Calling coffee “Joe” and referring to a “cup of Joe” are common occurrences in popular culture, especially across the United States. Although the term and its usage is fairly clear cut, the history and origins of the phrase are more complex and lengthy. In this article, we are taking a look at why coffee is called Joe.
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Origins of the Term ‘Joe’
While it is debated what the exact origin of “Joe” is, there are a few prevailing theories about the beginnings of this term. The first of these takes place in the U.S. Navy, specifically surrounding former secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.
Supposedly, in 1914 he issued Order 99, which banned alcohol from all Navy vessels. This prohibition on alcoholic beverages led to a drastic increase in coffee consumption on Navy ships. Due to the increase in coffee and the cause being Joe Daniels’ Order 99, Navy sailors began referring to coffee as a “cup of Joe” out of both humor and animosity. If this is true, the nickname Joe stuck around and spread throughout the U.S.
However, linguists and historians have only traced most usage of “Joe” back to the 1930’s, well after Order 99. Additionally, alcohol was not widely accessible on vessels prior to Order 99, so it is unlikely that sailors would have been drastically impacted or upset by the order. This makes the Navy theory a little less likely.
Why Is Coffee Called Joe?
A simpler explanation is that Joe is a shortened version of the coffee terms “java” and “jamoke,” with “jamoke” being a slang combination of java and mocha. Since the terms “java” and “mocha” became widely used themselves, it is easy to see how these terms could have been shortened and combined into “Joe.”
There is another theory that stems from the Martinson Coffee Company, which was founded in New York in 1898. The company was started by Joseph Martinson, and the coffee became widely loved as the company grew. Due to the popularity, customers began referring to the coffee as a “cup of Joe,” in honor of the company’s founder.
Lastly, another language-based explanation refers to the name Joe itself. Joe is an extremely common name, especially throughout the U.S. Therefore, the name Joe is sometimes used as a term to describe the “common man,” as in the phrase “average Joe.” Coffee has become a drink closely associated with the common working man, so this explanation suggests that coffee became a “cup of Joe” because it was the drink of the common man.
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When it comes to why is coffee called Joe, despite all of these speculations, the theory that “Joe” is a shortened version of “java” and “mocha,” or “jamoke,” is the most widely-accepted story of its origin.