|CAMO COFFEE--Founders of Compass Coffee, Harrison Suarez, left and Michael Haft show off their portable can-do stash of coffee brewing equipment.|
THEN AND NOW—Michael Haft and Harrison Suarez, two lifelong pals, who went on to serve as officers in the U.S. Marine Corps, returned home after being deployed in Afghanistan and together they went on to open Compass Coffee, a coffee house in Washington DC.
Last Fall’s debut of Compass Coffee, 1535 Seventh St. NW, made for good coffee and good (media) copy. The Marines’ angle was in every story of the coffee house’s opening.
The success of Compass Coffee reminds many historians about the bond soldiers have had throughout the history of this nation.
Here’s an example:
Contemporary historian Jon Grinspan tells a story about how U.S. civil war soldiers love affair with coffee. “...soldiers drank it before marches, after marches, on patrol, during combat. In their diaries, “coffee” appears more frequently than the words “rifle,” “cannon” or “bullet.” Ragged veterans and tired nurses agreed with one diarist: “Nobody can ‘soldier’ without coffee,” said Grinspan, a is a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
He adds, “Union troops made their coffee everywhere, and with everything: with water from canteens and puddles, brackish bays and Mississippi mud, liquid their horses would not drink. They cooked it over fires of plundered fence rails, or heated mugs in scalding steam-vents on naval gunboats. When times were good, coffee accompanied beefsteaks and oysters; when they were bad it washed down raw salt-pork and maggoty hardtack. Coffee was often the last comfort troops enjoyed before entering battle, and the first sign of safety for those who survived.”
Author Stephen Crane said in one of his Civil War short stories (“An Episode of War) that coffee was so valued by the troops that officers had to be in charge of rationing it out.
During the height of the Civil War federal soldiers were consuming 36 pounds of coffee per man and the U.S. Government spent millions on coffee.
Fast Forward to Washington DC, 2014-15.
Haft and Suarez said they got into coffee during boot camp in Quantico, where the coffee was downright awful. Coffee for them began as a source of energy during training, “but slowly it developed into a ritual as we got stationed and then deployed to Afghanistan together.”
As their approach to coffee evolved, so did their understanding of it. “We started experimenting with different roasts and different brewing methods. Soon we came to a startling realization: coffee didn't have to be bitter and harsh or weak and flavorless. It could taste good. Real good. But so few places were delivering on the promise trapped inside each coffee, that when we got out of the Marines, we set out to change that. The result is Compass Coffee,” said Haft.
Today, the coffee house on Seventh Street in the historic Shaw neighborhood has become one of DC’s largest coffee bean roasters, they can roast 1,000 pounds in a day, said Haft.
“Coffee gives people direction—hence the name of the shop—it’s the first thing a lot of people do in the morning,” he added, “I can’t function without a morning cup.
Suarez added Compass Coffee is simply focused on making really good coffee. Nothing fancy, nothing too crazy or hard to pronounce, just really good.