Just why is it called a cup of joe? Who is this ‘Joe’ bloke? Let’s find out!
We like to give nicknames to our favourite things. From kids to cars, cats to coffee roasters (the chimps call ours Rosie), we give pet names to all the bits and bobs we hold dear.
It’s little surprise, then, that coffee has lots of nicknames. Our beloved brew is our cuppa and java, our daily grind, rocket fuel, and jitter juice. Aaand, of course, our cup of joe!
Hey, Joe, who actually are you? And why do we call you up every time we fancy caffeine? Let’s do some digging…
We’ve found several theories explaining why coffee is called joe. Let’s start our investigation with a trip to The Big Apple, where Joe Martinson founded Martinson Coffee in 1898. Joe was a people person, loved by locals for his charming personality and great coffee. In fact, they loved his coffee so much that they nicknamed their cups ‘Joe’s coffee’ or ‘a cup of joe’. Martinson Coffee is still popular in New York, Boston and Florida and even made it into an Andy Warhol print in 1962.
No one is sure that this is truly where the ‘cup of joe’ nickname comes from. Other than Martinson Coffee, of course – they’ve trademarked the term and still crown their coffee ‘the real joe’.
All at sea
If that Joe wasn’t behind the phrase, which one might be? How about Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the U.S. Navy in WWI? In June 1914, this Joe banned alcohol on all U.S. Navy ships. General Order 99 stated that:
The use or introduction for drinking purposes of alcoholic liquors on board any naval vessel, or within any navy yard or station, is strictly prohibited, and commanding officers will be held directly responsible for the enforcement of this order.
Pretty tough, huh? Now, black coffee was the strongest drink an American sailor could get, and the sober seamen labelled coffee their ‘cup of joe’ in protest. Apparently… this theory doesn’t convince historians. U.S. ships weren’t exactly Ibiza on water; there was only a small amount of alcohol before the ban, so it’s unlikely that the law made much of a difference. However, new seafarers might have missed their liquors, especially if they were used to stopping for a drink at their local bar back home.
Common man’s drink
Or, might there not be one ‘joe’ explaining why it is called a cup of joe? Some think that the phrase comes from our usage of ‘joe’ to refer to the common person. ‘Joe’ describes the average, ordinary guy on the street. We first used the name in this way around 1846 and it’s still in modern speech today – think about it the next time you say ‘Joe Bloggs’.
Coffee is the ordinary person’s drink, and a fair few people think that this is why coffee is called joe. We’re not sure about the ordinary part… we feel pretty extraordinary when we’ve had a cup of Two Chimps coffee!
It’s from jamoke – no joke
Here’s the theory that convinces most expert linguists… are you ready?
Etymology buffs don’t think the ‘cup of joe’ nickname entered our language until the 1930s. Their research points to ‘jamoke’ as the origin of the phrase. ‘Jamoke’ is a slang term for ‘coffee’ and comes from two coffee-related words: ‘java’ and ‘mocha’. Java is the name of an island in Indonesia and also a type of arabica coffee grown there (they’re nice, full-bodied beans). Mocha, meanwhile, is a specific type of high-quality coffee originating from Yemen.
Experts believe ‘Joe’ is a shortened version of ‘jamoke’. So, yes, ‘cup of joe’ is probably a slang term of a slang term. It was never going to be simple, was it?
Why is coffee called a cup of joe? We’ll probably never know, but whoever Joe is – whether he’s someone or no one or everyone – we want to celebrate his name in the best way possible. Pop the kettle on; let’s have a coffee!
Find speciality joe in our lovely shop – we roast every bag fresh and deliver to your door absolutely FREE! Joe would be proud of that.
Head to the shop