John Coffee was born in Tacoma, Washington and attended the public schools. He then attended the University of Washington in Seattle, earning an Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws, 1920 and graduated from the law department of, Juris Doctor, in 1921.
He was admitted to the bar in 1922 and commenced practice as a lawyer in Tacoma, Washington.
In 1922 he was appointed Secretary to United States Senator Community College Dill until 1924. He then became Secretary of the Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration, 1933-1935. Coffee also served as Appraiser and examiner of Pierce County, Washington for the State Inheritance Tax and Escheat Division from 1933-1936 as well as Civil service commissioner for Tacoma, Washington, in 1936.
Coffee was elected as a Democrat to the Seventy-fifth and to the four succeeding Congresses (January 3, 1937 – January 3, 1947).
In 1946 it was revealed during the Garsson/May investigation that Coffee had accepted a $2500 check from a Tacoma contractor in 1941 and failed to list it as a campaign contribution. Coffee promised not to accept such gifts in the future.
Coffee was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1946 to the Eightieth Congress when he was defeated by Republican Thor Tollefson. Coffee would also run losing races in 1950 for the Eighty-second Congress and in 1958 to the Eighty-sixth Congress.
Coffee then became a practicing attorney in Tacoma, Washington, until his death in June 1983.
Coffee"s son, (died May 8, 2012), was a Unitarian minister and a longtime professor of history at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, and coauthored A Century of Eloquence: the history of Emerson College, 1880-1980. He was also editor of The Fare Box, a publication from the American Vecturist Association.