Why Is Coffee Called Joe? – CoffeeGearX

Coffee is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world, and in many places, it only comes second to water, and this has been the case for a long time.

For such a popular beverage, it should not be a surprise that people have given it many nicknames over the years. Two of the most common ones are "Java" and "cup of Joe".

Java is self-explanatory because when coffee became popular in the western world back in the 1800s, the main source of coffee beans at that time was Java, an Indonesian island.

But, with the “cup of Joe” nickname things are not that straightforward because coffee enthusiasts do not seem able to agree on where the name originates from.

There are different theories that try to explain this. While the debate on where the name comes from is probably not going away anytime soon, knowing some of these theories should shed more light on the matter.

Theory #1: Secretary Joseph “Joe” Daniels

The first theory and perhaps the most well known particularly in the USA is that the name was coined from Joseph "Joe" Daniels who was Secretary of the Navy during the First World War.

According to this theory, Secretary Joseph Daniels issued General Order 99 in 1914 that prohibited alcohol aboard the U.S Navy Ships and also cracked down on prostitution in naval bases and increased the number of chaplains in an attempt to inculcate strict morality in the navy.

The prohibition of alcohol meant that the strongest thing that naval men could get was a cup of coffee. In response and a sign of contempt to the Secretary's order, the naval men christened coffee as a "cup of Joseph" which like most other slang terms was later shortened to "cup of Joe".

While this theory might be quite charming and seems to hold water given that the Secretary was known to be quite strict, and this is more so when it comes to moral issues, there are still some things that do not hold up.

Key among the issues with this theory is that prior to 1914, you could hardly find any alcohol in navy ships given that the spirit rations had been discontinued back in 1862. Only officers had some access to a wine mess.

What all this means is that the issuance of General Order 99 would not have a significant effect on the lives of the sailors since they did not have access to alcohol. Moreover, the term "cup of Joe" first entered the English language in 1930 which is 16 years after the Secretary's order.

Theory #2: Jamoke to Joe

Another strong theory that explains the origin of the term is that it comes from combining different coffee names.

In the 1930s, Jamoke was one of the most common nicknames for coffee, and it was coined by combining mocha and java. Some linguists are of the opinion that over time that name Jamoke was shortened to Joe since shortening words has always been the trend in slang.

Although there is no solid evidence or historical record to show that the term Jamoke was shortened to Joe, there is also no ways to discredit this theory. And given that it is natural for slang words to be shortened over the years, this theory can still hold water.

Theory #3: Joe Martinson (Martinson Coffee)    

Many coffee drinkers do not know that Martinson Coffee has trademarked the term “cup of Joe”. As unbelievable as it might sound, someone or a company that is, actually has a trademark to this term that thousands if not millions of coffee lovers use almost every day.

The fact that the company has the trademark suggests that the term was coined in its early years in business.

Martinson Coffee was founded by Joe Martinson in 1898 that was known for his bigger than life personality, and it is thought that coffee might have been referred to as "Joe's coffee" which later morphed into "cup of Joe".

As the company continued to grow, it is thought that the name also expanded from a simple local nickname to a widely used term.

However, one problem with this theory is that besides the literature that has been put forward by the Martinson Coffee Company, there is no other written historical evidence to support it.

Theory #4: Average Joe’s Drink

One of the easily verifiable theories of the origin of the “cup of Joe” term is that the name came from the popular “average Joe” saying that is a name used to refer to the average American male.

Given that coffee is often seen as the drink for the average person, it makes a lot of sense that some people would prefer to refer it to a "cup of Joe".

Whether this theory is true or not, the term was probably kept alive by the average Joe’s after the Second World War. As dinners and other small restaurants began popping up across the USA in the 40s and 50s, it is most likely that working men would order their preferred breakfast and a "cup of Joe".

Other Common Coffee Nicknames

While many coffee aficionados might refer to coffee as either Java or a "cup of Joe' there are still many other slang names. You can still call coffee anything that you like, but it does not hurt to know some of its other nicknames.

These other coffee nicknames that are widely used in the US and a few other parts of the world include caffeine fix, bean juice, a cup of brew, cuppa, the daily grind, caffeine infusion and go juice.

Final Thoughts 

No one knows with certainty which one of the four theories above and the many others out there is the true account of the origins of the terms "cup of Joe". But, what is certain is that the term came up in the 1930s which is when the first occurrence was recorded.

Regardless of what you prefer to call your coffee or which theory appeals most to you, one point that most people will agree with is that coffee is now popular than at any other time in history.

By brewing it in your favorite style, taking it in your favorite cup and accompanied with your favorite snack, this great tasting and refreshing beverage will always seem to melt away all your problems.