MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why Is Coffee Called “A Cup Of Joe”?

The word “coffee” comes from the Turkish word kahveh, which entered into the European vernacular around 1600. Coffee beans first were first imported into Italy from North Africa & the Middle East in 1615, then into France in 1644 where the Turkish ambassador to France helped make coffee the “it” beverage in the court of Louis XIV. The European aristocracy became enthralled by the deliciously dark, hot beverage, and the rest is history. Back then, the word coffee showed up in a lot of different forms: chaona, cahve, kauhi, cahu, coffa, and caffa. Eventually, all those settled down into the word “coffee” that we know today, though most every society has its own affectionate nickname for the beverage. One of the most common ways we’ve referred to coffee here in the US over the past hundred years or so has been to call it a “cup of joe.” But why is that?

The real answer: we’re not really sure. There are some theories, however. One of those theories is that it was named after former Secretary of the Navy, Josephus Daniels. The theory goes that, in 1914, Daniels had banned alcohol from being served on Navy ships, making coffee the strongest drink that would’ve been allowed onboard. So, sailors began calling coffee “Joe” to spite Secretary Josephus. The problem with that theory, though, is that most alcohol had already been banned on Navy ships 50 years earlier. So, Josephus’s ban wouldn’t have had much effect on the…well…the average Joe.

The most likely reason a “cup of joe” means a cup of coffee is that joe is a shortened form of “jamoke”, which is a combination of the words java & mocha, which were two early points of origin for coffee bean imports. Folks would call coffee “Mocha Java” to denote where it came from, then combined them into the word “jamoke”, which was then shortened to plain old “joe”. Whatever you call it, though, go ahead & pour yourself another cup of that black liquid gold…you’ve earned it!

Got a Mundane Mystery you’d like solved? Send me a message via social media (@AndyWebbRadioVoice), or shoot me an email at [email protected].

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