Why Is Coffee Called Java?

Have you ever wondered why some people refer to coffee as java? For that matter how the expression a cup of Joe come about? The reason for why coffee is called java is clear and the reason we ask for a cup of Joe is questionable. Let’s go back in time to the era called The Age of Exploration which lasted from the 15th to 17th century (1400 to 1600) and before.

Cup of Java

Cup of Java

Trade with the East


Silk Road

Silk Road

 

Trade between the Far East and Europe took place over the Silk Road, an ancient network of roads extending from China and India through Asia and the Middle East. The European connection was the Western capital of the Roman Empire, Constantinople. When Islamic armies gained strength in the late 1300’s they cut off the supply of silks, spices and other goods that flowed through Constantinople into the Mediterranean Basin. Half a century before the fall of Constantinople ship owners and traders from Italy took their skills and boats and set up shop in Portugal and Spain. From there they explored and set up trade routes along the coast of Africa eventually rounding the continent and sailing to India in 1497-99.

 

Vasco de Gama Voyage to India

Vasco de Gama Voyage to India

The Spanish and Portuguese colonized South and Central America and the British and French soon followed. However, it was the Dutch traders who first colonized Australia, the East Indies and even New York (New Amsterdam). The Dutch are responsible for finding the coffee plants in East Africa and planting them on their island colonies including the Indonesian island of Java in the 1500’s.

 

Island of Java

Island of Java

Until a coffee leaf rust plague wiped out most of the plants on Java in the 1880s it was a global supplier of coffee, thus the name Java. Calling coffee Joe is a different story.

Why Do We Call It Joe?

The most credible origin for calling coffee Joe is that it started as a combination of Java and the drink that you find in a coffee house, Mocha. Dating back to the 1930’s some people used the expression jamoke for a mixture of coffee and chocolate. As is the nature of slang expressions they get shortened over time and Joe came into being. There are several theories but unlike the very clear origin of calling coffee Java the cup of Joe story is lost in time.

Can You Get Coffee from Java Today?

The old colonial plantations producing Arabica coffee on Java are shadows of their former selves producing only fraction of Indonesian coffee output. The main coffee coming from this part of the world is Robusta which is leaf rust resistant and the source of coffee for virtually all non-coffee caffeinated drinks.

How about a Cup of Mocha?

Mocha is a coffee, milk and chocolate drink. Start with espresso and add steamed milk followed by chocolate syrup. This drink should not be confused with Ethiopian mocha beans which are coffee but with a chocolate flavor. And no matter what the origin of Java and cup of Joe, enjoy your coffee, preferably the healthy organic variety.


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