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Navy chaplain makes waves with coffee shop in Iraq

23 Sep 2006 | Lance Cpl. Ray Lewis

Navy Lt. John G. Anderson is giving the fancy big-name coffee chains a run for their money.

Anderson, the battalion chaplain for 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, opened a free coffee shop for Marines and sailors deployed here.

“I wanted a place where they can come for a good cup of coffee and relax,” said Anderson, 38, of Anoka, Minn.

He called the place “He-Brews Coffee,” after the book of Hebrews in the New Testament of the Holy Bible, Anderson explained.        

The idea for the java joint first brewed during a deployment to Iraq in 2005.

“When I got my coffee roaster, I thought, ‘Why not have fresh roasted coffee on deployment too?’” he explained. “It worked out great. People loved the coffee.”

Still, Anderson had faith he could do better. This time he wanted to provide a spot for Marines and sailors to sit down and relax. He’s diversified his drink offerings to give them a taste of home out here.

“I thought I can do shots of espresso, froth milk, get flavored syrups ... ” he said. “I thought I’d kick it up a notch baby!”

That’s what he did.

With some coffee planning, donations and collecting, He-Brews Coffee was open for coffee connoisseurs after a month in country. The place has a handmade stone patio, coffee tables and plastic chairs all under desert camouflage netting.

When coffee drinkers walk in to Anderson’s shop they can find him in a He-Brews Coffee apron below a menu board and behind a wood counter he made himself.

Marines and sailors can order everything from espresso to lattes, which are rarities here.

“When something’s rare it becomes more valuable,” Anderson said. “When it’s been a couple months since you’ve had a couple shots of espresso with frothed milk and some flavored syrup, you realize how you really appreciate the simple things like that.”

Anderson said this wouldn’t be possible without the generous donations he received. He gave credit for He-Brews Coffee to all who provided materials to make a coffee shop in Iraq possible.

For some, it’s a coffee drinker’s oasis in the desert, but others on camp are skeptical.

“I had some guys from 2nd Recon stop over here, and they thought the sign was a joke,” Anderson said. “One of the guys came in and said, ‘What do you got going on here,’ and I said, ‘What do you want? You want a latte?’ He said, ‘You make lattes?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Anderson made the Marine a latte and then he knew the joke was over and hollered at all his buddies that were staged here in their gun trucks. They all swarmed into the shop.

“I made them all coffees,” said Anderson. “They sat on the patio and were relaxing here for a couple of hours listening to their iPods, reading and drinking coffee. Just about all of them told me this is the coolest thing since we’ve been in Iraq. That really made my day because I was able to provide them with something that made a difference for them in a tangible way.”

With more than 1,000 coffee drinkers coming to the shop, it’s not uncommon for a spiritual conversation to arise with the chaplain.

“That happens every day,” Anderson said. “We’ll be talking, laughing about something and they’ll say, ‘Chaplain I’ve always wondered about ... ,’ and it’ll lead into a spiritual conversation.”

Although he welcomes conversation, he didn’t open up the coffee shop for the attention.

“I just wanted to do something to serve these Marines and sailors,” Anderson said. “But I knew that that was going to happen, so why not? It works out well.”

Even with the recent success, Anderson has no plans of slowing down his grind.  He’s looking ahead to the colder months and is eyeing an indoor shop.

Anderson said he wants to “take my office area and put it where my bedroom is and open it up and put some tables and chairs on the inside. Especially when it starts getting a little colder too, guys don’t want to sit outside ... but we’ll see.”

Anderson also wants to make He-Brews Coffee mobile so Marines and sailors who are stationed at off-base outposts can enjoy a hot cup of coffee.