There are several different theories!
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 this iconic nickname has several fascinating origin stories. As one legend goes, it all started with Josephus Daniels, the Secretary of the Navy during World War I. In 1914, he banned alcohol consumption on all U.S. Navy ships. Because coffee was the next strongest substitute, American sailors sarcastically deemed it “a cup of Josephus.” The snarky name stuck, although it came to be known as “a cup of Joe” for short. (Speaking of names, you’ll never guess what Starbucks was almost called.)
While it’s an amusing idea, this story probably isn’t true. Snopes.com points out that the term “cup of Joe” wasn’t officially coined until 1930—long after the Navy’s alcohol ban. So, where did this nickname really come from? Truthfully, no one knows.
Still, a far more likely theory claims that “Joe” is a form of the word 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” is 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: You can always count on coffee to help you function like a normal human in the morning. Sound familiar? Coffee lovers have these things in common, too.