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Why is coffee called a cup of Joe?

If you are anything like me, then the first thing you do when you arrive at your desk in the morning is to head straight to the office coffee machines (and hope there isn’t a long queue).   The rich, warming aroma of freshly brewed speciality coffee wafting through the office is really intoxicating and there is nothing quite like a cup of Joe for kick starting the day.

There is no doubt we all love our daily caffeine fix (the UK consumes over 90m cups of coffee a day!), so much so that we have taken to giving our favourite beverage cute nicknames, ‘a cup of Joe’ being one of the most popular, especially in the USA. But how did coffee come to be known by this endearing pet name? 

The truth is that nobody really knows the origin of this term. Various suggestions have been put forward but none can claim to be the definitive explanation.  Here are a few of the most popular theories doing the rounds.

One possibility is that cup of Joe dates back to 1914 when the Secretary of the Navy, Josephus ‘Joe’ Daniels, banned alcohol on US Navy ships. 

Once the ban came into force, the strongest thing a sailor could drink on board was a black coffee.  Annoyed about the restriction and in protest they started calling coffee a cup of Joe but unlike today, it was meant as an insult not a sign of affection. 

Joe is often used as a term to describe an average, ordinary man. So another theory is that a cup of Joe is a cup of coffee for the ordinary man, made popular by the GI Joe soldiers (average men who enlisted in the military) in the run up to World War II. 

Another nickname that was common at the time was jamoke which was itself a combination of the nicknames java and mocha. Over time it is possible that jamoke may have shortened into Joe, as is usual with slang words over the years.

So are you any the wiser?  It’s impossible to prove any of these theories to be right or wrong and the chances are we will never know for sure.  Perhaps it’s worth a discussion with your co-workers – over a cup of Joe, naturally!