Why Is Coffee Called “A Cup of Joe”? 4 Possible Theories

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A lot of people would consider coffee as their best friend. It is something that you can rely on for both good times and bad times. It is a comfort beverage that you can take any time of the day.

You can count on it to provide you with the strength and caffeine to take on the day and support your indigestion after a heavy meal. It is also the one you hold to make you feel alright.

But, enough of all the talking. Why is coffee called, “A cup of Joe?” Let’s dig in.

Why Is Coffee Called “A Cup of Joe”? 4 Theories

Forged by the Sea

The name ‘Cup of Joe’ came from the Navy.

It all started way back in 1913. It is the time Pres. Woodrow Wilson had appointed Josephus Daniels to become the new secretary of the Navy.

It was recalled that on June 1, 1914, General Order 99 was issued by the newly appointed leader. 

Order 99 stipulated that moving forward, alcohol will be prohibited aboard all naval vessels. 

The servicemen who were severely impacted by Order 99 were the naval officers who had full freedom in creating their ‘wine messes’ from 1893 until Order 99 happened in 1914. 

It was even further stated that in the Navy’s history, the sailors were provided a ration of rum on a daily basis. But this daily supply was also banned before Order 99.

From that day on, coffee became the strongest beverage on naval ships. So, they ended up drinking coffee more than ever.

Openly being insolent to your commanders is out of the question, so the fuming sailors, out of spite, started calling the coffee a ‘cup of Joseph Daniels’ as a form of protest. 

They started calling coffee a “cup of Joe” and not with a fondness for their leader but out of pure spite. It was a mock salute for taking away their alcohol.

So, with this theory, is Joe really referring to Josephus Daniels?

Two Words into One

Another plausible origin to get to ‘Joe’ is with the play of words. 

The cup of Joe came into the English Lexicon language in the 1930s, which is exactly 16 years after Order 99

Joe, it appears, is the shortened version of the slang terms’ Java’ and ‘Jamoke.’ Jamoke itself is the product of two slang words: java and mocha are popular slang for coffee in those years.

When you hear the young adults talking, it does make sense how it was shortened to ‘cup of Joe’ from ‘cup of Jamoke‘. It is not surprising at all since slang terms are often further shortened.

For this particular theory, there is a mathematical formula of Java + Mocha = Joe.

Martinson Coffee is Joe’s Coffee

It was Martinson’s Coffee who actually trademarked the phrase ‘cup of Joe’, implying that the nickname may have rooted from the early years of the company.

Joe Martinson founded Martinson’s Coffee in 1898 in New York.

He was known in the community for having a bigger than life personality, and the coffee was fondly dubbed after him.

Coffee was locally referred to as “Joe’s coffee” then, and as his coffee business expanded, the name stuck and became widely used and shared.

This one seems to have originated from a real-life person who directly links to coffee by making a living out of it, so it kind of connects and makes sense.

He might be the mystery Joe fondly linked to our morning liquid starter.

Although today, Martinson’s Coffee may not ring a bell, it is considered a classic. 

Curious who owns this trademark now? View the new owner here.

“Joe” for the Common Guy

If there is a contest on the most common male name of all time, the winner would have to be Joe.

Thus, Joe became a slang term for ‘that guy,’ and ‘common man,’ and ‘that guy.’

Combining this universal name to a universal drink comes the birth of ‘cup of Joe’, which refers to the drink of the common man or the common man’s drink.

The connotation is modest: a regular drink for the regular man. Some unknown buster walks into the restaurant, and what does he ask for?

He gets the same beverage as every other nameless man: A cup of Joe.

‘Cup of Joe’ is associated with that beverage that fuels all typical fellows. And the choice of name, which is Joe, has a nice ring to it. It will feel odd calling it a ‘cup of Bob,’ or a ‘cup of John.’

The Final Brew

With varying possibilities of how the cup of Joe came to be, this can be a fun discussion while drinking coffee with your friends.

Always remember that calling your coffee ‘Joe’ or ‘a cup of Joe’ may have come from any of these or a combination of any of these theories and you can further look into each of the theories before believing in one and embracing it as your origin of the nickname.

  • Your average Joe
  • From the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels, and the pissed-off soldiers
  • The slang word ‘Jamoke.’
  • J. Martinson, the oldest coffee maker in the US

Or you can also just easily point it to marketing. No explanations are needed. You can’t explain marketing. Or just source the origin from a song about a helper.

Overall, you can call coffee any name you want it. But the richness in its flavor and that coffee aroma will never change. Its purpose in your life will never falter, and you’ll always rely on your best friend.

Whatever you call it, it’s going to be the same cup of good coffee anytime, anywhere.

To give credit to where it’s due, all coffee lovers worldwide give a heartfelt thanks and Kudos to Joe, whoever you are in the history of coffee.

We owe you a multitude of appreciation for your massive contribution to our cup of Joe. Thank you, Joe!

Cuppabean
Charles is the author and managing editor of Cuppabean.com. A self-admitted coffee addict, he drinks 2-4 cups of coffee a day to get his fix. In the morning, you'll often find him brewing his freshly grounded arabica coffee beans on his french press coffee. Read more about the site here.
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