There are many theories as to why a cup of coffee is referred to as a ‘cup of Joe’; two strong contenders emerge. One involves “joe” being a slang derivative from the other commonly-used slang words for coffee: “java” and “jamoke” (the latter of which is composed from the words “java” and “mocha”, kind of like what we did for the 5-spice Hot ‘Choffee’ recipe blog). So it’s possible that asking for a “cup of java/jamoke” could have easily turned into asking for a “cup o joe.”
The other theory is that “joe” was slang that referred to the common man, perhaps similarly to the way we might say, “hey man, good to see you” or “alright, dude.” Even the term “average joe” gives the idea that joe, or coffee, was a beverage for the common man. Have a little bit of fun and do your own research though; some fun slang we put together from the 1920’s: “You think he’s the bee’s knees? Horsefeathers! He’s zozzled, a wet blanket AND a lollygagger. Let’s blouse.” Care to translate? (Read our answer at the bottom.)
If a cup of ‘Joe’ is coffee, we think of a cup of tea as ‘Joan.‘ With the masculine name of “Joe,” we are given a clue to how coffee reacts in the body. The caffeine content of coffee can provide the rather aggressive ‘jolt’ we need to wrestle ourselves from the tendrils of sleepiness that remain so that we can start our days.
While tea can have an effect with its caffeine content, it’s generally not as severe. Depending on caffeine content and your sensitivity to caffeine, it could be more of a gentle ‘lift’ into your day. Studies show that tea has a multitude of health benefits too.
The Many Beautiful Faces of ‘Joan’
Tea is so much more than just Earl Grey or green. There are more than 3,000 varieties of tea, including oolong, green teas (including matcha), white tea and so many options with herbal teas (think beyond peppermint, chamomile, and ginseng). In fact, we have a whole cabinet dedicated to our teas. As we check in with the body each morning, it may signal the need for a bit of a pick-me-up, in which case the white tea or ginseng may be chosen. Maybe red raspberry tea for hormone health. If we’re feeling a bit under-the-weather, our cold and flu tea blend will come out. Jasmine is a relaxing favorite that has currently joined us for this writing.
Join the Tea Party
Whether black, green, or white, these teas all come from the same plant, Camellia sinensis. Rooibos (also known as red tea) and herbal teas are exceptions. The color of the tea depends on the processing method and how much oxidation it undergoes during production. Generally speaking, the less oxidized a tea is, the lighter color it is…and the more antioxidant and polyphenol compounds it contains. Also, tea typically has much less caffeine than coffee, and some teas are naturally caffeine-free.
The health benefits of tea come from a tea’s polyphenol content. Research shows that tea drinkers may have stronger bones, lower incidence of cancer and cardiovascular disease, and lower cholesterol levels.
From most to least oxidized:
Pu-erh is a dark red tea with a very earthy flavor; it is said to improve with age, like wine. For a bit of toilet humor, especially for those of you who enjoy the Straight Poop on Stool blog, here’s how to pronounce this tea….”poo-air.” Okay, *wipes tears*, okay, serious face now. Like the black, green, and white teas, this pu-erh tea is made from a specific, broad-leafed variety of Camellia Sinensis native to China’s province of Yunnan. Pu-erh may help with improving digestion and cholesterol levels.
Black tea is the most popular tea consumed in the United States, usually as an Earl Grey or Darjeeling variety. Many Americans prefer to drink it cold as iced tea. Black tea can help lower risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and even help prevent cavities.
Oolong is essentially the ‘baby’ that would result if black and green tea got together over a few cocktails. Because it’s an intermediate between these two, it has the blended qualities of the two teas in terms of color, flavor, antioxidant activity, and health benefits.
Green tea, despite the flavor of “hay” some would ascribe to it, really can be quite delicious, provided the quality of the tea is high. Making matcha tea can be a beautiful morning ritual and you can add some non-dairy milk to it, just as you would coffee. In terms of health benefits, green tea contains a polyphenol called EGCG, which numerous studies suggest may be behind its cancer-fighting, anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting superpowers. Applied topically, it may even help relieve sunburn; something to keep in mind, especially during the summer months.
White tea is a rarer, more expensive, delicate tea. But you get what you pay for; since it’s the least processed tea, it can contain more antioxidants that other teas. Studies show that white tea protects DNA from mutating and color cancer cells from growing. It may also be effective in killing the bacteria that cause cavities and pneumonia. Score!
The other varieties, we discussed earlier, such as rooibos (the red tea that comes from a shrub and is considered an herbal tea) and the herbs that come from plants like mint, yarrow, jasmine, etc. are all caffeine-free! They also have many therapeutic actions in the body and contain antioxidants as well.
How to have the Perfect ‘Cup of Joan’
First, check in with yourself and see what needs your body has – perhaps supporting the immune system, issues with mucous production, fatigue, or a lurking sense of a urinary tract infection about to take root. Choosing the correct tea can help your body heal and for you to greet the day.
Many tea enthusiasts have specific recommendations about brewing the perfect cup of tea. First of all, good quality water should be used. For pu-erh, black, and oolong teas, bring the water to a vigorous boil. For green tea and white tea, use hot water but that is cooler than boiling (these delicate teas will have their flavor affected with the more vigourous boiling). Steep teas according to these recommended time-frames: 4-5 minutes for white tea, about 3-4 minutes for pu-erh, black, and oolong, and about 2 minutes for green tea. Herbal tea times may vary, but about 5 minutes is generally recommended.
Did you know? A pound of tea will yield about 180 cups of itself. So two pounds of tea, a cup brewed daily, should last a whole year.
Want to DIY decaf? Many decaffinated forms of tea (and coffee!) involve chemical solvents in their processing. For tea, here’s a trick to remove most of the caffeine, without sacrificing taste nor polyphenol content: steep tea in hot water for 30 seconds (because caffeine is water-soluble, most of it will release into the water), discard this water but keep the tea bag/steeper. Add fresh hot water to the tea leaves and steep for a few minutes.
Consider loose leaf tea (rather than tea bags) when possible; quality is usually better and it stays fresh longer. Additionally, you don’t have to worry so much about the materials used in the tea bag itself (bleached fibers, nylon, plastic – PET aka polyethylene terephthalate, corn, etc).
Start your day with a ‘cup of Joan’ and see how you feel! Remember, you can make tea into mocktails for a delicious and refreshing beverage too.
P.S. The 1920’s slang above could be ‘translated’ into today’s language as “you think he’s awesome? Ridiculous/B.S.! He’s drunk, no fun at all, AND he’s a total slacker. Let’s get out of here.”