The aromatic black stuff has a wide array of entertaining nicknames including brain juice, bean juice, cup of jolt, jitter juice, wakey juice, rocket fuel, cupped lightening, brew, mud, Java and of course “cup of Joe”. Why do you call it a “cup of Joe”? Who is Joe? And how did he become a cup of coffee?
As with many phrases, the exact origin of “cup of Joe” is not entirely clear. All we know for sure is that the earliest record we have of its use is around the 1930s and we have a few possible leads on who this Joe person is…
Theory 1: A Cup of Joe is an Average Joe’s Drink
A well-liked theory by the experts is that coffee became a cup of Joe as coffee became a favourite beverage amongst the masses. It soon became “the common man’s drink”. Around the 1930s, the common man was known as “the average Joe”. Hence it was average Joe’s favourite cup, or the favourite “cup of Joe”.
This theory is quite likely because other Joe-related phrases like “Joe college” and “G.I. Joe” also arose around the 1930s, around the same time that “Cup of Joe” was first noted.
Theory 2: Joe as a nickname for Java or Jamoke
In the 19th century, the term Java was commonly used to refer to coffee because Java in Indonesia was the world’s major supplier of coffee beans at the time. It may be that Java evolved into Joe. Perhaps an in-between slang word was “jamoke”, which refers to java-mocha. Jamoke became Joe… It’s possible, particularly since there is a 1931 written text which links Jamoke, Java, Joe and coffee together (in Erdman’s Reserve Officer’s Manual).
This theory has been supported by some prominent etymologists, particularly because of the written text evidence.
Theory 3: Named after Josephus “Joe” Daniels
This theory is less likely but is often repeated. It suggests that “Cup of Joe” was coined in the honour of the Secretary of the US Navy, Josephus “Joe” Daniels, who played a role in promoting coffee-drinking in the Navy by banishing alcohol in the officer’s wine mess.
The problem with this theory is that Daniels abolished alcohol in 1914, so if any nicknames of coffee were given in his honour, they should have arisen around this time. But the first record we have of the term “cup of Joe” is in the 1930s, so unless any earlier references to “cup of Joe” are found, this theory seems improbable.
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