Culture on My Mind – A Career in a Coffee Mug

Culture on My Mind

Culture on My Mind
A Career in a Coffee Mug
March 3, 2023

The Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard have a tradition.

Well, okay, they have a lot of traditions. Trust me, as a Navy veteran, I know this all too well. But one of the fascinating ones among the senior enlisted and the mustangs (a commissioned officer who began their career as an enlisted service member) centers on their coffee mugs.

Coffee is life blood in the military. From long hours spent on watch to even longer hours spent performing collateral duties, the cups of caffeine can be just what you need to keep moving. Ships usually have a set of coffee mugs available for use in the coffee mess – the space authorized for preparing and dispensing coffee and assorted accoutrements – but Sailors, Marines, and Guardsmen also have their own personal mugs. The senior enlisted, known as non-commissioned officers (NCOs) in the Marine Corps and Chief Petty Officers (CPOs) in the Navy and Coast Guard, also tend to have special personal mugs. Some of those special mugs come with command iconography and such, leaving no doubt as to whose mug is whose.

The tradition has to do with the seasoning of those mugs. You see, NCOs and Chiefs typically take their coffee black and believe that not washing their mugs is good luck. The coffee stains on the inside of the mug build up over time, effectively telling the history of the mug and its owner. The more sludge in the mug, the more experience the owner has.

One example comes from the Naval Historical Foundation and Coast Guard Senior Chief Darcy Collins, as found on the Navy History Tumblr page.

seasoned mug

Some studies suggest that the practice isn’t that unhealthy so long as you don’t share the mug with anyone and drink the coffee black with neither cream nor sugar. In fact, the Navy Times picked a few suggestions from the fleet for the perfect mug, including drinking coffee black, drinking the entire mug, and even seasoning it with leftover grounds like a cast-iron skillet.

The last suggestion on the list is the most important for any servicemember: Don’t wash the mug. Ever. If the owner washes it, the respect for them goes overboard. If a junior member washes it, even through ignorance or on a dare, there is no end to the harassment that they will endure at that command and beyond.

After all, the fleet talks and reputations have long lives.

I’ve seen my share of deeply seasoned mugs, but my personal mug only had minimal stains. I take my coffee with cream/milk and sugar, and I also prefer to drink from clean vessels. I’m a bit of a germaphobe that way.


Culture on My Mind is inspired by the weekly Can’t Let It Go segment on the NPR Politics Podcast where each host brings one thing to the table that they just can’t stop thinking about.

For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.


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