Camp Coffee - Gastro Obscura
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Ingredients & Condiments

Camp Coffee

Invented in Scotland in the late 1800s, this syrupy “instant coffee” is now a beloved baking ingredient.

Created in Scotland in the late 19th century, Camp Coffee was one of the first attempts at instant coffee. It’s said that the brown, syrupy liquid—a blend of coffee, chicory, water, and sugar—was invented for the Scottish regiment of the Gordon Highlanders to bring on campaigns abroad. Drinkers simply mixed Camp Coffee with warm milk to make a quick pick-me-up.

For people who grew up in working-class families in the United Kingdom during the 1950s and ’60s, it is nostalgia in a bottle. The coffee habit had hardly touched such communities at that time and tea was the almost-universal choice for a hot drink. The bottle of Camp often sat on the shelf for years, just in case the dreaded coffee-drinking relative turned up unexpectedly. Still, it provided many Brits their first taste of coffee. But by the 1970s, it had largely been replaced by freeze-dried instant coffee.

For those whose normal caffeinated drink of choice is coffee, Camp doesn’t quite hit the mark. But if you are not a coffee purist, it has an acceptable, if unconventional, sweet flavor. Though some mix it with cold milk and ice for an iced coffee, its most popular modern use is in baking. For a hit of coffee-esque flavor, it can be added to everything from cakes and cookies to ice cream and Rice Krispie treats. In fact, you’re more likely to find the bottles in the baking aisle in a British supermarket instead of the coffee section.

Need to Know

The label on the bottle has been the subject of some controversy. Originally it showed a seated officer of the Gordon Highlanders receiving coffee from a Sikh servant holding a coffee tray. Objections relating to imperialism resulted in removing the tray in the 1970s (but the servant still stood) and, more recently, removing the hierarchy altogether. Now the labels depict both men sitting together, drinking coffee.

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Dr Alan P Newman Dr Alan P Newman
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