The Origins of ‘Coffee Joe’

If you’re a coffee lover, you’ve probably wondered at some point why coffee is called “joe.” After all, there’s nothing particularly caffeinated about the name. So where did this nickname come from? Let’s take a quick look at the history of coffee to find out.


The first recorded use of the term “coffee joe” dates back to 1930 when it was used in a military context. This makes sense, as coffee has always been popular among soldiers and sailors. In fact, during World War II, the U.S. military rationed out instant coffee to soldiers because it was such an important part of morale.

It’s believed that the term “coffee joe” came about as a way to differentiate between different types of coffee. For example, if you ordered a cup of “joe,” you would get a cup of regular coffee. If you wanted something stronger, you would order a “cup of java.”

Interestingly, the term “java” actually predates “joe” for several years. It was first coined in the early 1800s by Dutch colonists in Indonesia, who named their coffee after the island of Java. From there, it made its way to America, where it became one of the most popular nicknames for coffee.

Coffee Grinder (ca. 1940) by Richard Taylor. Original from The National Gallery of Art.

Conclusion:
So there you have it! The next time someone asks you why coffee is called “joe,” you can regale them with this fascinating history lesson. And who knows? Maybe after hearing about the origins of this nickname, they’ll develop a new appreciation for their morning cup of joe.

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