Special operators are particular about almost everything in their life, from the kind of beer they drink to the gear they take into combat. Are they just as picky about their coffee?

Special operations personnel are tasked with our nations most important missions. They traverse the world’s most inhospitable terrain, going days without sleep, and going further and faster while doing it. It truly takes a special breed to operate the human body at such extremes, but it would be a fool’s statement to say they did it without the help of gallons of caffeine.

Of course energy drinks and chewing tobacco are common fare in a SOF unit, but the consumption of coffee is on another level. Of course it’s the perfect drink prior to a midnight raid. But it’s also the perfect companion for the drudgery of the post-mission slew of after action reviews, SSE debriefs, and weapons cleaning. How do these elite operators like their coffee though? I reached out to veterans of every corner of the special operations world to find out.

Army Rangers

Army Rangers are known for their physical prowess and insatiable appetite for the hardest training and even harder combat missions. Nic Smith, a former squad leader in 1st Ranger Battalion, said that he likes his brew “Strong, Dark, and black like my soul.” As a professional door kicker, his philosophy on how strong he likes his coffee was no surprise either: “If it ain’t got a kick, it ain’t worth drinkin’!” said Smith, leaving no doubt that Rangers don’t like the weak stuff.

For those who serve in the Army’s Special Forces, commonly known as ‘Green Berets’, it’s all about efficiency. Dan, a former NCO in the 7th Special Forces Group, said, “I drink black, cold brew coffee. I like it that way so I can drink it fast, and I can make it in large amounts in advance.” Anyone who has tried to drink a hot cup of coffee in a hurry can definitely validate Dan’s more intelligent approach to coffee on the go.

When you become a Recon Marine, you know you’ll spend months aboard a ship traveling all over the world. Baz Khan, a veteran of the 1st Force Reconnaissance Company, has let his taste in coffee be influenced by his travels. “I am partial to Hawaiian Kona coffee from my time there in 3rd Marines.” Of course, like the other operators I interviewed, he still likes his coffee dark, saying, “I take it black as night and strong as I can get it.”


Coffee has often been cited as the lifeblood of the Navy. It’s no surprise that the Navy’s elite SEALs have a considerable reverence for a strong cup. Walt Shumate, a former SEAL from the west coast-based Team 1, fondly remembers a trip with a fellow team guy to a nearby coffee shop. “Funniest story I’ve ever heard was with another team guy at a Starbucks. The barista said they had hundreds of types of coffee, and asked what type we preferred. He said, ‘Do you have any shitty Navy coffee? I need the spoon to stand straight up, when I stir it!’”

Finally, we have the Air Force. Although they regularly endure good-natured ribbing about the Air Force’s notoriously good accommodations, they have some of the most well trained operators found in SOCOM. Nate, a former Combat Controller, admits that what he drinks depends on whether he’s at work or not: “Around the boys I drink it black, but I’m an in the closet user of hazelnut corn syrup.” Nate’s unique assignments eventually led him to another source of caffeine though: “When I did my tour with the Brits, they absolutely loved their tea so I became a Tetley fiend. I now understand why the Brits have horrible teeth, they put so much sugar in their tea!”

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • George says:

    HAHA!! Being a former Marine who’s spent plenty of time shipboard, I gotta say- I MISS shitty navy coffee…….. there’s just something “special” about it. Then again, maybe it was just as much about the people I drank it with.

  • Charlie Martel says:

    I had coffee with Nate on a layover two days ago: three shots of espresso and fill the cup with milk. WTF? To be fair, that’s not exactly what he ordered. Sometimes it’s not the coffee we want, it’s the coffee we deserve.

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