Why Is Coffee Called a Cup of Joe?

If you’re a coffee lover, you’ve probably heard the term “cup of joe” thrown around before. But have you ever wondered why coffee is called a “cup of joe”? This nickname has a surprisingly rich history, with multiple theories vying for its origin. In this article, we’ll delve into the fascinating etymology of “cup of joe” and explore the different theories surrounding its origins.

One theory suggests that the term “cup of joe” originated in the United States Navy. According to this theory, sailors referred to coffee as a “cup of Joseph Daniels” in the early 1900s. Joseph Daniels was the Secretary of the Navy at the time, and he famously banned alcohol on Navy ships. As a result, sailors turned to coffee as their beverage of choice, and the nickname “cup of joe” was born.

Another theory suggests that “joe” is simply a slang term for “fellow” or “guy.” According to this theory, coffee was a popular drink among working-class men in the early 20th century, and they referred to it as a “cup of joe” as a way to differentiate it from more refined drinks like tea. Regardless of its origins, the term “cup of joe” has become a beloved nickname for coffee around the world.

The “Joe Martinson” Theory

If you’ve ever wondered why coffee is called a cup of Joe, one theory attributes the term to a specific individual: Joe Martinson.

Who Was Joe Martinson?

Details surrounding Joe Martinson are scarce, but some believe he owned a successful coffee company in New York City around the late 19th or early 20th century. His establishment, possibly named “Joe’s Coffee,” might have gained local fame, leading patrons to request “a cup of Joe’s coffee,” eventually shortened to just “cup of joe.”

Strengths of This Theory

The rise in coffee house culture during this period creates a plausible context for a local nickname gaining traction. The concept of a popular brand name influencing everyday language has historical precedent.

Weaknesses of This Theory

Concrete evidence regarding Joe Martinson and his coffee company remains elusive. The theory doesn’t explain the nationwide adoption of the term.

While the Joe Martinson theory may not provide a definitive answer to why coffee is called a cup of Joe, it remains a compelling possibility. Regardless of its origins, the term has become a ubiquitous part of coffee culture, and its enduring popularity speaks to the enduring appeal of this beloved beverage.

The “Average Joe” Theory

This theory takes a more symbolic approach, linking “joe” to the concept of the “everyman.”

The “Average Joe” Connection

The name “Joe” is often used to represent an ordinary person, and coffee, being an affordable and widely consumed beverage, aligns with the idea of an “everyman’s” drink. This connection between coffee and the “average Joe” could be the reason why it became known as a “cup of Joe.”

Supporting Evidence

The rise of the term “cup of Joe” coincides with the emergence of the “average Joe” concept in American vernacular. Coffee’s growing popularity during World War II, particularly among soldiers, could have cemented the association with the “everyman.” It’s possible that soldiers used the term “cup of Joe” to refer to their coffee rations, thus further propagating the term.

Points to Consider

While the theory is appealing, it doesn’t pinpoint a specific origin story. It’s possible that the term “cup of Joe” emerged from a combination of factors, including the popularity of coffee among the working class, the rise of the “everyman” concept, and the use of the name “Joe” to represent an ordinary person.

The “Navy Joe” Theory (WWI Era)

A less commonly discussed theory suggests that the term “cup of joe” may have originated from the US Navy during World War I.

The Context

In 1914, the US Navy banned alcohol onboard ships to improve discipline and efficiency. As a result, coffee became the go-to hot beverage for sailors. It is plausible that the term “cup of joe” was coined as a reference to “Navy Joe,” a slang term for a sailor.

Intriguing Possibility

The timeline of the US Navy’s alcohol ban aligns with the potential rise of the term “cup of joe.” Additionally, sailors were known for adopting and spreading slang terms, making it possible that “Navy Joe” became “cup of joe” over time.

Need for Further Research

While the connection between “Navy Joe” and “cup of joe” is intriguing, more concrete evidence is needed to solidify this theory. Further research into the origins of the term is necessary to determine if this theory holds weight.


In conclusion, the origin of the phrase “cup of joe” is still a matter of debate, but several theories have emerged over the years. One theory suggests that the term “joe” is a shortened version of “jamoke,” which is a portmanteau of “java” and “mocha.” Another theory suggests that “joe” is a combination of “java” and “joe,” which is a shortened form of “Josephus,” the name of the Secretary of the Navy who banned alcohol on U.S. Navy ships in 1914.

Regardless of the theory, it is clear that “cup of joe” has become a beloved nickname for coffee, and it is often used in a friendly and informal way. The phrase has become a part of our cultural vocabulary, and it is a testament to our enduring love for coffee.

So, the next time you enjoy a cup of joe, take a moment to appreciate the rich history and cultural significance that this simple phrase carries. Whether you are a coffee aficionado or simply enjoy a good cup of joe, this nickname is sure to bring a smile to your face and warm your heart.

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