Why Is Coffee Called “A Cup of Joe”?

Coffee comes to us from many places, and in many forms. Latte, cold brew, or drip: they all started on the ancient Ethiopian plateau, when a goat-herder noticed his goats eating a berry that made them so energetic, they couldn’t sleep at night (if you’ve ever had coffee after 3 p.m., you can relate). The local monks found that the berries enabled them to stay alert for long hours of prayer, and coffee eventually spread to the Arabian Peninsula and Europe, and through colonization to Asia, the Caribbean, and the Americas, where it was grown by enslaved peoples.

Today, coffee is thankfully available with fair trade growing practices from about eighty countries. The history of coffee is long and fascinating, but it passes through hundreds of years without a Joe in sight. So where did this nickname come from?

Coffee is a beloved drink of millions of people around the world. It is so loved that it has spawned all sorts of endearing nicknames. Two of the most common are “java" and “cup of joe." So how did coffee come to be known by these interesting nicknames?

When it comes to the nickname java, the explanation is fairly straightforward. When coffee became quite popular way back in the 1800s, the main source of the world's coffee at that time was the Indonesian island named Java. So it was only natural that a mug of hot coffee would come to be known as java.

But what about a "cup of joe?" That common nickname has been around a long time, but its origins are still a bit mysterious. There are several theories that have been put forth, but none of them can claim to be the definitive explanation.

Some believe that the origin of “cup of joe" stems from a 1914 ban on alcohol on U.S. Navy ships imposed by the Secretary of the Navy Josephus “Joe" Daniels. After his order, imposed near the beginning of World War I, the strongest drink a sailor could get on a ship was black coffee.

Those who believe this theory claim that sailors, angry about the ban, began to call coffee a “cup of joe" in protest. However, historians have cast doubt on this theory. For starters, alcohol was not widely available on Navy ships prior to the ban, so the ban would've had very little, if any, practical effect.

Linguists sometimes argue that Joe could be a shortened version of Jamoke. Jamoke, which was a common nickname for coffee in the 1930s, was a combination of mocha and java. (Coffee drinkers today will still be familiar with mocha and java.) Jamoke could have been shortened simply to “joe,” a process that many slang terms go through. Java + Mocha = Joe