Why is Coffee called a Cup of Joe?

About 5 minutes of reading time

Avatar for Jasmine

Home  /  Resources  /  Why is Coffee called a Cup of Joe?
Why is Coffee called a Cup of Joe

Caffeine has stood in kitchen cabinets all over the world for centuries and over its tenure in our pantries, it has gained several alternative aliases. Some of the most common ones include referring to coffee as brain juice, or bean juice. Others have connected the infamous brown bean to morning workday rituals and prefer to refer to coffee as a morning jolt or rocket fuel. The more dramatic amongst you have probably called it the elixir of life at one point in time. While most of the code names for coffee have at least a semblance of a connection to meaning or logic there is one that escapes understanding for many. The question of the day is why is coffee called a Cup of Joe?

A Peek Into the Past

The unsuspecting coffee bean that has wormed its way into our everyday life does have a rather exciting origin story. The legend dates back to the exploits of an Ethiopian goat herder named Kaldi. While exact details are scarce, the first noted mention of coffee dates back to the fifteenth century. It is safe to believe Kaldi was enjoying an ordinary day when he noticed his grazing goats behaving rather strangely. To be more precise he claimed they appeared to be dancing. Upon investigation, he found that they had nibbled on the red berries from what we now know to be the coffee plant. It is said Kaldi took his discovery to the local monastery.

Coffee did not receive the best reaction from the monks and was accused of being a devil fruit and tossed in the fire. As the beans met heat, however, the fragrance of roasting coffee beans we know and love engulfed the monks and they decided to give the beans a second chance.

The rest as they say is history.

Cup of Joe – The Name Game

As time passed and coffee made its way across the globe every country and culture it encountered welcomed it with open arms and made it it’s own. As a result, a number of unique preparation techniques and recipes spread among the coffee community. Along with them separate segments of the coffee society chose to christen the beverage in their unique way. A few of the names we’ve mentioned above and a few others you might know. But the one you’ve definitely encountered in the past, and under our microscope, right now is the birth of the term, a cup of joe.

Luckily for us, there are a few contenders who claim credit of that story.

The Whisper from the Wild Seas

The most famous tale in the list dates back to 1914 and holds its roots in the code and nuances of the Navy. At the time the US was said to have one Josephus Daniels in the seat of the secretary of the Navy. If the date dings a few bells for you, it is because it was the time of the first world war. And the secretary of the Navy decided it was prudent to ban alcohol on ships at the time. The order was said to have passed in June of the year. It’s safe to say that banning alcohol, which wasn’t easy to come by on seafaring vessels at the time to start with did not make Josephus Daniels a very liked man.

Once it was in effect the only suitable supplement the sailors could get their hands on was of course the fated cup of caffeine. What followed was an inside joke between the Navy man referring to a cup of coffee as a cup of Joseph Daniels. Over time the phrase shortened to the phrase we know, love, and use so freely today.

The Cup of the Common Man

While a cup of Joe is a familiar term within the coffee community. There might be many out of it that have simply never heard of it before. There is however a similar more well-known phrase termed the average joe that refers to the common man. It was during the first world war that the need for and use of coffee spread. Soldiers started using coffee to keep them warm and keep them going. The demand for and consumption of coffee spread widely in time amongst the general public too. Coffee appeared in almost every other person’s hands converting it into the average beverage at the time. A steaming cup of coffee became a staple in the hands of the common man leaping calling it a cup of Joe and easy one.

The Word Game

The next theory that claims its seat on the throne as the initiator of the term will be a favorite of all the wordsmiths out there. This theory does not place its bets on either history, fiction, or lore. It merely implements logic and sense.

The theory states the term a cup of Joe was born out of altering existing alternative tags coffee had at the time. Follow with us down the path linguists claim is the one true route.

During the years of the 1930s, the term Jamoke was a word commonly supplemented for a cup of coffee. The odd-sounding name was in itself a blend of Java and Mocha. Now those are tags we’re sure you’ve heard before. In fact, they’re tags that got so ingrained in the coffee world they’ve served as a stand-in for the coffee itself.

The Jump from Jamoke to Joe doesn’t seem to be too difficult a one to make.

The Branding Business

The next participant, asks you to take time out to talk shop. While this theory might not prove to be as intriguing as the ones that came before. It stands an equal chance of being the true story.

Martinson Coffee

If you’re someone who’s followed the journey of coffee, the name Martinson Coffee will undoubtedly ring a few bells. It has after all been doing the round in the coffee circuit for over a century now. The name of the founder of said company is; you guessed it a man named Joe Martinson. The man at the helm of the company was said to be larger than life character. The phrase of a cup of Joe became an inside joke when referring to the man. Over time, however, it is said to have transferred from the man to the coffee he offered the world. After that, it didn’t long for the phrase to make its way to the rest of us.

The Memory Game

The last option on our list is one, not a lot of people know or acknowledge. Mainly because it will need you to stretch your imagination a little further than the ones above require to. Also, the timing doesn’t necessarily fit.

The theory states, one of the first words that come to people’s minds when you give the prompt of coffee is black. If you look for a song by Stephen Foster in 1860, you will come across the gem that is Old Black Joe. While the lyrics of the song don’t really work around the theme of coffee. People claim it is the medium that puts the phrase amongst the people.

At the End of the Day

If you know your literature, you’ll remember Shakespeare spoke to the fickleness that names and their meanings hold. You’ve got to admit it’s fun to know. Fun to dig a little into both fact and farce to get to the roots. To find a story or in this case stories about a word or phrase that seems to slip off our tongue easily enough. Fun to learn the when, where, and how it was born.