Coffee, Why Is It Called A Cup Of Joe
“No one named Joe first discovered, cultivated, or even sold coffee, so why is it called a cup of Joe? Your friends all have different stories, and you’ve heard a few rumors, too. So, what’s the real story behind the name?”
People like a little history with their caffeine, and one of the most prevalent theories about how “Joe” and coffee became synonymous involves a politician and unhappy sailors. In 1914, Josephus (“Joe”) Daniels used his position as Secretary of the Navy to pass General Order 99, banning alcohol on naval vessels.
Once upon a time, sailors enjoyed an actual ration of alcohol while serving, so – according to the story – they began mocking Josephus by referring to coffee as a “cup of Joe.” Since it essentially replaced booze as the sailors’ drink of choice aboard ship, it’s easy to see how this story got rolling. Unfortunately, the facts don’t quite add up.
The term “cup of Joe” didn’t appear in writing until the 1930’s. It seems strange that all those sailors busy writing loved ones during WWI would wait to express their frustration for over a decade. What’s more, sailors’ spirit ration aboard navy vessels actually ended in the 1800’s, well before anyone starting calling coffee a cup of Joe. Daniels’ regulation really only targeted officers, and not regular sailors.
Turns of Phrase
Most linguists and historians agree that the cup of Joe comes from the natural evolution of language. It’s the truth of spoken English. Words change. They get shorter, weirder, and their final form doesn’t always make much sense.
Sadly, slang doesn’t always come with a great origin story. The name Joe probably springs from two other words for coffee: Java and Mocha. People actually combined the two words as “Jamoke” for a while, and that was the default slang for coffee. Many repetitions and abbreviations later, this shortened term probably shrank naturally into plain, old Joe.
The Ordinary Joe
Calling coffee a cup of Joe may have more significance now than it did when the term first appeared. Since “Joe” is also a term for the hardworking, everyday man, the term has gained significance. We often consider a cup of Joe the common man’s drink, after all. It’s strong, keeps you going, and makes the menu in even the cheapest diner.
This meaning might have played a role in the trimming of Jamoke to Joe, or it might have come after the term cemented itself in our vernacular. It’s the chicken and the egg question all over again. Either way, the name sticks.
Just as there are many “perfect” ways to take your coffee, people have many explanations for the brew’s popular nickname. Any of these stories may be true, or the phrase’s common use may have been born from a combination of them all. Facts suggest the name took time to percolate. No matter what you call it, though, it’s still one of the best ways to start your day.