• Richard Burner

Why Coffee Is Called Joe

Updated: Mar 25, 2021

Joe is, of course, short for Joseph. And in American English, “joe” can refer to an average guy, a soldier, or—somewhat strangely—coffee. There are several competing theories about how a cup of coffee became a cup of joe. One theory is from WW1 when “Joseph Daniels” secretary of the Navy, banned alcoholic beverages on naval vessels and in response sarcastically a cup of joe referenced coffee being the strongest beverage onboard.

But it’s not that simple

While the fact that “Joe” Daniels banned alcohol in the Navy, the term first started appearing in print in the 1930s, with the first occurrence of it in a book coming in 1936. Here’s a few other theories, one historic and two linguistic and one marketing, that might explain what gave rise to the term “cup of joe” at this time.

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.

Since joe refers to an average man, “the average joe,” “cup of joe” could simply be a reference to an ordinary person’s drink. Regardless of whether this is the true origin of “cup of joe,” the term may have been kept alive by “joes,” or average guys, following World War II. As diners popped up in the 1940s and 50s, working men who ate their daily breakfast at these restaurants might have been served “cups of joe.”

Another theory from linguists is that while the cappuccino was popular, many people had trouble pronouncing cappuccino so they named it cuppa joe. Then afterwards coffee became known as cup of joe.

Our Take

In our opinion we believe it mostly came into speech due to marketing.

Martinson Coffee has trademarked the term “cup of joe,” suggesting that the slang term comes from the company’s early years. Founded in New York in 1898 by Joe Martinson, who reportedly had a “bigger-than-life personality,” coffee may have locally been called “Joe’s coffee” or a “cup of joe.” As the company grew, “cup of joe” could have expanded from a local nickname to a more widely used term by the 1930s. Martinson Coffee used to be a very big company in the coffee industry, and would have been widely recognized in the 1930’s.

Martinson coffee

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