The Real Reason Why Coffee Is Called “a Cup of Joe”

There are several different theories!

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Coffee comes in many forms. There is steamed, iced, cold brew, and drip—and don’t even get us started on mochas, cappuccinos, and lattes. Some of us brew it at home (and these are the only tricks you need for a perfect pot), while others stop by the nearest coffee chain for a quick yet delicious cuppa. But why in the world is your a.m. pick-me-up called “a cup of Joe”?

It may sound silly, but the iconic nickname, “cup of Joe” has several fascinating origin stories. As one legend goes, it all started with Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy during World War I. Josephus Daniel’s biography explains that in 1914, he banned alcohol consumption on all U.S. Navy ships. Since coffee was the next strongest substitute and Josephus Daniel’s had a direct hand in proliferating its popularity, American sailors sarcastically deemed it “a cup of Josephus.” The snarky name stuck, although many believe it came to be known as “a cup of Joe” for short.

While it’s an amusing idea, this “cup of Joe” creation story probably isn’t true. The term “cup of Joe” only appears in writing for the first time in 1930—long after the Navy’s alcohol ban. So, where did this nickname really come from? Truthfully, no one knows for sure.

Still, a far more likely theory claims that “Joe” is the simplified form of the nickname, “jamoke,” which combines the words “java” and “mocha.” A “cup of jamoke” might have eventually been shortened down to a “cup of Joe.” Others say that “Joe” refers to the average man and is often used as slang for “fellow, guy, or chap.” As a result, a “cup of Joe” could be another way of saying “the common man’s drink.”

No matter what you call it (or how you take it!), one thing is certain: we can all always count on a cup of Joe to help us function like normal humans in the morning. We coffee lovers have these things in common, too.

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