cup of joe

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Of uncertain origin. Possibly a shortening of "cup of jamoke", from Java + Mocha, whence the best coffee formerly derived. Alternatively, perhaps a use of joe (fellow, guy), signifying that coffee was the drink of the common man.

Another theory derives the term from Josephus Daniels (1862-1948), Secretary of the U.S. Navy; he abolished the officers' wine mess, whereafter coffee became the strongest drink available on navy ships. However, the term "cup of joe" predates the order banning the wine mess.[1]

Still another possibility is the early use of "cup of george" and its evolution over time to "cup of joe". During WWI all the coffee output in the United States was requisitioned by the US Army. As a dominant producer at that time, the G. Washington Coffee Refining Company proudly advertised its contribution to the war effort, “G. Washington’s Refined Coffee has gone to WAR.” The following were some of the comments that were received from American soldiers who were fighting in the European trenches and enjoying, as they called it, their “cup of George”, named for the company’s owner, George Constant Louis Washington of Brooklyn, NY.

“I am very happy despite the rats, the rain, the mud, the draughts [sic], the roar of the cannon and the scream of shells. It takes only a minute to light my little oil heater and make some George Washington Coffee…. Every night I offer up a special petition to the health and well-being of [Mr. Washington].”

“There is one gentleman I am going to look up first after I get through helping whip the Kaiser, and that is George Washington, of Brooklyn, the soldiers’ friend.”

The doughboys frequently called for a cup of “George” rather than coffee. We know these two facts. The name George is often shortened to “Geo.” and there’s no written record of the term “cup of Joe” until after 1930. Coffee’s endearing “cup of George” got started during WWI, well before it was referred to as “Joe”. This may actually be where “cup of Joe” originated. [2]


cup of joe (plural cups of joe)

  1. (chiefly US, idiomatic) A cup of coffee.
    • 2008 April 9, James Poniewozik, Starbucks' New Brew: A First Taste, in Time:
      Pike Place is Starbucks' attempt to address complaints that its regular cup of joe is bitter, overroasted and "burnt."


  1. ^, quoting "Cup of joe" in Michael Quinion, Ballyhoo, Buckaroo, and Spuds, 2004.
  2. ^ Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World] by Mark Pendergrast