Why is coffee called a cup of Joe? Who is Joe, and where did the term “cup of Joe” originate? It turns out that nobody knows for sure who Joe is or where the word “cup of Joe” originated, although theories abound as to its origin. The only constant in the many ideas that abound is that the term originated in the 20th century America and the innovative members of her military were probably involved.
One popular theory is that Daniels served as Secretary of the Navy to President Woodrow Wilson during WWI, who avoided alcohol in any form. According to one theory, teetotaler Wilson had Daniels ban beer and hard liquor from naval ships in 1914 with General Order 99. The phrase “cup of Joe” was a shortened form of the derogatory term “a cup of Josephus Daniels” since beer and rum were now forbidden, and the sailor’s only strong drink was black coffee.
Not only was Daniels a teetotaler along with Wilson, but he also had a strict moral code. He endeavored to imbue the military with better morals by eliminating the consumption of alcohol on base as well as aboard ships, prohibiting prostitution on base, increasing the number of chaplains, and banning alcohol sales and consumption. The term “cup of Joe” was meant derogatory toward Daniels since his restrictions weren’t popular and widespread.
However, Snopes indicates this theory is false since there’s no mention of the term until 1930, which was a decade and a half after the ban on alcohol. Alcohol wasn’t widely available aboard ships at that time anyway.
However, there’s no denying that the sailors drank a lot of coffee. There wasn’t much to do onboard U.S. Navy ships –when the ship wasn’t docked in port somewhere, especially in the early 20th century – except work, sleep, and eat or drink. With no alcohol allowed on board, sailors drank a lot of coffee.
Java and Jamoke:
Another theory is that “joe” is a derivation of the two words “java” and “jamoke,” both of which are slang terms for the dark and bitter brew. Linguist Michael Quinion supports this theory. However, there’s no more proof for this theory than any other except for an entry in the Reserve Officer’s Manual stating that the term “joe” was derived from the words Java and Mocha, where the best coffee came from.” Coffee traders who bought coffee from Yemen had to stop in the port of Mocha before journeying on to Java, which accounts for the jamoke theory. Java became a trendy slang term for coffee, and the arabica beans – considered the best in the world – originated in Yemen and Ethiopia.
This single entry probably gives more credence to this theory than any of the others but is the only existing proof one way or the other.
Cup of George: Yet another theory is that the term was derived from the individual servings of instant coffee included in the rations given to service members. The George Washington Coffee Company made instant coffee, commonly abbreviated as “Geo” and misread as “Joe.” Snopes indicates that this theory is unlikely also, but it’s about as valid as any other theory. There’s no definitive proof of the origins of the term “Cup of Joe.”
The Common Man’s Drink:
Yet another theory is that the term joe is synonymous with an unidentified male as in the phrases “regular Joe,” “GI Joe,” and the “average Joe.” Therefore, the term “cup of Joe” meant a cup of the commoner’s drink. Since coffee was now affordable and available to everyone, it was considered a drink for the everyday person rather than the wealthy and elite.
Ole Black Joe:
Another unlikely theory is that the term cuppa Joe was derived from the African-American spiritual “Ole Black Joe” because a 1911 comic strip uses this term to describe coffee without milk or cream. Opponents say that since the spiritual was popular in the 1860s, it makes no sense to generate a slang term in the 1930s.
Other Nicknames for Coffee:
Whether your favorite nickname is Dirt, Mud, Java, Jitter Juice, Pick-Me-Up, or Cup of Joe, the inky, bitter brew is a favorite of civilians and military throughout the United States. Many people wouldn’t think of starting their day without it. Many have a timer on their coffee maker so they can stumble to the kitchen and down their brew without having to make it in the morning while they’re half asleep. The introduction of instant coffee cured the half-asleep coffee blues, but some people preferred a fresher, more aromatic cup of coffee. The introduction of single-serve coffeemakers greatly simplified the morning ritual for many, making these innovative coffee makers among the top sellers in the U.S.
Origins of the Coffee Plant:
Coffee, or at least the plants with caffeinated beans, grows throughout the world, particularly in the tropics around the equator. However, they can also grow in California, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. The woody evergreen plants can reach 30 meters or more in height, and the green coffee beans must be roasted to bring out the depths of their flavor. Roasting coffee beans requires considerable knowledge and expertise to extract the maximum flavor from the specific type of coffee bean. There are four main types of coffee beans. Each has traits that respond best to a particular roasting method and yield the most flavorful cup of Joe. Beans are stored green to maintain their flavor and freshness until they’re roasted.
Types of Coffee:
Those who are into the single-serving sizes of coffee can skip the preparations the night before in favor of Martinson Coffee single-serving coffee capsules that offer the perfect blend of smoothness and flavor. They’re available in a bag or a box and light, medium, or dark roast varieties. The only preparation necessary is to pop the pod in the coffeemaker.
Proof of the Origins of the Term “Cup of Joe”:
It’s entirely possible that the origins of the term “cup of Joe” have nothing to do with any of these theories, or there may be some grains of truth taken from all of them. Wherever the term originated, it’s a fact that it refers to one of the most popular drinks in the world. Global consumption of coffee has increased between 30 and 40 percent of the world includes a cup of Joe in their diet regularly.
The United States leads the world in coffee consumption with approximately 26.4 pounds per person annually. Norway, Ireland, and Denmark are about 20 pounds per person consumption.
Coffee Consumption and Health:
As with many foods and beverages, moderate consumption of coffee has been shown to have health benefits for many people. Moderation is defined as two to four cups daily. Drinking ten or twelve or more cups daily isn’t considered moderation, nor is it good for your health.
The only thing we know with absolute certainty about the origins of the term cup of Joe is that we don’t know for sure where or why it originated. Possibly, it has more than one origin, which is likely. Communications in the early 1900s were significantly more limited than now, and there were no social media to spread information. Whatever its origins, coffee is one of the most popular drinks globally, and many can’t – or don’t want to – start or end their day without a cup of it.