There are plenty of names for coffee and a few more common than Java or a Cup of Joe. The first has a straightforward answer of where it comes from, but it may be less widely understood and requires some understanding of coffee history.
Java is a name for coffee because it was produced in the Indonesian island, Java, ever since the 1800s when the Dutch introduced it there. It became popular with the first coffee blend, Mocha-Java.
What is Java?
While some people might answer, “it’s coffee”, the real answer is that it’s a region that was famous for producing coffee back when the coffee trade first became a thing.
Java is an island in Indonesia that is particularly renowned for its coffee. It was one of the first coffee-growing regions to really take off after the Dutch introduced coffee to Southeast Asia in the 1600s.
They brought Arabica trees (technically a shrub, but people seem to call them trees) to Bali and Java. Why did Java dominate the stage? This, I cannot say. Perhaps the results were more sought after.
Java likely was referring to the coffee that was grown in this region after it had gained some repute. In this case, it would incidentally be one of the first “single-origin coffees”, supposing that was a consideration back then. More likely, they had very limited options. Chocolate or Vanilla? Mocha or Java?
Like many terms in the coffee aficionado’s vocabulary, Java is purely the name of the region. The same for Mocha/Moka.
It’s unclear which is the first, but Mocha-Java was the first blend. It was positively regarded in the early days of coffee, and perhaps this was where Java’s fame began. Like Simon and Garfunkel, they both gained fame together and were still recognized after they split. Perhaps it’s the same for Java.
Fun fact: the Mocha part of Mocha-Java is referring to a port in modern-day Yemen where Ethiopian coffee landed after transportation by ship.
Anyway, the term began and has stuck ever since. Coffee is still being produced there to this day, and we could accurately call that “Java coffee” or just “Java” for short – though the short form would probably end up with some loss of clarity because which are they referring to? Coffee more broadly or coffee specific to the Javanese island?
If we were to compare it to wine, champagne is a particular kind of wine from a particular region – the province of Champagne. The term is often abused in America since it seems to apply to some bottom-of-the-barrel sparkling white wines. But let’s assume it was used to refer to all wine, red and white, sparkling or not. That’s essentially where we landed with “Java”.
Where is Java?
Java, as stated above, is a major island in Indonesia. If you want an interactive map to play with, you can click here. But if you are fine with just a picture, then take a gander at this here picture.
Broadly speaking, the Indonesian island is part of what’s called the “Coffee Belt” because it wraps around the world, closely hugging the equator. It’s where the land is high enough above sea level and has the other environmental conditions that are best for a good coffee.
Originally, it was purely arabica in Java. Then, in the 1880s, came the blight known as “coffee rust”, which decimated the arabica plants, ushering in liberica (from Liberia) and robusta (regarded as lesser, but more caffeine).
These strains of beans are not considered quality and don’t meet the general “standards” of “specialty coffee”, which is a semi-dubious term, in my opinion. I say more about it here. I admire their desire to distinguish the wheat from the chaff, but it seems like it needs further refinement.
In Java, there are still five plantations that grow the revered arabica (at least as recently as 2016). These ones are specialty, so I suppose that would make you assume they’re better.
Of these arabica plantations, some age their coffee for 3 years, which is called “monsoon coffee”. Some sources have said this includes leaving the storage location’s doors open during monsoon season to allow the beans to endure the wrath of the storms.
Apparently, the intent is to simulate the effects of transportation by ship, lowering acidity and creating a more mellow flavor. Seems kind of silly to me, but so long as people are willing to pay a premium for it, it shall persist – much like Kopi Luwak, aka cat poop coffee! 99% of the time, it’s not worth it, as expanded in this post.
The Programming Language, Java
Java is the only coffee moniker that has been used to spawn a programming language. Back in 1995, Java first made its appearance. Its speculated to have originated because the language was made by programmers who were likely fueled by coffee for late-night coding.
Whatever the reason, it stuck, and the emblem for the language was a steaming cup of, presumably, coffee.
Though the language is being phased out in the coming years, it had a very long run in terms of tech lifespans.
Java’s Influence on Other Coffee Terms
One possible explanation for where the term “Cup of Joe” came from is that “Joe” was a shortening from “jamoke”, which was a mashup of “Java-Mocha”. I guess “Jamoke” works better and faster than “MochaJa”, so I can see why they’d reverse the order (instead of Mocha-Java).
It first originated as “a cup of jamoke” from a military officer’s manual back in 1931, presumably American.
There are several other theories about where this term came from, which you can find here.
Java is an Indonesian island that was very hospitable for the coffee plant when the Dutch first introduced it there back in the 1800s. It has continued to be grown there since then, and the name carries over from its heyday back when the coffee trade first originated.