Making coffee in the field was a big deal; there was no coffee brewing equipment. We learned a method in Cook School: bring the water to a boil and remove from the heat source. Then add the coffee and let it steep for five minutes. Finally pour cool water over the surface while stirring slowly which allowed the grounds to sink. The result was coffee with poor clarity and a lump of residue in the bottom of each cup.
While in Sydney Reb learned about making coffee in a large “press.” Margaret (the manager of a “coffee lounge”) taught this process to Reb. She said it was the best way to brew coffee, and it left very little sediment in the mug.
Some larger mess halls had big 100-cup stainless steel percolators, but they weren’t in our supply system. “Drip filters” were not yet available. Marines commonly referred to coffee as “a cup of mud” or “a cup of Joe” and sometimes just “the dregs.” The Vietnamese called it “Ca Phe.” *
Reb tried to fashion a coffee press, but instead he invented a reusable filter that worked. It was a rubberized circle of cloth with holes punched into it with an ice pick. This cloth (filter) was secured to the top of a 10-gallon pot with a thin strip of inner tube from a truck tire (tied in a knot). The filter was then filled with measured ground coffee. Boiling water was slowly ladled over the grounds and dripped through the rubberized cloth filter.
The outcome was fresh-flavored coffee with clarity and little residue. Both Max and I were impressed with Reb’s invention. I asked Reb, “Where did you get this rubberized cloth?” He took me into the bakery and showed me the leftover cutout from a (new) body bag. There was a template to make a second filter with a pair of heavy shears.
We continued to use the filters, but the origin of the material remained our secret. The field Cook School mantra, “Improvise,” was still a valuable lesson to remember.