If you ever went to a unit coffee before the virus disrupted our lives, you were continuing an Army tradition that dates back to the days of our very first lady, Martha Washington. She saw the need to support the wives as well as the troops and held many get-togethers for different groups every week. She even had her own “rules for good coffee”—a cup of water and heaping tablespoon of her specially-selected coffee “pulverized as fine as cornmeal.”
Martha may not have called these get-togethers “coffees,” but they served the same purpose they do today—to afford military spouses the opportunity to get to know one another, form friendships, network, and be ready to assist, if needed. Now as then, they are also an opportunity to pass along information about unit and community news.
The term “coffee” comes from the beverage preference of early Americans. Most of these families stemmed from England where tea was the beloved drink. However, the Boston Tea Party in 1773 turned the Americans away from tea and toward coffee. Of course, today’s “coffees” may offer a variety of adult beverages, like wine or spiked punch!
Army wives of later generations used their nicest china, silver, and linens to try to replicate what they were used to at home before they joined their husbands in their moves to the West. Today, we are usually more casual (paper plates and plastic cups are fine!), but it is also fun to take out the family hostess treasures if you have them. The tradition of coffees will continue after the virus is conquered.
During Ann Crossley’s generation—the 1960s—unit coffees were held once a month, hosted by battery/company/troop wives taking turns planning and putting on the coffees. They had to decide on a theme, choose a location, make invitations that had to be mailed (postage was 3 cents) or sent through unit distribution, decide on and assign food preparations, and the most dreaded of all, make nametags! The coffee theme had to be used as a part of the nametag decoration. This was before there were stores like Party City, where you could purchase pretty stickers. But then as now, coffees still served the same worthwhile purpose of getting us together so that we could form friendships.
This generation, prior to COVID, coffees were held at homes, restaurants, or wineries or consisted of activities like bowling, painting, line dancing, or even skeet/gun ranges. Coffees are not only for wives, as male spouses should be included, so the activities planned should interest everyone. Nametags are still a nice gesture especially for first coffees. Having an icebreaker is a great way to relax the group, have some laughs, as well as find out about each other’s talents.
One of our favorite Army spouse traditions is how we can welcome a new spouse to a military unit. This is traditionally done during a coffee or a Hail and Farewell. The senior spouse bestows the incoming spouse with a miniature unit crest pin. This tradition is traced back to World War I, when soldiers heading to war gave their wives, sisters, and girlfriends a miniature badge of their unit. The phrase “sweetheart brooch” was commonly used even though it wasn’t only sweethearts who wore the pins. Veterans wore these crests in commemoration of their units as well. Traditionally, these pins are worn on the left lapel, closest to their hearts. Each unit crest has a distinctive unit insignia. Maybe for male spouses, a unit tie tack could be considered, for instance, in place of a unit angel pin. You can look up your soldier’s unit crest history in the U.S. Army Institute of Heraldry.
In the “Coffee” chapter of The Army Spouse Handbook, Alma Powell, spouse of General Colin Powell, reminds us that: “As spouses, if we do not know one another, how will we be able to support one another, and stand together in times of need?”
Set to plan the next unit coffee? Go here for a step-by-step guide to kick it off right.