Why Is Coffee Called A “Cup Of Joe”?

why is coffee called joe

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Where does the term cup of Joe come from? There are some strange nicknames in the beverage world, but Joe has to be one of the most bizarre. Why is coffee called Joe? The phrase must have originated from somewhere, right? Joe? Who is Joe?

Honestly, finding the answer to this mystery hasn’t been easy. Trust me. I have searched far and wide.

Sure, there are plenty of theories, some more far-fetched than others. But from my research, I can’t seem to find a concrete explanation of where the phrase originated.

So if you want some solid answers, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. However, stick around because I have listed four popular theories that are circulating in the world of coffee.

✔ Quick Answer

The term “cup of Joe” for coffee is believed to have originated from American slang; one popular theory suggests it comes from “Joe” being a common name, thus representing an everyday man’s drink. Another theory links it to Josephus Daniels, former Secretary of the Navy, who banned alcohol on ships in 1914, leading sailors to turn more towards coffee, mockingly calling it a “cup of Joe” in his honor.

Where Did The Phrase Cup Of Joe Come From?

In my search for answers, I stumbled across many explanations. Below I have listed some of the more believable “cup of Joe” theories I unearthed.

Josephus Daniels: Banned Alcohol on Ships

One of the more likely explanations of why coffee is called Joe is this one. It has a military connection that goes all the way back to around 1913.

This theory revolves around Josephus Daniel, a U.S. Navy secretary from 1913 to 1921. In those days, the Navy was a frat-like organization, and heavy drinking and promiscuous girls were commonplace.

coffee joe origin

Josephus set out to abolish the frat culture and started by banning alcohol. To compensate for the restriction on booze, Josephus made sure that the navy crew had plenty of coffee.

It didn’t take long for the sober and irritated sailors to quickly name the new beverage of choice a ‘cup of Josephus Daniels.’ Over time, the term was shortened to just a “cup of Joe.”

Although this theory is one of the most plausible from my research, it has started to be questioned recently. According to official records, the alcohol ban came into effect in 1914.

However, the term “cup of Joe” didn’t officially appear in documents until around 1930. The first time this phrase was mentioned in literature was in a Reserve Officer’s Manual from 1931.

This phrase would have taken a while to leave a small group of sailors and then passed around by word of mouth from ship to ship before it was ever documented.

Personally, I still find this the most likely reason behind the Joe coffee term.

Common Man Theory (A Homage To An Average Joe)

An “average joe” is a typical American slang term used to describe the regular everyday man. From my understanding, the term started to be used sometime around the 1930 and 1940s in the military; again, another military connection.

It was common for men in the military to be called Joe or G.I Joe.

Fun Fact

Even today, if you travel to the Philippines, foreign western men are often called “Joe” in reference to the American military, who spent a lot of time on the islands.

Coffee was a popular drink with the troops – the G.I. Joes. It didn’t take long for the name cup of Joe to translate to a common man’s drink.

This is a good theory, but I’m still not convinced this is where it all started.

Just Shortened Slang? Java + Mocha = Joe

It’s common for words to become shortened over time. Look at words that have been shortened to just letters, such as BTW: By the way. CYA: See ya. D.M.: Direct message. These are just a few examples, but there are thousands.

Humans are lazy; if they can chop off a few words or letters, they’ll do it.

And this is another theory of how coffee might have become Joe.

Hear me out.

Java and Mocha are popular names for coffee that have been used for hundreds of years. The words came from some of the very first shipping ports from which coffee was originally exported.

The theory goes that over time the words Java and Mocha merged into “Jamocha,” which was later shortened to “Jamkoe,” and as more time passed to word became shorter still eventually ending up as simply “Joe.”

Maybe It’s Just Good Marketing That Stuck?

Did the phrase cup of Joe come from good ole marketing?

The term “cup of Joe” was trademarked by the Martinson Coffee company. The coffee company was founded in New York in 1898 by Joe Martinson.

Joe Martinson’s philosophy was to source and brew only the very best coffee. From my research, it does seem that his coffee was locally called “Joe’s coffee” or a “cup of Joe.”

It’s not hard to imagine that as the company grew and expanded the term could have easily spread to different locations to become a more widely used term for “good coffee.”

Conclusion: Why Is Coffee Called Joe?

So there you have it. These are some leading theories surrounding the “Joe” origin and the name “cup of Joe.”

Some seem more likely than others, but I guess we’ll never know for sure where the phrase actually originated.

The term has been used for decades by coffee drinkers and probably will be for decades to come. The true origin might come to light someday, but for now, we can only speculate.

Which sounds the most convincing to you?

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