“Nobody can soldier without coffee,” wrote one Union soldier in his journal during the American Civil War, a sentiment that appears to ring true across almost two centuries of armed combat. As part of their Hidden Kitchens series, NPR explores the importance coffee played in three American conflicts: The Civil War, the Vietnam War, and Afghanistan.

During the Civil War, only Union soldiers had access to coffee, as the North had blockaded the Southern ports. But since the Confederate soldiers had tobacco, both sides would often exchange goods when they weren’t actively battling one another. The love of coffee was so omnipresent on the battlefield that in 1859, Sharps Rifle Co. created a rifle with a hand grinder built into the butt of the gun.

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In the Vietnam War, coffee left the conflict zones and became a rallying point for anti-war GIs. As more and more soldiers returned home from Vietnam, many started to question why America was involved in the conflict, and GI coffeehouses began to appear in military towns just outside the bases and became places for disillusioned troops to gather and discuss frustrations with U.S. involvement without the threat of recourse from military higher-ups.

Much like in Vietnam, coffee played a large role in post-conflict life for many soldiers in Afghanistan. Hidden Kitchens profiles two ex-Marines who took their love of coffee back with them to civilian life and opened up Compass Coffee in Washington D.C. Owners Harrison Suarez and Michael Haft both got hooked on coffee during their time in the service—they even wrote a book about it—and chalk up part of their love of the brew to its communal aspect. Suarez explains:

Going back all the way to the Civil War and up to our experience in Afghanistan, you’ve got this common thread of people coming together, sharing their experience, their stories over coffee.

The entire NPR piece is a fascinating read. Or a fascinating 6:08 listen if you don’t have the extra 20 minutes. Either way, it’s definitely worth checking out. Both can be found here.

Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network.

*top image via NPR

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