Why is Coffee Called “Joe”?
There are countless names for coffee: brew, java, espresso, caffeine burst, and more. However, one name is quite unique. Why is it that we call coffee joe? This is a very valid question, and we are going to unpack the history behind this to help understand where this outlier name originated.
Shockingly, there is no concrete evidence to where the term cup of joe began, but there are a few theories. The earliest use of this phrase is dated back to the 1930’s when it became a common term that was also used in a book or two.
One of the theories points to Martinson coffee as the originators of this term. They officially trademarked “cup of joe”, so it’s only logical to assume that it began as a slang phrase of theirs that caught on. This company began in 1898, but didn’t start taking off until the 1930’s, when the term became popular.
The other theory is tied to the US navy, when they banned alcohol for shops, causing an interest in coffee for Navy’s due to lack of anything else to drink. The man that banned this was the Secretary of Navy at the time, Josephus “Joe” Daniels. Hence the possible connection to the cup of joe phrase.
This theory gets a lot more push back, as loads of people argue that the alcohol ban was not enforced, and lowers the chances of this actually becoming a common phrase. The ban also took effect in 1914, which is 20 years before the cup of joe term began to grow in popularity, leading us to think this theory is a tad off.
There are few outlier theories that are a bit more broad, such as the concept that joe is a common name for most people, and coffee is a common drink for most people as well. Put two and two together and you have a convenient phrase that slowly became common among the masses.
Other people think that it’s a mixture of the terms java and mocha, which were popular names for coffee at the time. This one is a bit of a stretch, as many don’t see the connection to mocha in the word joe, and we have to agree with them.
Regardless of which theory is fully accurate, it is no doubt that cup of joe is universally used to represent our beloved drink, and a slang term that started in one niche of people has grown to much bigger than they ever realized it would.
Next time you use the phrase whether it be to a friend, at your local cafe, or in your home, you can say it with confidence knowing you know that there is a long history behind it and the mystery that is “cup of joe” will live on.