In the land of my birth, the British often ask visitors if they “fancy a cuppa.”
Most Americans might not know it, but their hosts are being hospitable by offering them a hot beverage, which usually is hot tea with milk and sugar. However, with the increasing prevalence of American-style coffee shops in the United Kingdom offering Americanos, flat whites, espresso and cappuccinos in every shopping mall and high (main) street, these days the phrase sometimes can mean a cup of coffee as well.
When I first met my husband-to-be in London and he offered me a cup of coffee, he apologized for having only the instant version. I was confused to see him use what I thought was a tea bag. That was my first introduction to the coffee bag imported (smuggled!) in his luggage during his frequent trips back to the USA. As most English people think of instant coffee as powder that then is diluted with boiling water into a not-very-appetizing hot drink, I was surprised that it really wasn’t bad.
To confuse me even further, when I was growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, instant-coffee powder was cheap, nasty and often pre-blended with powdered milk. No wonder English people clung to their tea-drinking traditions during my formative years.
While I still enjoy my afternoon tea, I have become more Americanized and generally need a cup or two of coffee to get going every day. I did not realize when I moved here that I regularly would be offered a cup of morning joe, which I now know is, of course, a nickname for a cup of coffee. According to www.knowyourphrase.com, there are two popular theories about the nickname’s origin. One relates to Josephus (Joe) Daniels, who was secretary of the Navy in 1914 when he banned all U.S. Navy ships from serving alcoholic beverages. The sailors weren’t too thrilled with the decision because they had to resort to the next strongest drink on the list, which was coffee. Since Daniels was responsible for banning alcohol and “forced” everyone to make the switch to coffee, the sailors nicknamed the drink after him — thus it became “a cup of Joe.”
The second theory is that the word “joe” simply can mean the average man or ordinary kind of guy. Therefore, a drink involving the word “joe” would show that it is for the common man.
I must admit that I had not given much thought to the growing of coffee until I was lucky enough to visit Hawaii earlier this year with my husband (who thankfully has come a long way since offering me a cup of instant coffee). We took a tour of a Kona coffee farm and found out that coffee is harvested as “cherries” because the beans are encased in a hard, red shell. These beans are handpicked several times each season to guarantee the best product. Only coffee from the North and South Kona districts on the island of Hawaii can be called Kona. It is pretty expensive but high quality.
The history of the commercial production of Kona coffee in Hawaii is interesting. In 1828, an American missionary, the Rev. Samuel Ruggles, brought a plant cutting to the island that was from a strain of Ethiopian coffee called Arabica, which is still produced today. Production really took off, and in the early 1900s the large Hawaiian coffee plantations began subdividing their lots and leasing them to tenant farmers. From the 1930s until 1969, local schools switched summer vacation to “coffee vacation” — August to November — so that children could help their families with the coffee harvest. It was fascinating to see coffee production in action and certainly makes me think more carefully about where my morning joe comes from.
A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting comedian, journalist and author Dave Barry. My favorite quote about coffee, and one with which I think my highly caffeinated husband would agree, comes from Barry: “It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.”
God bless America!
Lesley grew up in London, England, and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. Email her at email@example.com or go to www.lesleyfrancispr.com