It wasn’t just dark, but rather encrusted with layers of thick coffee residue that clung to the sides and bottom. Although it was a large mug, he could only fit about half a cup of fresh coffee in there. The mug had been reduced to roughly 1/3 of its original capacity.
        He loved that thing. I consider it equally likely it held the elixir that kept him young or the bacteria that will one day wipe out humanity.

  5. Kyle K says:

    My father served from 1951 to 1971. I had a friend who had spent about 4 years in in the early 80’s and he asked my Dad if they didnt wash coffee cups back in his day. My Dad told him that yes, the old chiefs would often not wash their cups, and one old lifer dog who had actually joined the navy as a cabin boy at the age of 14, and had about 40 years in at that point had taught my Dad this custom.

    Apparently, according to the old chief, it had less to do with taste than it did with keeping people from using your coffee cup. Dad said he started the same custom and it worked like a charm..no one wanted to touch the cup, let alone drink out of it.

    There, another tidbit of knowledge to add into the arcane custom. :)

  6. Ang Brown says:

    Bob G, that’s about the best comment I’ve ever come across. Sabotage by detergent, just imagine! Well, I can rest assured that I’m cutting back on dishwater time around here by a good few minutes starting tomorrow.

  7. Garrett says:

    My hubs and I have stainless steel cups – and his is way darker than mine LOL (I don’t drink coffee when pregnant so he has a few months on me lol)

  8. KellyJ says:

    Nice cup. In about 10 years it may even be respectable.
    LOL
    Really, nice to see some traditions survive.

  9. Dan T says:

    Just don’t leave coffee in it and forget it in the office while you go ride a boat for a week or two!

  10. Becky Bernard says:

    As a Hospital Corpsman, there were times I’d be awake for 2 or more days straight. I had a 24 ounce mug that I treasure to this day. It was red on the inside when I first bought it. It turned black pretty quick, and has NEVER been washed. I used to hide it because I didn’t want some smart aleck taking it and washing it. I now have that mug encased in plastic. It is displayed amongst my other Navy items. I plan to take it with me when I go. Afterall, I’m sure heaven has coffee and it would be perfect to have that mug with me.

  11. Andy Rutigliano says:

    Ahhhh the days when the quality coffee was checked by how long you were able to keep the spoon vertical, and coffee came in a 5lb tin… good times..

    • Tiny Artigue says:

      ours was packed in some giant cans……wayyyyy bigger than 5 lb….even after being out for over 20 years, my mug remains unwashed, my wife does not understand this!!

      • Randy Smith says:

        I think those large coffee cans were really about 5 gallons. And the ones stored in the bilges of old diesel-electric subs had diesel droplets that somehow migrated through the soldered seems. Those droplets reappeared in the coffee once it was brewed reminding the sailors that this was submarine coffee!

        • Richard Walter says:

          I think it was the Fairbanks Morse diesels, I was on an icebreaker that had ten FMs and we had rainbows in the coffee too.

          • William Timmerman says:

            You had to have been on the USS Glacier AGB-4 or later USCGC Glacier… Am I right?

        • Lamont says:

          No, the diesel did not seep in to the tin they added diesel for flavor so you would know that you were still alive and kicking and that life was still good. long live the smell of diesel!

  12. ChipBuffalo says:

    My first week on USS Thomas S Gates, sent to Chiefs Mess for my week of Galley Duty. The first thing I was told was to NEVER wash the coffee cups. I never would have thought that that tradition would stick [with me] after all these years…

  13. James says:

    I remember my first shot of that wondrous swill. Black as tar and twice as thick. CIC’s was the thickest. Not only did the spoon stand, it never touched the bottom. The bridges coffee was a gourmet experience.
    I was Mess cranking when we were having a unit inspection (Ney?) and Suppo had me hide all of our regular pots and put out brand new ones. As soon as the inspectors left, back out they came. He feared a mutiny if we had actually washed them.

  14. Terry Brewster says:

    I remember right after I got out of the Navy…I flew home and stayed with my parents. I did take my well seasoned mug out of a box and placed it in the kitchen for coffee the next morning. After a great nights sleep…I awoke to my mom bringing me a hot cup of coffee and saying “Good morning honey…I thought I’d bring you in a cup of coffee”…with sleep in my eyes, I smiled and said “Thanks Mom”…then, noticing she had scrubbed my mug clean…I screamed “WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY MUG???” Her reply..it was so filthy looking..it took me 20 minutes of scrubbing to clean it”…I was heartbroken and had to explain to her..you DO NOT clean a mug EVER!!

    Eventually I forgave her…I mean, she IS my Mom afterall…and needed to be educated :)

  15. Harry G. West says:

    After 3 years in the Navy and a tour in the South Pacific I thought I was pretty salty but this was just a little too much for this “ole salt”. When asked if I am retired military I reply, “yes, and it only took me three years!” I believe in all of the other Navy traditions but this is worse than getting “sea sick”.

  16. Dave Berry says:

    After being told to make coffee (which I had not yet started to drink yet, at the tender age of 19) , I decided to impress my Chief and also cleanup the coffee mess by scrubbing all the dirty old mugs and the coffee pot (32 cup aluminum) with steel wool. Everything was bright and spic and span and AJ squared away, and I was sure I was gonna get early liberty for taking the initiative. My Chief, a grizzled old Aerographer’s mate of 32 years just about had a heart attack when he saw the scrubbed mugs (so lovingly “aged”, as he put it) over 3 years, and the shiny aluminum coffee maker). Luckily the rest of the Chiefs weren’t there to see it or me. I didn’t get early liberty, but they did put me in for an Officer Program to ensure that I would never ever clean a coffee mess again.
    Dave Berry, LCDR, USN (ret),

    • Mary Kronenberg says:

      I did the same thing, too, but for an IG inspection. Boy, did I get it for ruining everyone’s coffee! I felt terrible but it passed inspection with flying colors.

  17. Tim says:

    I was stationed on Guam when the Section Chief called a young “Wave” to face his desk. She had made the mistake of washing his coffee cup. He chewed on her butt for about fifteen minutes and then sent her crying to powder her nose and get back to work. Then he threw the cup in the trash can and fumed the rest of the midwatch. No one dared to approach his desk that night and we all gave him a wide berth for weeks thereafter – until his new cup – that we bought him – had started to mature and grow rings inside it.

    Needless to say – that young sailor never washed another cup in her Naval career. She was determined she would rather stand in front of the base Commanding Officer at Captain’s Mast than incur the wrath of a Navy Chief Petty Officer.

  18. Matthew says:

    As with everything there is still a practical application to the “seasoning” of one’s coffee cup. Has anyone ever seen a Chief w/o their first coffee? A horrendous sight. One should NEVER approach one who has not had their first cup (should they be lovers of the brew). It was my understanding that the actual reason was that should the mess EVER run out of coffee (and of course the Chop and MSC would be keel-hulled promptly), a Chief could merely pour hot-water into the mug and “reconstitute” the brew to get on with orders of the day!

  19. Dave Simpson says:

    When I was an E3 on my first ship I made the mistake of washing my Chief’s coffee cup. He was furious! I got nearly the same speech as the OP, and I since saw many a “seasoned” cup. I ended up retiring as a Senior Chief, but I never cottoned on to the practice. My cups were always shiny clean and to this day, they still are :)

  20. Scott Bailey says:

    Best Revenge. Clean their cup and leave it on their rack! Don’t ever let em know who did it. We had a COB everyone hated. He always had a fresh clean cup every day.

  21. Lisa Johnson says:

    Kevin and I had been dating a couple of weeks and I was here at the house while he was at work, so I thought I would be “helpful” – you know Kevin, so you know the house was immaculate to begin with…but, there were some dishes from dinner the night before and the coffee pot looked a little “brown” and there was this very yucky coffee mug…and considering what the rest of the house was like, I just couldn’t figure it out…so I put EVERYTHING in the DISHWASHER! He must have loved me from the beginning, because I’m still here – shwew! That was a close call!! HAHA I learned that lesson very early – Don’t mess with a Cheif’s coffee cup…under any circumstances!!

  22. GMC (SW/AW) Dana L. Martin USN Retired says:

    Yes, I am that guy from the article, and what fond memories I have, in my 24 plus years of service, that particular tradition was passed on to me. As a newbie aboard my first ship USS Seattle (AOE-3); I guess I hadn’t been onboard a full two months, when while doing field day in the Weapons Office, I was task to clean up the Coffee Mess, think it was for a zone inspection. Anyhow as fate would have it as I was looking at the only two cups there, only one needed cleaned in my eyes, it was dark, and had the oddest pattern on the inside and out. Some kind of what I thought was a green logo, (I was to find out was maybe mold). This belonged to GMC Donald Platt, a man in stature that reminded you of Don Knotts in appearance, jovial and comical, or so we thought…..

    During Nam, he was on River Boats, I can’t remember how many tours he said he did, but at times I would hear metal clinking, as he worked a small piece of shrapnel out and would throw it towards the trash can. Anyhow, I took this dirty “thing” quickly into Ops Berthing Head, and between a Greenie Winnie and some steel wool, he had a nice clean cup that my mother would be proud to place in her cupboard. When he came in an saw it, you would have though Hell had opened up, I actually had fear for my life, for a moment, he told everyone to get out, even the Gunner was running for the door, and I know that they were all in the P-way as the shouting ensued. After that barrage was over he got quite and told me to sit down, shaken and scared I did as I was told, and then he said, let me tell you a secret “never, and I mean never wash your cup, son”

    To hear him tell it, was an amazing thing, it made the midwatch mud that you had to put hot water in bearable, it made the weak as tea drinkable, but most importantly, it was leaving your mark, as one of the few things you could leave out, that now one was to mess with. I took all this in, and the next day ordered my first ship mug, at the end of that tour, it was a thing of beauty and to this day still is. Each subsequent Command I got a victory mug and seasoned it proper, and in 24 plus years only had one time where the unthinkable happened, someone washed my mug. But at that time I was such a coffee addict that I was actually working on two mugs one for the CPO Mess and one for the office. My wife looks at them in disgust, at times, I look at them in wonder, and with fond memories’, where she only sees a cup that needs washed, I see deployments to the Med, or off the Horn of Africa, or the many long nights in the Persian Gulf. Memories, my own personal memories of where I was, and what helped wake me up for the day or keep me awake on long nights.

    and if you remove the cleft in the chin that does look like me then….

    • Joe Garhart says:

      I Served onboard the USS Camden AOE-2, it was my second ship, 83-86, but I can remember vividly how the coffee used to be like mud in the early morning on the mid-watch and as an EN I had a cup that was seasoned and I used to tell the newbies that if there was no coffee all I had to do was ad water and had a “weak” but doable cup……….ah yes the good times drinking the mid-watch mud!!!

    • Darin Howard says:

      My dad was a YNC on the Seattle in the early 80’s. All of his mugs were jet black…even the one he used at home. I joined the Navy myself but was never a coffee drinker. My first Chief used to get on my case for not drinking it. I told him…”Chief, you have your caffeine (coffee), and I have mine (pepsi)”. Needless to say, that didn’t go over to well with him. HA HA.

  23. David Falknor, TMT2 says:

    My wife learned to never wash my cup. I enlisted in 1981 and today, my cup is seasoned to my liking. My mother holds it dear and never lets anyone touch it. My whole family knows my cup. As the little ones grow, they learn the tale of the blackened cup and the torrent that comes if you wash it.

  24. Shannon Hart says:

    It has been a running joke at my command to mess with the 3MC’s (ETC Vivio) mug. It has been kidnapped several times but the last time I was challenged by my Chief . He said I didn’t have the guts to clean that mug that was very well seasoned. I did. I am still waiting for the hammer to drop. You see, I know as an ET when you punk another ET and they don’t immediately flip out on you it means they are formulating a devious type of revenge. As a side note my English Bone China diva mug has a nice seasoning forming on it.

  25. Randell Himes says:

    After I retired in 1996, I was given I’M Retired or did the Permanent Grin give that Away Already? coffed mug. Took it to my new job and started breaking it in. It took a few months to get the blackened rings started going and the taste just right. Then I made a mistake and left it next to the coffee pot for the night. To my shock, the next morning one of the Japanese workers had cleaned it I mean CLEANED it like the first day it was given to me, bright and WHITE. I yelled so loud and long that to this day no one touches my cup. Going on 17 years and my cup does not see water.

  26. trista says:

    This is just a fantastic piece! My dad and big brother were both in the Navy and both have a penchant for a dirty cup that is misunderstood! Myself..I just never wash my cup cause I figure the hot coffee kills germs. Ha!!

  27. Winky White says:

    At a shore command in Japan – we had a salty SK1. I don’t think he EVER made Chief for reasons only his Navy personnel record would reveal. But, his coffee cup would rival any Chief’s mug there were. For some unknown reason, the cleaning lady (an elderly Japanese worker) saw his cup and thought she’d do the “nice” thing and clean it. I do not know how long he had been seasoning his cup, but that next morning there was HELL to pay. I had never seen a grown man cry until then.

  28. Jay Mishler SN USN says:

    While serving on mess deck duty I made the awful mistake( when told to field day the MS office) to clean MS1 Sanborns coffee cup. I caught 30 kinds of hell that day. The next day MS1 sat me down and told me while I did a great job cleaning the office I was to keep my F***ing hands off his coffee cup… because it now has to be re-seasoned and it took him over a year to get that one just to where he liked it…
    that is one ass chewing I will never forget.

    0 to

  29. Kevin Denson says:

    I am a retired 28 year (Submarine Force) Master Chief. My seasoned mug story is from my time serving as Chief of the Boat(COB) on USS Wyoming (Blue). I had left my mug adrift in the Officer’s Study after a meeting and when I returned to get it, the JO’s handed it to me full and said he you go COB a fresh cup of Joe just for you. I should have suspected something then but just thought they were being respectful of the old salty COB. As I got to the bottom of my cup I noticed something scratched into my mug in the residue from years of not washing that mug. It said JO’s Rule. I smiled and chuckled inside and quickly returned to the officer study to see which JO had done the deed. To my expectation none would admit to the act so as I was leaving I said I wasn’t mad but thought that who ever had done it would have had the B!@ls to stand up and face me. The Senior JO(if there is such a thing) came running out the door telling me it was him. I told him it was to late then but that he had just missed the chance to be a hero in their eyes and instead hid amongst the group not saying a word. He was one of the best JO’s I ever served with and know they did it because they respected me not because they wanted to do something hateful. I sure miss all those guys and my time with them.

    A grateful Master Chief

  30. Don C . East says:

    I had just checked into the NavSecGruActy station at Karamursel, Turkey in 1958 as a seaman CT striker right out of “A” school. On my first day at work (which was a mid watch), I was assigned by a CPO to clean the Chief’s coffee mess and it would be inspected the next morning by the oncoming watch Chief. I felt this was a good way for me to start off on the right foot by doing a super job. After rendering the room and all the fixtures spotless, I noted the coffee urn and the cups all had a brown deposit of coffee in them. So, after an hour or so of scrubbing, all were spotless and shiny. It is now time for the day watch Chief petty officer to come in and inspect my work. I stood by knowing I was going to receive a “well done.” Instead the Chief appeared to have a massive heart attack and sputtered curse words I had never heard before. It seemed I had committed a cardinal sin by washing the coffee urn and the chief’s cups. I have never before or since received such an expert ass chewing. I was taken to the cleaners verbally, not only from the day watch Chief, but from all the other CPOs that dribbled in about that time. It took me almost two years of “atta boys” to cover up the one massive “aw shit” that I received that day in far away Turkey.

  31. Edward Elliott says:

    I worked in the forward engine room of the Bon Homme Richard. from59 to 62 we never washed our cups I didn’t know why but I went along with it.I do remember we bought our cups in japan and most of them had pretty nasty pictures on them.lol

  32. Craig Johson says:

    I was LCPO of a Torpedo shop on a Submarine Tender. I had noticed that I was not getting special request chits until almost noon. I asked the the Steam Torpedo shop LPO why I was always getting these Special Request Chits so late? He goes Chief the crew has learned that you disapprove all chits that you get before you get your coffee and after you have had your coffee there is a better chance that you will approve the request.

  33. Ken Mitchell says:

    Fresh out of school, I reported to my first squadron, VP-8 in Patuxuent River, MD as a very junior AW3. My Chief said to me, “Mitchell, make the coffee.” I didn’t drink coffee; 43 years later, I still don’t. I told the Chief, “But Chief, I don’t drink coffee.”

    The Chief looked at me and said “Mitchell, make the coffee”. I replied “Chief, I don’t know how to make coffee.” The Chief fixed me with his steely glare and said “Mitchell, make the #%^&* coffee!”

    So, I went over to the coffee maker. Our division had one of those enormous percolator coffee urns; probably 40 cups or something. So I filled it up with water. There was a big basket for the coffee grounds, so I filled THAT up with coffee grounds, and plugged it in.

    They never asked me to make coffee ever again. But our Command Master Chief who had spend 30+ years in destroyers, kept coming back for more and more that day, and said it was the best coffee he’d tasted since he left destroyers; just a pinch of salt to take down the bitterness….

  34. John T. Gregg, MD says:

    Reported aboard USS Saratoga, CV-30 June 1973 straight out of Corps School – dry dock. Promptly assigned to “clean it all” duty – and did the Coffee Pot – huge thing.
    Spent several weeks chipping paint after the HMCS found out.

  35. john Henry says:

    I was an MM on the USS Great Sitkin (AE-17). We had one of those 30-40 cup aluminum percolators that we never washed, Just dumped it and made a fresh pot at the end of each watch. It had fur on the inside. Great coffee.

    Before the ship I used to take cream and sugar. The sterilized (canned) milk took one try to teach me to drink black coffee.

    We had a big #10 can of sugar beside the pot. Mostly we used it, with lubricating oil, as hand cleaner. You weren’t supposed to actually stick your hands in the sugar but it got pretty grungy pretty quickly anyway.

    Been drinking my coffee black, no milk, no sugar ever since.

    And not washing my favorite 16oz coffee mug.

    John Henry

  36. john Henry says:

    Not coffee but similar:

    We were homeported in Bayonne NJ, USS Great Sitkin. The USS Leyte was mothballed in the drydock there and scheduled for scrapping so we sent some working parties over to scrounge what we could. One of the things we took was a 30 gallon steam kettle. The justification was that it was for boiling out rags and we even did that on occasion.

    We installed it in the engine room and would scrounge some potatoes, onions or anything we could talk the cooks out of. Underway we always had a nice big kettle of soup. Never emptied it, never cleaned the pot, just kept it on a low simmer, adding water and whatever else we could get.

    Good soup.

    John Henry

  37. SGT B says:

    Favorite coffee mug is the unwashed one from the goat locker, USS Dubuque…
    While admiring this treasure, one of my fellow Leathernecks is bound to observe: “But you were neither in the Navy, nor a Chief Petty Officer!”
    To whit I answer, “Aye, true on both counts!” (but when a young Lance Corporal on mess duty, well, let us draw a curtain on the perfidy of youth…)
    Don’t get me wrong, though… I have mucho respect for Navy Chief Petty Officers, especially the sea-going ones.

  38. Gary P. Clark says:

    My first 4 hour watch in the steam torpedo shop was from 3:45 until muster. Check the warhead locker temps, the air temp where the Navol was stored, wander about, pretty boring. So to keep myself busy I cleaned out the coffee pot. I scrubbed the hell out of it, got rid of that grime of the ages and proudly brewed up a new pot of coffee for the shop. We had several WWII guys, one was a burly gruff fella we called Warhead Willy because he could manhandle a Mark 14 warhead by himself. He poured his usual cup of black java and took his morning swig only to have revolting look on his face. He yelled at me asking what the hell did I do to the coffee. I said I put in the same amount as usual and wasn’t sure what could be wrong with the coffee. He looked in the pot and saw all that old brown was now gleaming metal. He unplugged it, walked up the ladder to the mess deck, over to the port side where a large hatch was. He dropped it over the side between the tender and the subs. I was then sent to get a new pot with instructions it was never to be cleaned ever!!! He gave me a break because he liked me but I am sure he was temped to drop me over the side as well. I never washed anybodies cup or pot again as long as I was in the navy. I could have been keel hauled except it was well known the Bushnell rested on coffee grounds and there would not have been enough water under the keel to haul me the length of the ship.

  39. J. William Cupp says:

    I retired in 1997. I picked up a “Navy Dad” mug at Great Lakes in 2010 when my daughter completed boot camp. I am still trying to get my lovely wife to quit washing it on occasion. Sigh.

  40. Phil Goetz says:

    I don’t see how it’s possible. I had a co-worker who never washed his coffee mug, and after a few years, the barnacle-like crust on the inside of the mug was a centimeter thick, and would have cut you if you’d tried to wash it.

  41. Steve says:

    My dad told me the Navy used to use thick white ceramic mugs without handles for coffee. Are those not around any more?

    • Jim Bowman says:

      I was in the Navy in the mid 1960s. Stationed on Adak. During WWII, there had been 10,000 or more troops on Adak, and most of the supplies remained there after the war. We had those handleless coffee cups, stuffed in a closet near the EM Club. I took a couple, and used them on watch. They held a couple of cups worth of brew, and were very thick walled. In the war, the cooks would preheat the cups, fill them with coffee, and pass them out to watchstanders. Combination coffee cup and handwarmer.
      When I got discharged at Treasure Island, my cups were confiscated as Navy property. I think the guy who took them, brought them home with him.

    • William A. Pancake says:

      I join the Navy in Feb.1958 they still had those type of cups without the handles they were great, then some dumb ass decided to replace them with one’s that had handles, I still have one of the old type, it sits proudly in my China Closet, no one is allow to touch it.

  42. Not having ever been in the Navy, I go with this as a defense against coworkers, especially the pr staff entertaining their guests. They looked for the best clean coffee mug to offer their guests. So mine was… not.

  43. Bruce Hart (Coyote) says:

    The Flight Deck Officer on USS Enterprise during our first F14 work-up and cruise was the epitome of an old salt. His favorite saying was that when he got out, the first thing he did would be to get a job in Balboa Park (San Diego for you Med guys) picking up papers with a pointy stick, and get his self-respect back. But that’s another story.

    Anyway, his coffee mug was tarred on the inside, and the inside was crawling out. Probably someone put the Ensign up to it, telling him it would get him in the Deck Officer’s graces, if he thoroughly washed that hollowed cup. Regardless, the Ensign washed it clean and actually proudly handed it to the Flight Deck Officer, telling him that “I washed your cup for you.” The explosion was legend on the ship for a long time.
    Nearly 40 years is a long time. Sorry I don’t remember the names.

  44. ChaosRN says:

    Dateline: 1973 USS Towers, DDG-9
    I was stationed with an OS2 who used to draw the LAST cup of the day, when we were dry docked), and taste it, and then lock it in the TacPub safe we had in CIC. The following morning, while waiting for the new pot to be finished, he would pull out that cup (closer to a chilly bowl), and drink that brew, until the fresh was done!

  45. Master Gunnery Sergeant Crampton says:

    Semper Fi Sailors, My Dan Daly cup has never been washed, nor will it ever be!

  46. Jim Case says:

    Stationed in Keflavik, Iceland as CM2, 1978 to 1980. Being assigned to the Public Works Transportation Motor Pool working the Rehab Shop, the mechanics worked some long hours working on school buses and some of the base vehicles. Had a CEC CWO4 who always enjoyed a good cup of coffee with us during the morning meeting. The Icelanders could never figure out why the SeaBees in the motor pool would have a coffee cup/mug that was white on the outside and well blackened on the inside. Coffee was an important part of our daily requirement to stay awake while we were running the snow plows to keep the roads open during snow storms. At times running for 36 hours straight until the snowstorm was over. During those times of keeping the roads open, the coffee we had range from colored water to what we called “battery acid”. The spoons for some reason always seemed to corrode away if used to stir the coffee to keep the dreggs suspended in the coffee.

  47. AuntFlower says:

    My daddy was in the NAVY, served in Vietnam and other places. I remember the time I washed his coffee cup, it took me about 20 minutes to scrub that thing out. I was a little girl, I got in so much trouble! He kept it on top of the refrigerator after that, I was afraid to wash it again. I never understood why he kept it nasty until now. Thanks for letting me know!

  48. Ray Romero USN Ret. says:

    My Navy Coffee Cup was born in 1968 when I went back into the Navy. I retired in 1986. My cup has a spot on my desk. This cup held coffee while I was on deployment and pencils when we were awaiting our next cruise as it does to this day. It has been dropped and broken, It has been lovingly glued back into service. It is the only thing of mine that my wives did not touch (4). It reminds me of the lifeblood that kept me going on 6-10 month deployments. I dreamingly tghink of those times as I now drink from any old cup now as my Navy Coffee Cup has been retired.

  49. Amn Anne Hofferkamp says:

    My dad served in the Army ’66-’68 & stole a dozen brown mess hall Bakelite coffee mugs with the “US” stamped on the bottom. He gave all of us one when we started drinking coffee. He kept one at the office & one at home (both blackened). Mine was bleached 2 years ago by my aunt when I had surgery because she thought it was dirty and it was finally getting a good color to it – the outside wasn’t darkened like dad’s is. My favorite memory is from high school. I used dad’s mug to warm up my apple cider – the Bakelite doesn’t get as hot as ceramic. Oh was he pissed! He said it took years for the cider taste to go away! Of course, when I started working – I used a ceramic mug at work and never washed it. My coworkers threatened to wash it if I took a day off. My favorite memory are those days and nights drinking coffee w/ my dad now that he’s gone.

  50. Don Davis says:

    Memories that are great, thanks for the article.. I remember my coffee cup like it was yesterday. USN 1957 – 1960, USS Dashiell (DD659).

  51. Kathy says:

    I literally grew up in the Navy so this was a given. I did, however, deviate from the maxim once. The night before I was initiated into the Chief’s community, I went to every Chief’s desk, grabbed their coffee cup, rinsed (please notice I said rinsed not washed) and dried it throughly, stuffed it with confetti and turned it upside down in the center of the desk. Since I was the only CPO selectee in the building everyone knew who had done it so I did “pay” for my transgression. But the expressions were worth every bit of the payment.

  52. Tom (DocTommy) Lyons HM1(8404)-USNR-R (ret) says:

    I worked for HMC Wimbley,statiion hospital,USNTC,Bainbridge,MD and the Chief would never wash his coffee cup. Our supply officer thought it was ‘disgusting’ and told me to call him when the Chief left for the day. I did as directed and our supply officer came down to the personnel office and ‘Super Glued’ the Chief’s cup to the saucer it sat on. The next morning Chief came in grabbed the handle of his coffee cup to get his first cup of the day and behold, he picked up cup and saucer ; try as he would, the saucer wouldn’t come lose. The office would laugh as the Chief would be speaking to someone seated by his desk, pick up his cup with saucer attached and the person would grab for the saucer thinking it would fall off. Still, the Chief didn’t wash is coffee cup!! Great times, good laughs.. GO NAVY!!!

  53. Ernest Copenhaver says:

    After reporting for duty on my first ship USS Dahlgren DLG-12 in 1970 I was told to help field day CIC. Well not knowing any better, I thought it would be a good idea to clean out all those nasty coffee cups…

  54. Myrna Williams says:

    I worked as a secretary in the Charleston Police department and had the “pleasure” of summoning officers to the Chief’s office for a bawling out. One Lt. Brandon always came down with his coffee mug attached to his belt and, it looked disgusting to me. He told me Navy men NEVER washed their cups and he had his to prove it.

    I’ve spent all morning reading the history of their coffee cups of the many members of the Navy, and so now I say “hats off to you Lt. Brandon”. I haven’t had this much fun reading in a long time. Thanks!

    Myrna Williams

  55. Dr Roger Stembridge says:

    My first experience drinking coffee was onboard the USS Conger SS-477 during Korean War and I do remember drinking very strong coffee but I do not remember badly stained cups. I had the same experience onboard the USS Burrfish SSR-312. At age 82, maybe my memory of the 1950s drinking coffee just includes drinking from clean cups. I have to admit that I love my coffee in the morning but thin enough to see the bottom of the cup.

  56. Roy Greene says:

    My first duty assignment as a corpsman was at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, 1985; I was on the ambulance crew, 24 hours on, 48 hours off. During one slow nightshift, I noticed how grody the LPO’s (leading petty officer – HM1 Findley’s) coffee mug was. I thought I’d do him a favor and wash it. I soaked it a solution of soap and bleach and then scrubbed it *sparkling* clean. When I finished with it, it looked brand new and I really thought he would be grateful. When he came to work, he blew up! “Who the hell cleaned my coffee cup?!” he wanted to know. I sheepishly admitted to it and he proceeded to give me a chewing out that I’ve never forgotten to this day!

  57. Scott Smith (ATC USNR ret) says:

    My office coffee cup (anchor facing me) is well seasoned. I’m a tech rep and still get funny looks from young sailors who only seem to drink Red Bull and Monster these days when they stop by. The only thing I have to remember is to blow out the dust if I’ve been on travel. Usually because I was extended aboard ship and always welcomed back to the Goat locker.

  58. Brian Husak (ITCM-Retired) says:

    I had the fortune to serve at a Joint Command before I retired and had to explain the whole allure of coffee to my Army, Air Force and Marine brethren. I was usually the first person to arrive in the morning, so I made the coffee….yes I made NAVY COFFEE…the kind that can get up and walk itself to the cup…or if the generator needed oil…it could be used as a substitute. To this day I still arrive to the office early and make coffee…and I have several folks who just stop by my office for a cup of real coffee. One morning I was running late and had a younger person waiting on me at my office door, as I opened my office and turned on the lights, I went and started a pot of coffee (usually have it prepped before I leave for the day)…and sat down at my desk…fortunately there was about 1/4 of a cup of coffee left over in my cup from the previous day…I picked it up and downed it so I could have a fresh cup as soon as it was ready…the young men looked at me and said “That is just gross!”…I told him that he spends $5 at Starbucks for iced coffee…mine was free….

    A cup of coffee…a gentle sea breeze and the sun coming up over the horizon…doesn’t get much better than that…

  59. Willy LumpLump says:

    As a seaman at my first command we had an LPO who was a little too salty for his own good. He was mean and unwavering in his devotion to being an asshole. He was also untouchable. Underway he wouldn’t take showers. He’d sleep in the RASE office. He had a BMCS that covered his six. This crusty old seadog apparently had a weakness though. Coffee. He maintained the same mug from his first command that he made BM at (and he reminded us constantly about). We washed it. Not my idea but I was in on it. He called the MACS. We got yelled at for at least 2 hours. Liberty threatened. Yada Yada Yada. Ultimately the CMC weighed in and said that no rule was broken. Just disrespect to a tradition. I’ve thought about it from time to time over the next 25 years and admittedly it was disrespectful. To the Bm1 and the Navy. But, what the hell, we were dumb fucking sailors.

  60. Sean Hogan says:

    Ha brilliant,I used to do the same with my mug whilst serving on Hms Hydra (Royal Navy,Fleet air Arm) back in the ’70s ,the main reason then,was no one else would “borrow” my mug. !! (plus,of course,the coffee tasted better!!)

  61. JoAnnB says:

    As an E5 fresh to my squadron it was my turn to clean the Chief’s Mess. This was not a job I particularly wanted since many of the Chiefs had the disgusting habit of leaving their spit cans about. So I did exactly what I was told and made that mess a place the CNO hisownself would be proud to vist-this included scrubbing the coffe cups AND pot. I even ran vinegar through the thing removing years of stains. It looked brand new. And the cups just sparkled. All the nasty black stuff was gone leaving a gleaming white ceramic delight behind. I left for the day proud of my accomplishment only to be called in the next morning to face the entire mess. I swear I saw tears in some of those eyes. I was informed quite firmly that I was banned from the Mess indefinitely. I guess word travels fast because every command I visited thereafter, every khaki I encountered would automatically put a protective hand over his cup whenever I was around. My husband won’t even let me touch his cup.

  62. Dennis Didier MCPO(Ret) says:

    At my retirement ceremony, 26 years ago, and after 31 years in the Navy, a friend gifted me a genuine (stolen) United States Navy Mess Deck Coffee Mug. In my home, I am the only one who drinks from it and it is a revered piece of Navy history, as am I.

  63. SCPO HARDMAN says:

    I was stationed at PSNS Bremerton Inactships with a couple of submariners and one of them had such a coffee mug, white on the outside with his Sub’s name and totally black on the inside and he never washed it of course, his good buddy decided to play a little joke and washed the cup spotless and set it back on his desk. The following morning when he came in and seen the cup he became so furious that he threw it against the bulkhead and stormed out of the office shouting curse words even I had never heard and being a very old cup was irreplacable.

  64. Shakey Lou says:

    20 years riding around the world on a US Navy submarine from 1963 to 1983 this CPO probably never used the same coffee cup twice on watch an assistant or non qual brought a fresh cup every time I asked for a coffee. However the coffee pot was only cleaned once every 105 days. The coffee pot was the most important morale equipment on the Boat. Also submarines are Boats not ships

  65. SailorSherr says:

    It has been a great pleasure to read this article. As a young sailor, I would always be so grossed out when I looked at the chief’s cups in the mess while cranking…now, as a first class petty officer, I know the importance and I value each and every one of those seasoned cups! I have one of my own that I show proudly and I treasure. It has been my companion for seven years, three deployments, and countless numbers of long nights. I am proud to say that I will NEVER wash it and be “okay” with that.

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  67. Chris Johnson says:

    What a wonderful article and numerous stories to add to it in the comments. Never had the chance to join you all in your service on and off the sea due to medaical issues, but I am certainly honoring you all with the tradition as well. But I feel that I live in fear every day of someone washing out my watch cup. It gets darker and darker each day. LOVE IT!!!

  68. Richard Keith Wolf says:

    As a new airman attached to VX-2 at NAAS Chincoteague, VA, I was sent to the F6F flight line to do a brake job immediately following dungaree inspection. I wasn’t happy about the prospects, but was more unhappy when a replacement came to relieve me by informing me that it was my job to make coffee. I had and have never been a coffee drinker and didn’t believe that it was a required function to make it if I didn’t drink it. Reluctantly, I heated the big aluminum kettle with an oxy/acetylene torch, the when to the tool crib to draw the coffee rations. While waiting for the tool man to give me sugar, I saw a guy return a grease gun,. I picked it up and pumped a string about the length of a pencil into the fresh coffee grounds and went back to make the coffee. I watched as every drawn cup appeared with that indistinguishable rainbow oil slick on top of each cup. No one said a word and I never confessed.
    Later, in my time aboard the Hornet with VF-71 CAG-7, we had a maintenance cage mounted half way up the bulkhead in hangar bay 3. Guys would go to the mess deck with a two gallon picnic thermos and get coffee rations. One morning a 1st class in our squadron picked up his coffee cup, spit in it and reached in his dungarees and pulled out his handkerchief and promptly wiped the inside of his cup clean. He then drew a cup of the day old coffee, whereupon the chief then took the cup fom his hand, took a swig and proudly announced, “Now that’s shipmates!” I quickly responded, “that’s God damned ignorance!”
    Suffice it to say, I still have never drunk coffee even though I spent 4 years in the Navy and 31 years in a steel mill. PS I’m 82 and retired and I dutifully make my wife’s morning coffee.

  69. Don Abamonte SKC(SW) USNR Ret says:

    I retired in 1999, I have a coffee cup at work that has not been washed in over 10 years. Most of my co-workers (non-military) can not understand why I do not wash my coffee cup. The few prior military co-workers(Army) somewhat understand.

  70. Roger Burns says:

    Oh this brings back memories when I was on the USS Nicholas FFG 47. She was decommissioned this past March of 2014 and the CPO’s were reliving this story of teaching us newbies about this tradition.

  71. Julie says:

    Sailor’s wife here. I once washed out my husband’s mug.

    ONCE.

    Since then I wait to be asked.

    If and when the time comes to actually clean one of these monsters, Mr Clean Magic Eraser is the way to go.

  72. BeirutGator1196 says:

    If you spill Navy coffee on the deck and the wax doesn’t dissolve immediately, the coffee is not strong enough.

  73. Clyde Nordan says:

    After I got out, I went back to the ship to see my buds. I was stationed in Norfolk, my hometown (How lucky was that?) (Next to my Reserve Center. Again, HLWT?) and one of the Chiefs told me to report to the Mess Decks and make coffee and show the mew mess cooks the proper way. Made me feel important. *One important thing that I haven’t seen mentioned was the secret of adding a pinch or two of salt on top of the grounds. Maybe I shouldn’t have shared that. (?)

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  75. Wayne Rudolph HMC(SW/AW/FMF)(Ret) says:

    Reading all of these “coffee tales” has given me a bad case of nostalgia. I too have made the unforgivable error of washing a Chief’s cup. In 86, as a brand new HN at the clinic at Subic Bay I washed the clinic CPO’s mug. HMC Tinkham nearly killed me with his bellows of rage and then I ended up on port and starboard ambulance duty for a month. So I have never washed a cup again, although I did take a few hostage and threaten to wash them during my own CPO initiation.

  76. Gary Shrout says:

    I have to share my own Navy coffee story, having read all of these that brought back such good memories. It doesn’t specifically involve coffee cups, however. As a newly reported E-3 fresh from “A” School to the NAS Oceana Weapons Dept. in 1968, on a Friday afternoon before one of my first weekend duty sections, the Chief looked at me and said “Make sure that there is coffee on Monday morning when we all came in.” Aye Aye, Chief. Only they didn’t leave any coffee with which to make fresh coffee and I had no means of going to get any. So, resourceful young Sailor that I was, I just kept adding water all weekend to make sure that the 40 cup aluminum percolator found at nearly every Navy command had plenty in it on Monday morning. Needless to say, when everyone arrived on Monday, the universal reaction to the coffee wasn’t the best. To say the least. Explaining to the Chief that I followed his directions to make sure that we had coffee on Monday morning, he just shook his head and didn’t say anything. But we were never without fresh coffee again over the weekend. BTW, that was the absolute worst coffee I have ever tasted, before or since.

  77. Eric Sala says:

    I spent 4 years on the USS America in the late 70’s. Always had my coffee cup close by to have a cup of joe. Never washed that cup. It was a yellow plastic one. After reading all these stories I should check my boxes in the attic, may still have that cup.

  78. loren lockhart says:

    I was a brand new HTFN when I was at A school in Treasure Island, Ca. I was doing field day at the end of the day and I was assigned to clean the Master Chiefs office .. so I did and ure ignorance I washed the HTCM’s coffee cup … took about twenty minutes …… he called me in to his office the next day .and asked “Firmean Lockhart …..did you clean my office least night” ..Me …”yes Master Chief” … HTCM ” place is outstanding” ..holding his coffee mug in his hand …. “did you also clean my coffee mug” ? me Yes Master Chief” ……… he placed his hand on my shoulder and walked me to the door . “Fireman Lockhart you did a fine job an excellent job. (this is like praise from a King when yer a Fireman) . I smiled and said “thank You Master Chief” …. he then stepped out in the hallway with me and threw the coffee mug all the way to the end of it .. it shattered into a million little pieces … ” Lockhart (this causes the testicles to shrivel, when said with out the Fireman prefix) never …ever ..wash a sailors coffee cup …… clean that mess up and take the rest of the day off ……. on me” ………… it was a lesson well learned …. and it was about far more then just a coffee cup …….

  79. George S. Harris CAPT MSC USN (Ret) says:

    Many years ago, 1952 to be exact, as an HN, I was stationed at the Naval Hospital, Oakland, CA. After completing my ward duty, I was assigned to the Staff Personnel Office where I did general typing and also did the Command Watch Bill and the Plan of the Day. We go together in the office and bought a brand new coffee pot-an aluminum percolator that held about 20 cups and was heated on a hot plate. As the junior sailor it was my duty to make sure coffee was ready each day. I left Oakland in 1953, went to other assignments and returned there in 1957 an HM1 and was once again assigned as a section head in the Staff Personnel Office. Guess wha twas there? The same coffee pot the office had purchased in 1952-blackened and dented but still perking away each morning. There was another HM1 there who had almost 20 years in the Navy and had been at Oakland when I was there the first time. He prided himself on making the best coffee around and even though senior, he took it upon himself to make the coffee each morning, not trusting some snuffy to make his treasured brew. One particular field day, I decided to clean the coffee pot, even though my mug was never cleaned, and took the old pot to the deep sink room, grabbed a can of scouring powder and a fistful of steel wool and duly scrubbed the pot until it sparkled like new. Well, you can imagine-I thought I wouldn’t live to see the light of another day! The older HM1 nearly had a stroke and I got the worst dressing down I ever had in my 39 years in the Navy. I left there a couple of years later to become a commissioned officer and never returned to Oakland but I suspect if I had, the same pot would have been there, once again properly blackened, with a few more dents but perking away.

  80. Bearden says:

    I have my first coffee cup that was given to me by my grandfather, it was brand new & so white I could see my reflection on it. I was about 13 at the time & he told me never to wash my mug, because that mug would show when my military training started. He’s Ret.MMCM Clif “Badass” Bearden, & I learned why he got his nickname as he taught me the old navy way of life. That mug went with me to my training school, & to my ship, never washed once, even to this day, & I’m 22

  81. Keith says:

    I am a retired MMCM(SS) nuke and remember the standard Navy brown melamine coffee cup I had on my second boat. 5 patrols in with it serving me coffee, tea, bug juice, ice cream and water and I left in on the Mess Deck Chief’s table after the evening meal. A little while later there was a knock on the door and one of the fresh newbie non-qual mess cranks was returning my freshly cleaned cup. I thanked him for returning it but told him to NEVER wash it again. Still have it seasoned from 1984. Wife still does not understand how I do that and we have been married 41 years.

  82. On the IKE we never got to drink sugar in our coffee. Within minutes of the Coffee PO bringing our coffee ration down to the Reactor Room, the sugar was immediately spirited away to be used in making bilge wine.

  83. Horace E. Simon says:

    I began my career pushing planes on CVA-16. I went on to CVS, Air Stations, LPD, LPH, CVA, CVN, FF, VF and retired as CMDCN VFA-137. I am one of the few Airdales who didn’t drink coffee, even after 12 hours on the “roof.” But my coffee cup from the First Class Mess on USS Kearsarge CVS 33 (1968) sits proudly in my dining room and has never been touched by water.

  84. Horace E. Simon says:

    Oops! I meant to say CMDCM VFA 137.

  85. Daniel Suggs says:

    Morocco, 1973: One of our seamen, who had a rough history with the senior chief, was headed stateside for discharge on the early morning flight. He volunteered to stay and clean the office the night before and was on his flight by roll call. That is when the proverbial excrement hit the fan. The senior chief came in and discovered that his ancient coffee mug had been scoured clean with a brillo pad and was sitting on his desk, spick and span. We seriously thought the chief would have a stroke and it was a month before he quit fuming every morning. After that, I was afraid to even wash my own cup, LOL.

  86. William E Heritage says:

    II was a Store (Sweeper) Keeper on an LST during Viet Nam. (June 1967) I remember one time we pulled into Subic Bay, our radar had gone out and we were in for repairs. It was necessary for us to get back on line as quickly as possible and the only way we could get a special electronic tube was by bartering with a 50 pound tin of coffee from my stores. We were in and out in 48 hours.

  87. Bob Campbell says:

    I was at the commissioning of the Forrest Sherman as a guest of crew member CPO Jim Healy. I was an FP1 on the USS Yosimite at the time. 1961 I think.

  88. Dusty Engel says:

    I spent a little over 8 years in the US Navy as an Operations Specialist , 5 & half years in the fleet on Tin Cans. My first Fleet assignment was Pre-Comm for the USS Jesse L. Brown (DE-1089), during our 1st shakedown cruise out of Newport, I mistakenly make the coffee for CIC from a saltwater deep sink. After my first and only SNAFU regarding USN coffee etiquette, the rest of my time in the Navy was pretty uneventful. The AZZ chewin’ I got from OSC Merrill has lasted me to this day, I’m 61 and have been a civilian since 1980. BTW, I still drink my coffee black & only rinse my cup occasionally …. ;o)

    Dusty Engel OS2
    USN 1972-1980

  89. James Honaker says:

    My mug made it through 3 sea commands, as well as 3 years of shore duty as an instructor. I learned very quickly the importance of this tradition when I was cleaning the coffee mess and thought I was doing well by washing chiefs coffee mug. ..boy was I wrong and BTC chewed me pretty hard on that one. Once learning the “code”,my mug had an 8 year stretch before it had a slip/trip mishap and broke. I do still maintain one and miss that cup.

    BT2

  90. Chris Wilson says:

    I’m retired Air Force and I had never heard of this Navy tradition. That is one of the many things I admire about our Navy, it’s got a LOT of traditions and history.

  91. Mike Baltzgar (MS3/SS & SKC, USCG (ret.)) says:

    I have had my cup for 25 years since I was a young (new) cook stationed onboard USS HADDOCK (SSN-621) and it has been washed three times. Once by my wife in 1997 and then twice in 2007 when I was a Chief (SKC) onboard USCGC HAMILTON (WHEC-715) where the mess cook assigned to the Chief’s Mess did not understand that he wasn’t suppose to clean our cups. I still have the same cup however, it is now clean and I now drink from my CPO Academy Cup (at work) and it is very well seasoned. I also have a cup that was given to me by my guys in the ships Supply Office that is also well seasoned. That cup is at home where I drink from every evening. I believe strongly that it is a valued tradition to season your cup. I use to look at the old salts in the Mess and long to be like many of them and to attain longevity in service. It is a “Right of Passage” in some regards.

  92. Donna M Haynes (AT/Sgt, USMC) says:

    Reading these stories from all the Navy, brought back memories and flashbacks to when I was stationed at MCAS Cherry Point NC from 1984-1987, I was asked to work @ the Avionics Division office; to assist to whatever the LDO Avionics Captain and his Asst. Avionics Officer (USMC CWO4) requested concerning any Avionics paperwork and to support any needed personnel documents, etc, etc. Personally, it was disgusting (while working in the Avionics office) because one of my daily duties was to make sure that 40 cup urn of STRONG coffee was made at the start of each day. During my tenure working in the office, our division was scheduled to have the IG (Inspecting General); I did a very complete and thorough field day; I worked all day and throughout the night to make sure everything was shining, squared away and spit polished. It was a lot of work!! But, I was proud of myself, it took me a few hours to get that coffee urn clean. I had to completely take apart the coffee urn and because the glass tube on the front was tarred/totally black that you could not see the coffee level. After all the crew had left for the day, I filled the stainless still urn with vinegar to soak until after midnight and I scrubbed on that solid tarred coffee urn to be clean for the next day IG inspection. I was proud how clean and everything sparkled, when the senior staff came in to get their coffee; I had never received and heard so much anger and cursing due to the fact that all the NCOIC Marines had a sparkling-clean 40 cup coffee urn along with some of their coffee cups. But the icing on the cake, it took me quite some time to clean my Avionics Division Officer’s porcelain coffee cup; the crude was so thick on his cup (the inside of his blacked cup; it was like chipping paint off a ship). I will NEVER forget the look on my Captain’s and the Gunner’s faces when they picked up their clean shining cups off their desks to get their first morning java. It was the worse butting chewing I ever received during my time spent in the Corps and I will never forget!!!! The Captain gave me direct order to never, never ever put my hands on their cups EVER AGAIN!! When I left his office, I surely thought I was going to get NJP and be demoted down a rank. The Gunner stepped in and after many, many months the Captain’s anger simmered; but he never let me forget what horror I had done to his badge of honor of his seasoned cup. After the damage was done and not until the Gunner sat me down in his office; he explained the tradition, what it meant and how their black seasoned cups spoke volumes to everyone which they had contact with; what those well seasoned cups stood for throughout their Marine Corps careers. Since that butt chewing incident; I never again touched anyone else’s cups. Lesson learned the hard way and feeling very badly what I had taken away from the Captain and Gunner’s many, many years of making those seasoned coffee cups with much pride!

  93. For many of my 27 years in Naval communications standing shifts, coffee truly was the “life-blood” of our existence and ability to make it through, particularly, the midnight shifts. Woe be to the shipmate who attempted to touch our coffee cups as well as “clean” the coffee maker. Both were treasured for their “seasoning.” Never had to worry about anyone using our cup….one look turned most off.

  94. Jim Kirby says:

    My dad served from 1940 to 1946 on the USS West Virginia and on the USS Ancon
    and then retired from Department of the Army.
    I was visiting him at Cameron Station in Va and washed his cup.
    It was one of the old heavy duty white Navy cups that was totally black inside and really dark on the outside. I wasn’t sure if I was gong to live very much longer.
    He never got over that.

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  96. Bob says:

    I was stationed at NSG Kamisaya back in 1970, my roommate was the junior PO3 and was assigned coffee duty, a job he did not like doing. One particular time after being chewed out by a Master Chief, he decided to wash all the chiefs’ cups (about 12 of them), he did it with Ajax and didn’t bother rinsing that well – during his tenure of coffee making, I brought mine in a thermos from the mess.

  97. While I was never in the Military I never wash my cup in Honor of my WW2 Grandpaw CPO CC Richardson. He put in 26 years and in 1990 when his Chiefs Cup broke it was one of the very few times I ever saw him cry. I had my 1950’s era White Heavy Ceramic mug since 1988.

  98. OH in 1997 my wife under duress from a new born ran my through the dishwasher. I nearly lost it .

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  100. Erik Silfven says:

    I learned a different reason from a grizzly old Master Chief.

    He asked me if I knew why we never cleaned our mugs, I answered No, because I love when Chiefs tell tales. He went on to inform me that we don’t clean our mugs because if the Mess Cooks ran out of coffee, you could add hot water, scrapes the sides and have one more cup of coffee.

  101. Ronald Brown MM1(SW) retired says:

    I am a retired MM1, pit snipe. we had a new boot come on watch and decided to clean the coffee pot one night. That pot had not been cleaned in about 3 years, when we left the yards. Needles to say that boot was making coffee and pouring it out until it no longer tasted like metal. Took him about 40 hours of making coffee and pouring it out. He never made that mistake again. In the engine rooms we had our own pots and took the very seriously. No one touched our cups either. They too were ever cleaned.

  102. Dave Malone TM2(SS/DV) says:

    I have a seasoned mug to my left right this minute! It has black coffee in it or I would take the picture for you. But more importantly, it has “Black Gang” coffee in it. How can you talk about navy coffee traditions without mentioning Black Gang Coffee??

  103. was a boatswains 3rd never wash my mug worked for the government for 38 yrs never did and I never will haze gray and underway

  104. FS1 Danny Gutfeld, USCG, RET says:

    I am a Retired FOOD SERVICE SPECIALIST First Class from the USCG. When I a lowly third class we had a Master Chief from the SAT team (Subsistence Advisory Team) come to visit and spend a week with us u/w from Honolulu to Kodiak. To make a long story short he had accidentally left his very well seasoned Coffee mug on the messdeck. I had one of my messcooks clean it. Boy did I ever get an #%& chewing from the Master Chief. It seems the last time his coffee mug was clean was when he was a 2nd Class, which was 20 years before.

  105. Ron Tucker, SMC(SW)/LT says:

    USS NIMITZ SMCS(SW) Schrader had the saltiest black inside of his coffee cup and as the practical jokes were going around the Signals Gang, he left it in the signal shack only to find it spick and span the next morning. Needless to say, that’s the last Navy cup I have ever cleaned, mine included.

  106. J D says:

    Retired CPO here. If you were a good Chief, loved by your Sailor’s and Shipmates, your mug might have been fine sitting there on your desk. However, those not so loved, not so respected and liked, well, you better wash that cup. Let me put it this way, I seen it when I was a blue shirt. A Sailor used the Chiefs cup for his own tea bag holder, all night shift, and I don’t mean the Llipton or the Green Type tea bags. Think about it. If I left a cup on my desk when I was a Chief, because I witnessed what I did, loved or hated, I ran that thing under HOT water and scrubbed it for dear life!

  107. Tom Hall says:

    In 1986 I was a young PFC in the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, NC. I was a 71M, which at the time was a Chaplain’s Assistant. I had been assigned to Dragon Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps HQ and I was working as an assistant for LTC Marion Ross Kirk. Chaplain Kirk had a Ranger tab, a Special Forces tab, Pathfinder badge, Basic Airborne wings, HALO wings, Army Dive badge, 173d Airborne combat patch from Viet Nam and several thousand freefall jumps. As far as Chaplains go, he was a complete badass, even compared to many in the combat arms MOSs. After reading this article I’m guessing he spent time with the Navy at some point in his career because as a young PFC trying to do my best….I washed his coffee cup. When he came back into the office I got an extensive lecture on why I should never do that again and how many years of “seasoning” I had washed away. This is the first I’ve ever heard of the phenomena since that day. Now I know, “the rest of the story.”

  108. Damon says:

    Around 2001, I was the RADAR Chief at MCAS at Miramar and one of our senior civilian employees (also a Navy Reserve Officer) had left his seasoned mug in our workshop sitting on my bench. He wasn’t always pleasant to us Marines so I decided to teach him a lesson. I don’t know how old his cup was, but it had a pretty salty season to it. I took his blackened mug and scrubbed it to a sparkling white. When clean and dry, I left it prominently on the desk at the entrance to our office where he wouldn’t miss it. He quietly searched for it for a few days, not noticing it by the door. Finally, he asked everyone publicly if anyone knew the whereabouts of his cup. One of us casually mentioned it was on the desk by the door. He looked at in disbelief and said, “That’s not my cup”. He soon realized that it was indeed his cup. He picked it up and huffed as he left the office. Once the door closed behind him, we all got a chuckle and he didn’t come around the office for while after that, either.

  109. 5WarVeteran says:

    I have always had a “seasoned” coffee cup. Yet my children risk life and limb to wash mine and sometimes they get away with it. Po’es me off…

  110. Dennis says:

    I didn’t know this Navy tradition. I’m a relatively clean guy (at least for a guy), but my Dad’s tobacco pipes, my cast iron skillets, and my coffee mug are never scrubbed. I also do not dust my few bottles of wine so as to not agitate them but mostly to recreate the look of an old wine cave. The thicker the dust, the more seasoned the wine. reading the label is too easy. I came here looking for support because my girlfriend washed my cup this morning. She still doesn’t buy it. “It’s just dirty lazy people arguing against us clean people”, but at least now with the US Navy behind me she knows not to mess with my mug.

  111. Eric says:

    The origin of not washing your coffee cup stems from the age when coffee cups were made of metal. An example can be still be seen with the Italian practice of seasoning a moka pot. When a metal coffee container (moka pot or coffee cup) is new/washed, the coffee takes on a metallic flavor. Once the container has been used once or twice, the oils from the coffee seal the internal surface preventing the metallic flavor from tainting the brew. (Many Italians believe that a new moka pot is not usable until several pots of coffee have been brewed and dumped out first)

    It is easy to imagine the evolution from practical process to tradition by thinking of the time of transition from metal to ceramic coffee mugs. The young service members who had not used metal coffee cups would be used to washing them, while the old senior leadership would still be in the habit of not washing them and probably had developed a taste for it (hence swearing that it tastes better when the mug is “seasoned”).

  112. CT Johnson says:

    My latest cup has about 6 years of now washing, looks beautiful, and serves me well every day. I was on subs in the 90’s and washing a mug was almost a criminal offense. However, a real jerk 1st Class Petty Officer did get his mug washed for being a jerk…he about had a coronary!

    I’m drinking coffee out of my well seasoned cup as I write this. Men…just explain to any new girlfriends or wives the no wash rule. They may not understand, but mine have always respected it. The one time I did not do this…my cup got cleaned to my horror!

  113. robt. Schmesky says:

    58-62, Mine Sweeper, Crossed the Pond twice. “The only reason a Chief would wash his Cup is if he was absolutely certain that some one had pissed in it”

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