Why is coffee sometimes referred to as a “cup of Joe”? No one knows for sure, but “cup of Joe” endures, whether you take your coffee black or as a cold brew–or even if you prefer a fancier version, like espresso, latte, or cappuccino.
There may be many theories about where the phrase comes from, but there’s no question that the 66% of Americans who drink coffee every day know exactly what it means.
Here are four theories on the history of this euphemism.
- The Navy: Josephus Daniel was the U.S. Secretary of the Navy between 1913 to 1921. At the time, the Navy was a bit of a party branch. Booze was free-flowing, and recruits were rowdy. So Secretary Joe banned all alcohol on ships in 1914, and sailors were stuck with coffee. They called it a “cup of Joe” as a disparaging reference to the secretary. However, many people dispute this theory as “cup of Joe” isn’t documented in military communication until the 1930s.
- The Trademark: In 1898, Joe Martinson ran Martinson Coffee in New York City. He was a big personality who brewed a unique blend. They called it “cup of Joe” as a marketing ploy. Later, they trademarked the phrase, and it started catching on with all coffee lovers.
- The Word Combination: Java and Mocha were common terms for coffee for centuries. Java refers to the island nation that grows coffee, and Mocha is a city in Yemen that is also a common coffee-growing area. Eventually, people combined the names and ultimately abbreviated it to “Joe.”
- The Average Joe: Perhaps the most straightforward explanation is the true one. “Average Joe” describes the ordinary individual who indulged in coffee in the 1930s and 1940s. “G.I. Joe” was also a popular reference to military veterans during that time. From there, “Joe” may have also transferred to the favorite drink of the every “average” man: coffee.
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