Why Is Coffee Called ‘Joe?’

On National Joe Day, let’s take a moment to celebrate Joe — the average Joe, G.I. Joe, Joe Blow, Joe Cool and especially a cup of joe.  But why is coffee referred to as “joe,” anyway?

The prevailing myth claims that in 1914, Secretary of the Navy Josephus “Joe” Daniels banned all U.S. Navy ships from serving alcoholic beverages with his General Order 99.  Rather than stage a rum revolt, the sailors turned to the next strongest drink on board — coffee!  Since Daniels was the one responsible for the alcohol ban — thus “forcing” everyone to switch to coffee — the sailors nicknamed the drink after him. Or, at least, that’s how the story goes.

However, after much investigation (fueled by joe and with help from Snopes), the Navy story doesn’t hold water. U.S. Navy ships weren’t exactly booze cruises anyway, as spirit rations had been abolished in 1862, so General Order 99 didn’t inspire much backlash. Indeed, the first recorded mention of “cup of joe” came in 1930, long after General Order 99 was issued.

Other theories on the origin of “cup of joe” do exist, but as with all good mysteries, none can be verified with absolute certainty.  Perhaps since “joe” is slang for the everyman,  a “cup of joe” naturally arose as being the beverage that fuels the common man.

But the most likely — and unfortunately the least dramatic — explanation is offered by linguist Michael Quinion. “Joe” might just be a variation on two other words for coffee: java and jamoke, the latter of which is derived from the combination of “java” and “mocha.”  Quinion notes that an early example of using “joe” for coffee appears in 1931 in the Reserve Officer’s Manual by Lt. Robert P. Erdman.  Erdman wrote, “Jamoke, Java, Joe. Coffee. Derived from the words Java and Mocha, where originally the best coffee came from.”

No matter what you call it — joe, java, jamoke, brew, mud, café — we will always call it our passion and our reason for waking in the morning, on National Joe Day and every other day.

Joffrey’s Coffee & Tea Company is based in Tampa, Fla. Joffrey’s produces more than 124 different coffee varieties, 54 loose leaf teas and 19 iced teas that help customers “Taste Our Passion!” For more, please visit www.joffreys.com or call (800) 458-JAVA (5282)