Why Is Coffee Called a ‘Cup of Joe’?

Why Is Coffee Called a ‘Cup of Joe’

I see why coffee has so many nicknames around the planet. We like to give cool slang names to the things we’re in contact with on a regular basis. So, obviously coffee deserved a nickname as well. We’ve all heard the most famous nickname for coffee, but have you ever wondered where the moniker ‘cup of Joe’ came from?

The term ‘cup of Joe’ originated in 1914 when US Navy secretary, Josephus Daniels, banned alcohol from all US Navy vessels. Since then, navy soldiers have referred to their coffee as a ‘cup of Joe’ out of spite.

That’s only where the story begins. The main reason why this origin is disputed is that the term doesn’t appear in any written text for another 14 years. Since then, a few compelling arguments have been made by people claiming their story for inventing the nickname to be true. I’ll share all the stories I’ve explored can decide which one you think is the most likely to be true.

Did ‘Cup of Joe’ Originate from England?

As you investigate the history of coffee, you will read about Michael Quinion. A writer, linguist, and Cambridge graduate. Michael Quinion states that the term ‘cup of Joe’ is a concatenation of the many different names already used to refer to coffee such as “mocha”, “java”, or “jamoke”.

Quinion cites an example in the 1931 Reserve Officer’s Manual, where a man named Erdman writes, “Jamoke, Java, Joe. Coffee. Derived from the words Java and Mocha, where initially the best coffee came from”.

This is a very possible theory for the origin of our term. I like how it’s recorded and presented in a way that’s easy to understand. Some historians side with crediting Michael Quinion for inventing the term, and honestly, it’s not hard to see why.

Exotic Bean for An Average Joe

Most of us are familiar with the term “average Joe”. We use it to mean average American or regular guy. It’s no wonder companies used the term “Joe” to relate an exotic bean from a different continent to the everyday person.

In the world of marketing, you often see simple terms used for new products, for example, “Apple” or “Band-Aid”. Common words that relate to the average person in the same way that “Joe” does.

Big business has used this strategy for many years. Is this approach hard to imagine when nicknaming coffee?

Joe Martinson, Founder of Martinson Coffee Company

Do you see where we’re going with this? Martinson Coffee Company, of New York City, claim “cup of Joe” was created to give homage to the founder. They actually own the trademark for the term ‘cup of Joe’!

It’s likely possible that The Martinson Coffee Company was the reason for the nickname caught on around America. As I mentioned before, marketing does play a big role when creating monikers for products. Or perhaps, Joe Martinson was somehow affected by the Navy. Maybe he applied the term he learned from the Navy to his own family business.

That mystery is yet to be solved. Fans of the coffee and Mr. Martinson’s descendants continue to believe the trademarked term is a tribute to the founder of their company.

The Verdict

If you like to ‘stir the pot’ online join a Reddit thread on the origins of the term ‘Cup of Joe’. The loyalty of some coffee drinkers is second to none and they will defend their theory to a bitter end.

There seems to be no straightforward answer to the “cup of Joe” mystery. We all decide which explanation we find to be most true or in some cases which brand of coffee we like to support.

One of the most popular drinks on the planet is bound to have many labels subject to various background stories. Experiencing a cup of Joe at home, on the go, or in a shop is a daily routine for most of us but the origin of the nickname remains a mystery.

I personally choose to believe the term originated from the US Navy because I know how much of an impact a military can have on society. Somewhere in my mind, I believe all the people in uniform returned home from duty and continued to refer to coffee as a cup of Joe. As we do to this day.

If you’ve heard of other reasons how the term ‘cup of Joe’ originated please tell me below, as I would like to hear your opinions. Also, if you have any other nicknames for coffee, besides the ones I mentioned here, share them as well.

Related Questions

How Did Coffee Get Its Name?

According to history, it is widely assumed that the formal English word “coffee” is derived from the Italian word “caffe”, which in turn came from the Turkish pronunciation “kahveh” of the Arabic word “Qahwah”. Tracing the name coffee can be difficult since languages change over the years.

Who Created Coffee?

Coffee originated in the Ethiopian plateau, discovered by a goat herder named Kaldi. Legend has it that Kaldi discovered coffee after he noticed his goats eating berries from a coffee tree which made them very energetic and keeping them up all night.

Why Is Coffee Called Java?

Luckily, the answer to this question, when compared to ‘cup of Joe’ is fairly simple. When coffee was first being introduced to the world and quickly becoming popular around the 1800s, most of the coffee was being imported from an Indonesian island called Java. It was the Dutch that colonized the island and started exporting coffee around the world. They offered the term ‘java’ instead of coffee for the name of the drink.


Reserve Officer’s Manual: https://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-joe1.htm

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