Why Is Coffee Called “Joe”?

 Josephus DanielsWe can all blame the former secretary of the US Navy for this!

The man in the picture is Josephus Daniels (1862-1948). He was known as a newspaper editor and publisher and a progressive Democrat. He hailed from North Carolina and was appointed by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson during World War I to be the secretary of the navy. He is close friends with Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt and even served as his Ambassador to Mexico from 1933-1941.

Now, what’s his relation to the “joe” in coffee?

Let’s define the term “joe” first. In American English, this refers to a normal guy or a soldier. In a weird way, it’s also used to refer to coffee.

There are a few theories as to why the coffee is called “joe”, but the most famous theory is one that involves the former secretary. It is said that the use of the term “joe” as a substitute for coffee started when Daniels become the Secretary of the Navy in his attempt to inculcate strict morality to the navy. Because of his beliefs and conviction, he made the chaplains grow in number, urged against prostitution at naval bases, and prohibited the intake of alcohol. The last one instigated the rise of controversies.

And because alcohol shouldn’t be consumed, stewards bought coffee and other beverages instead. This is when Daniels became popularly connected to coffee. One cup of coffee got famous as “a cup of Joseph Daniels”. And back then, everyone also loved shortcuts, so the term became “a cup of Joe”. In no time, millions of people all around the globe came to know the term.

However, this theory may sound a little deceiving. Especially because strong drinks have been rare and discontinued in 1865 in the US Army prior to the ban on alcohol imposed by former secretary Daniels. The rations for strong drinks and liquors were replaced with a ration of coffee and sugar long before Daniels entered the picture. In short, Daniels may or may not have something to do with why coffee is called “joe”.

Let’s try to look at another theory.

According to this theory by the Martinson Coffee Company located in New York City, coffee is called “joe” because of their founder Joe Martinson. They claim that their beloved customers were the ones who started calling their coffee “cup of joe” to appreciate and show tribute to their founder. Sadly, there’s no evidence that their claim is true.