Where Did a “Cup of Joe” Come From?

Vanessa Feiwell • October 30, 2020 • 2 min read

Where Did a “Cup of Joe” Come From?

Do You Know The Origin Behind The Term "Cup of Joe"?

There are many slang words used for coffee, but few as commonplace as a “cup of joe.” Unlike other terms, such as Mocha and Java, which refer to specific growing regions, a cup of joe is not as easy to pinpoint. The current consensus is that there are four possible origins of the term. While it is impossible to say with complete certainty which deserves all the credit, it’s fun to explore these various theories.


1: “Joe” Martinson Coffee

Martinson Coffee started in 1898 in NY by a man named Joe Martinson. Joe was far from an introvert and was known for his larger than life personality. It is said that the coffee was referred to as “Joe’s coffee” or a “cup of joe.” This was likely a marketing ploy to differentiate the beans selected and roasted by Joe from everything else in the marketplace. Either way, this historic company trademarked the term and may be responsible for its prevalence today.

2: Josephus Daniels Alcohol Ban

Many believe this is the most likely explanation for the term. Josephus Daniel's was the U.S. Naval secretary between 1913 to 1921. When he accepted his title, the Navy was notorious for free-flowing booze and had a bit of a rowdy reputation. In an attempt to clean up ship, Joe banned all alcohol in 1914. It’s at this time that many believe the term “cup of joe” surfaced by sailors who criticized the ban and were drinking coffee as a less than exciting replacement.

Since a “cup of joe” can only be traced back to the 1930s, roughly 20 years following the ban, some poke holes in the validity of this story.

3: Average Joe

Sometimes the simplest answer is the correct one. This is possibly that situation. Since “average joe” is a common phrase to describe the ordinary man, a “cup of joe” may have emerged as a simple reference to the average man’s drink of choice.

Where Did a “Cup of Joe” Come From?

4: Java Mocha

Since Java and Mocha have been common coffee terms for centuries, some believe it is a combination of these two words that led to “joe.” Coffee from both the island of Java and from the city of Mocha in Yemen were regularly combined, labeled Jamoke. Some believe Jamoke was further shortened to simply Joe.

Conclusion: Nobody Really Knows

The term a “cup of joe” is really a mystery. While some feel very certain about its origins, there has been no definitive proof that one story is more accurate than another. No matter what tale you want to tell yourself as you drink your coffee, you have some pretty good options to choose from here. If you’re like me, it doesn’t matter what you call it. As long as Bruvi’s® in my cup, I’m a happy camper!