We have all heard the colloquial phrase “Cup of Joe” tossed around in reference to the common brew. But who in the world is Joe?

There are a few theories about Joe. One theory equates the commonality of people named Joe and the ubiquitousness of drinking coffee. That is, Joes and coffee are classic staples in life. Who isn’t friends (or acquaintances) with a Joe? Although understandable, this theory lacks depth and our search for the Joe must continue. To discover Joe, we need to travel back through history.

To this point, we have discussed coffee history in terms of “waves.” Currently, the coffee industry lives in the third wave, which emphasizes a coffee bean’s unique qualities, like the country of origin, and the artisanal efforts expressed in growing, roasting, and brewing the beverage. Our Joe lived during the first wave, a barbaric period that prioritized quantity of coffee grown and distributed at the harsh cost of quality.

Josephus Daniels served as the Secretary of Navy during World War I under President Woodrow Wilson from 1913 to 1921 and later was appointed as the 10th U.S. Ambassador to Mexico from 1933 to 1941. Daniels was a powerful man with stern beliefs. In an effort to realign the Navy’s moral compass, Daniels imposed new policies — increasing the number of chaplains on Naval vessels, closing brothels within a 5 mile radius of U.S. bases, and banning the consumption of alcohol. The latter struck a particular cord among sailors and in an effort to fill the gap, Daniels replaced alcohol rations with instant coffee.  This was not received well among sailors and Josephus Daniels’ name acquired a salty taste. “Cup of Josephus,” shortened to “Cup of Joe,” was unenthusiastically muttered aboard U.S. Naval ships and bases around the world.

Instant coffee was first patented in 1903 and became a convenient military ration in both WWI and WWII. Unlike traditional coffee, instant coffee does not require specific brewing equipment. Instead, it simply dissolves in hot water. With the prioritization of quantity in coffee production and with the ease in “brewing,” instant coffee exploded, becoming the driving force of the first wave and the primary reason coffee quality dragged through much of the 1900’s. Thanks Josephus…