There are around a hundred species of coffee in the world and nearly countless styles of coffee drinks. Ranging from a shot (or several shots,) of Expresso, to a cup Americano, Cappuccino, or plain Black. Coffee goes by many names in different places and regions in the world. But a couple of the most universal names used to refer to a cup of coffee are Joe or Java. Question is, where do these names come from?
The term “cup of Joe” is not entirely clear, the name Joe is thought to be referring to the U.S. Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels but other theories imply that it came from the idea that coffee was a “common person’s drink,” or that it came from other slang terms for coffee. Java, on the other hand, refers to the Island of Java, where the Dutch started planting coffee in the 1600s.
Keep reading to find the deeper origins and meanings of these names.
Where Does the Name Cup of Joe Come From?
“Cup of Joe” does not have a concrete origin, there are several theories but there are three that are the most likely to be that are commonly believed to be the closest we can get to figuring out who Joe is, or if it even refers to a person in the first place.
There is not enough evidence to prove 100% which one is the true origin, but the following theories are the most popular in the circles of coffee historians.
Theory 1: “Joe refers to 1913 Secretary of the Navy
People often ask: “how about a cup of Joe” but they never ask “who’s Joe?” or worse yet, they never ask “how’s Joe?” Though there isn’t much of a reason to, considering he is long gone. According to the first theory, the coffee nickname Joe comes from around the early 20th century, around World War 1. During that time 1913 Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels who served under President Woodrow Wilson enacted a new reform called General order 99.
This reform allowed women to join the Navy, reworked entrance practices for the Naval Academy, and most famously was trying to discourage US sailors from drinking by banning the consumption of alcoholic drinks on naval ships.
At that point purchases for other drinks for sailors grew, with coffee becoming more popular since it was one of the strongest drinks they could get. Of course, a lot of US Navy men weren’t very happy with their booze being taken away and that the only drink that had any sort of kick was coffee. Legend has it that sailors name coffee “a cup of Josephus Daniels” out of spite for the Secretary’s decision. It is said that it was later shortened to a “cup of Joe”.
While this theory may seem to hold water, there are some major inconsistencies with the time period and the practices of the Navy at the time. Navy ships were nearly dry on alcohol since long before General Order 99. With the exception being the small group of Naval officers onboard each ship who would host a “wine mess” where they would enjoy wine until the ban stopped those activities. There is also no recorded instances of the term “cup of Joe” being used until around 1930, which is long past the supposed origin of the nickname. While it is a very interesting story, it simply doesn’t float on its own.
Theory 2: Coffee is the drink for the “average Joe”
The second theory comes from the slang for a “common man”, that slang being Joe. The first use of Joe for this purpose was spotted all the way back to 1846. The name Joe is supposed to be an interchangeable name for the everyday man or any guy in a specific area of work or a group.
Since coffee was a common drink it became known as the drink that keeps the common man or the “average Joe” going about their day.
Theory 3: Joe originates from the word “Jamoke”
The third theory has the most weight to back up its claims. British Etymologist and writer Michael Quinion found that Jamoke was a combination of the coffee slang terms java and mocha (more on Java coming in the next section). The word jamoke first appeared the 1931 Navy manual titled the Reserve Officer’s Manual by a man by the name of Erdman.
A section was named: “Jamoke, Java, Joe, Coffee.” The linguist presents a case that the phrase Jamoke was shortened to Joe.
Where does coffee get the name Java from?
While the term “cup of Joe” has some strong theories and interesting stories, the nickname Java is more straightforward. In the 1600s the Dutch sailed the seas and introduced coffee to Southeast Asia. One place was the island of Java, where coffee is continued to be grown today. This is the reason why coffee was referred to as Java.
It was most likely the Dutch who used the name Java when talking about coffee that was grown on the island. As trade around the world grew the term Java become a universal term for coffee.
The names for coffee have a long and storied past. Experts are still not 100% sure of true origin for the nickname Joe. While the strongest theory is likely the abbreviation of the word Jamoke. Java on the other hand is much simpler in explanation. The Dutch are thought to have coined the term which eventually became used to refer to coffee in general.
The truest statement on these words however, is that these terms, no matter their origin, have cemented themselves into the lexicon of the Western coffee drinker.