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Why is Coffee Called “A Cup of Joe”

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For most of us coffee-lovers, one of the best things about mornings is the excitement of brewing a deliciously aromatic cup of coffee and savoring it. Even the thought of a heart-warming, fragrant cuppa holds the power to lift you right off the bed and spring you into action. But how well do you know your coffee? Do you, for instance, know how coffee came into existence, and why is it weirdly referred to as “a cup of joe” or “java”?

The renowned coffee retail chain Starbucks claims coffee to be the second most traded commodity in the world. It is estimated that nearly 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed every single day worldwide. A cup of coffee first thing in the morning can mark the difference between a day well begun and a bad day. Have you ever wondered where coffee first originated from, why it is called coffee and how it happened to acquire interesting nicknames such as “cup of joe” and “java”?

Why is it Called Coffee?

Coffee is believed to originate from Ethiopia, also known as the “Horn of Africa” for its rich history – one of the most prominent events of which includes the discovery of coffee. Coffee appears to have derived its name from the Kaffa province in the erstwhile Abyssinia province, now in southwestern Ethiopia.

It is understood to have been called as kaffa by a goat-herder who used these beans first there, all the way back in 6th or 9th century. Ancient lore has it that coffee came into prominence thanks to the goatherd by the name of Kaldi, who found some unusual berries growing on a plant and took them to some monks in his village.

Kaldi reported to the monks that upon trying the berries he felt elated and energized like never before. Fearing the berries to be the ‘devil’s work’, the monks threw the berries into the fire, and lo and behold, the entire chamber was filled with the glorious smell of roasting coffee. The unique aroma evoked curiosity in the monks, who then proceeded to grind the roast berries and made a concoction by soaking the grounds in hot water. To their joy, they realized that staying awake for longer hours for sacred rituals and studies was an easier feat with the help of this liquid concoction.

Soon, the news of the advent and wonders of kaffa spread like a wildfire. People from different parts of the country wanted to experience the benefits of this golden goodness for themselves. Coffee was first introduced to the world in 1454 via the Mufti of Aden, who eventually advocated it to his counterparts in Yemen and Mecca, and the rest – as we know – is history.

Why is Coffee Known as a Cup of Joe?

If you think about the various nicknames that coffee has come to be known with, “a cup of joe” has to be the strangest one so far. There is not one definite answer as to why a cup of coffee could be referred to as “joe”, but several theories exist in this regard, as discussed below:

Association With Everyday

Gone are the ages when coffee was considered a divine elixir accessible only by the elite and the chosen few. Coffee is now an everyday beverage, with billions of individuals consuming it each day, across the world.

We all know that “the average joe” is a common American reference for an everyday person, task or occurrence. This theory suggests that the slang reference of ‘joe’ for coffee points towards the association of coffee as a common beverage that is accessible to everyone now regardless of their class and income status.

The Case of Mocking by Sailors

During World War I, a captain by the name of Joseph “Joe” Daniels allegedly put a ban on alcohol for sailors aboard US Navy ships, earning the wrath of the sailors who were left with no other choice but to rely on black coffee as it was the strongest drink they could access.

Some experts theorize that this gave birth to the reference, with the annoyed sailors calling coffee “a cup of joe”, but other historians dismiss it by pointing out that alcohol was not widely available back then.

Simple Case of Linguistics

Historians point out that the earliest literary reference of word “cup of joe” dates back to 1930s. However, coffee was also referred to as “mocha” and “java” since much earlier, and in a bizarre incidence these two terms were joined together over time by coffee aficionados into “jamoke” or “jamocha”.

Experts believe that this reference may have been shortened from jamoke to “joe” sometime in the 20th century. The reason behind the shortening could be that coffee-lovers might have found the term “jamoke” strange or embarrassing, or just the sheer convenience in pronouncing “joe”.

Why Does Java Mean Coffee?

Thankfully, the reason behind this nickname is fairly straightforward, and one need not boggle their mind with different possibilities. Coffee cultivation was introduced in Indonesia with the advent of the Dutch and their colonization of the island of Java. The tropical climate of this island, along with its proximity to equator as well as connectivity by sea deemed it ideal for transplantation of coffee plants.

With the growing popularity of coffee in Europe, and thanks to the vast trading networks of the Dutch, it is only natural that “java” became a generic reference for coffee.

Coffee and its Various Nicknames

There are other popular nicknames for this beverage as well, although most not as intriguing as “joe” or “java”. Some of the common slangs include:

  • Cuppa
  • Mocha
  • Lifeblood
  • Caffeine Fix
  • Go Juice
  • Daily-Grind
  • Brain Juice
  • and even Battery Acid!

With all these theories around – some seeming logical while others sound far-fetched – it is hard to absolutely pinpoint on one reason for why coffee might be referred to as a “cup of joe” or java. However, it is possible that most of the theories may have some amount of truth or valid reason why these terms came to being. Perhaps it is best left to a healthy discussion amidst coffee enthusiasts – as they relish a cup of joe, of course!