Cup of Joe

by Bella Rum

It’s almost 5:30 am. I like it when it gets to be 5:00 am. To me, it’s a measurement that marks what is truly morning. The night is returning to its place, crawling over the curve and back to the other side… for a while. More importantly, it means that H will be up in an hour and a half,  and I will smell coffee.

He almost always makes the coffee. I think that started because I didn’t drink coffee in the early years. H was the only coffee drinker in the house in those days. He drank it like it was life’s blood. I couldn’t understand it. Why would anyone drink that bitter brew on purpose?

We used to vacation in Myrtle Beach during the summer before our son was born in 1974, and for a while after. We had finished our one-week stay in our room overlooking the ocean at the Sand Castle, a brick u-shaped hotel with a courtyard and large fountain. It was a charming place, nothing like the high-rise Sand Castle that would replace it later – more rooms, more profit, less charm. It was June, and we were on our way home. We’d had good weather that week, but the temperatures suddenly dropped and the cool rains began.

We stopped for lunch. I was wearing only shorts and a t-shirt. The rains soaked me to the marrow when I ran for the restaurant. I was freezing. When the server brought H his coffee, for the first time in my life, it didn’t look so bad. I ordered a cup. I didn’t drink it black with a little sugar like he did.  I added a little sugar, and then watched as the cream turned the coffee from black to mocha. I sipped. I’ll always think it was the day, the rain, shivering in the air-conditioned restaurant, leaving the beach and returning home, but the coffee was palatable, comforting.

I don’t think much has changed about my relationship with coffee. I’m still not a hard-core coffee drinker. I’m a poser. I look forward to it, I like it, but what I really like is the moment, that coffee moment, that rich, familiar smell that wafts so easily through the early morning air, but most of all, it’s joining in the ritual with someone else. It’s the social bonding, the starting of a day or a break in an afternoon, it’s holding the warm mug in your hands. The least of it is the taste.


There are several theories about why coffee is referred to as a “cup of joe,” but these are my two faves.

  1. In 1914, Secretary of the Navy Josephus “Joe” Daniels banned alcohol from U.S. Navy ships. They were left with coffee. Referring to a cup of coffee as a “cup of joe” was a way for them to register their dislike of the ban.
  2. Joe is a term for the average man, “the average Joe.” Following World War II, “cup of joe” may have been sustained by “joes” or average guys returning from the war. In the 1940s and 1950s, average working guys who ate breakfast at diners were served ‘cups of joe.”