Beans and grounds of coffee or joe but why is coffee called joe in the first place?

Why is Coffee Called Joe? 3 Curious Theories

November 18, 2020

Java, bean juice, dirt… Our favorite magical liquid gets different nicknames depending on who you talk to and where you live (‘anti-murder juice’ at our fire station, thank you for asking). Still, we’re pretty sure we can all agree on the fact that everyone has called coffee joe at least once in their lifetime. 

However, have you ever stopped to think… why do people call coffee joe in the first place?

We have, in between a carafe and the next one, and we believe the answer(s) might surprise you.

The most famous theories as to why coffee is called joe

Wall showing a writing saying 'How about a cup of joe'

1. The Navy theory: a passive-aggressive protest to an alcohol ban

One of the most popular theories goes back to an infamous day in June 1914. 

That’s when Josephus ‘Joe’ Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy at the time, banned alcohol from all naval ships with what was known as ‘General Order 99’. 

So what was the strongest drink left on board? Well, coffee, obviously!

And what better way for these sailors and officers to express their disapproval without getting into trouble than by calling it ‘a cup of Joe’ out of spite?

While this is still one of the most widely accepted theories as to why people call coffee joe, there is a small problem with it. 

The first recorded use of the expression ‘a cup of joe’ wasn’t until 1930. That’s sixteen whole years after Order 99 was issued!

Maybe that’s simply because these sailors didn’t have many reasons to use this passive-aggressive idiom once they returned home after the war. However, the alcohol ban during the 1930s Prohibition could have reignited their annoyed attitude.

Or maybe that’s because the real reason can be found in another one of these theories. 

2. From mocha and java to jamoke and joe: the slang theory

The second theory as to why coffee is called joe ties back to a slang term that was actually popular in the 30s and one that’s still used today: jamoke and java.

The ironic thing is that ‘jamoke’ was already a combination of ‘java’ and yet another slang word, ‘mocha’. 

So, according to this theory, people just started using an easier, shortened version of ‘jamoke’. 

‘Joe’, obviously.

3. Everyone’s a joe, after all! The common man theory

With Joseph being such a popular name, ‘joe’ can also refer to a soldier or, even more often, ‘a common man’. 

The first instance of ‘joe’ being used in that way dates all the way back to 1846!

Why do we call coffee joe according to this theory then? Because ‘a cup of joe’ simply means... ‘the common man’s drink’. 

So, why is coffee called joe?

A cup of joe

Overall, it’s hard to determine once and for all why coffee is called joe. However, these three theories are the most widely accepted: it was either nicknamed ‘joe’ out of spite to protest against Josephus Daniel’s alcohol ban on Navy ships, by mixing the slang words ‘jamoke’ and ‘java’, or to refer to the common man’s drink.

According to historians and linguists, the last two theories are the most likely, but the sailors’ implied passive-aggressiveness was far too relatable not to include the first one, too.

Which coffee joe explanation do you like the most? 

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