Coffee plantation

What’s in a Name: Mocha, Java or Joe?

Apart from the different ways coffee is made and served, there are names some people use when they mean ‘coffee’ such as Mocha, Java and Joe.  So how did these names become synonymous with ‘coffee’?  Let’s do some exploring around the globe and through the myths and mists of history.

Ethiopia is widely believed to be where brewing coffee to drink originated, and just across the Red Sea, in Yemen, we explore the first of the common terms in use for coffee:  mocha.


Generally, these days mocha refers to the blend of coffee and chocolate, but it has historical and geographical origins.  Al-Mukha is a Yemeni town on the Red Sea and is the country’s most renowned and historic port, and chief coffee-exporting centre.  Arabica coffee is still grown in Yemen’s highlands.  Coffee from Al-Mukha has been exported to markets in Europe, the Middle East, India and Egypt since the 15th century.  And so the product became associated with the name of the port as ‘mocha coffee’.


Coffee was introduced to Indonesia by the Dutch in the 17th century.  Coffee trees were planted in Bali, Sumatra and Java where they still grow today, and it’s from the island of Java that the nickname of ‘Java’ for coffee arose.  It’s likely that the name Java was originally applied to differentiate coffee from that area to distinguish it from coffee grown elsewhere, such as Yemen.  Today the term is used more generically to indicate coffee.

Like Yemen, Java also produces Arabica coffee on estates originally planted by the Dutch.  To counter the leaf rust disease which decimated Arabica plantations on Java in the 1880s, liberica and robusta coffee trees were planted.  These varieties are more resistant to leaf rust, but their traits aren’t nearly as desirable as arabica’s and so they are used primarily for production of instant coffee.


And for our final alternative name for coffee, Joe, we again turn to our history books, but this time to more recent history.  Josephus (Joe) Daniels became secretary of the US Navy around the time of World War I, under President Woodrow Wilson.

Daniels tried to introduce a strict moral code into the navy by, among other things, banning the consumption of alcohol.  As a substitute, coffee became a popular replacement drink and, as legend has it, a cup of coffee became disparagingly known as ‘a cup of joe’.

So next time you use your favorite expression for a cup of coffee, you’ll have some idea why you call it a cup of mocha, java or joe. Enjoy!

Roasted coffee bean