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Coffee History: "Cup of Joe" - What's in a Name?

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There's a lighthearted side to coffee history, and that's the terminology. Did you ever wonder why coffee is referred to as a "cup of joe"?

Certain slang terms for coffee are self-explanatory, like "morning jolt" or "wakey juice" because of caffeine's fueling effect, but why the name "joe"? Why not "a cup of bob" or "a cup of sally"?

The most commonly believed explanation was that "joe" came from the time when Secretary of the Navy (under Woodrow Wilson) Josephus Daniels issued General Order 99 in 1914, abolishing the officers' wine mess and prohibiting alcoholic beverages from being served on naval ships. Coffee then took center stage as the strongest shipboard drink, and the men gave it the nickname "a cup of joe", a kind of backhanded salute to the man who took away sailors' spirits.

Snopes disagrees. They point out that prior to 1914, alcohol hadn't been allowed on ships since 1862. On the other hand, as of 1863, officers were permitted to have a wine mess, and that's what was eliminated by the General Order; however, that wouldn't have affected enlisted men, so they wouldn't have created the term "joe". Besides that, Snopes says the term "joe" didn't even make it into recorded terminology until 1930.

Of three other possibilities, their research leads them to believe that "joe" is actually a shortening of "java" (referring to the Indonesian coffee bean from the island of Java) and "jamoke" (a combination of "java" and "mocha"). The second place contender is that "joe" has been used as slang for "guy" or "fellow" since 1846; that use insinuates that coffee was considered more of a man's drink. 

Whatever you like to call your coffee - joe, java, cuppa - you can find your perfect brew at Green DragonContact us to find out about different brewing methods and to have your favorite coffee delivered right to your door - just once or on a regular basis, to make sure you don't run out.

1 comment

  • Coffee Dude: April 21, 2016

    Poppycock. Arabica swilling American soldiers of WWII are to blame…the G.I. Joe.

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