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Why Is Coffee Called Java? A Look at the Incredible History

a cup of coffee and coffee beans

As coffee lovers, we have heard coffee called by a few different names: Joe, Mocha-Mocha, Cuppa, and Jamocha, to name a few. However, the term most avid coffee drinkers know is Java. Have you ever wondered why coffee is called Java or what its history might be?

Coffee is called Java because of the colonial Dutch, who chose a small island called Java in Indonesia to cultivate their coffee. They developed their coffee on the tiny island way back in the 17th century, which led to coffee being called Java.

Now that you know why coffee is called Java, we’ll give you a brief look into the incredible history of the reasons in the article below.

By the way: Want to try real Java? Take a look at our 5 favorite Sumatran coffee brands!

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Java During the Dutch Golden Age

If you’re searching for the story of Java, you must go back to the Netherlands during the Dutch Golden Age. At this time, the only way to get coffee for the Europeans was through the African and Arab countries, such as Kaffa in Ethiopia and the modern-day Yemen area.

The Dutch Golden Age was during the mid-1600s, while the Dutch were busy trading exotic culinary items and porcelain. Eventually, the Dutch decided they didn’t want to get their coffee from the Arab countries; they wanted to grow and cultivate their coffee.

To make that happen, the Dutch East India Company took a few coffee plants with them when they sailed overseas in 1696. They took the plants and planted them in Sumatra and Bali. However, the coffee didn’t grow or take off as well as it did on the tiny island of Java. Java was a Dutch colony at the time. While the Dutch now owned their coffee, their customers saw it as a luxury, and it had to be marketed and labeled as a luxury good.

Everyone knew that Arabica coffee was an exotic luxury that all the wealthy wanted to drink, but who wanted Dutch coffee? Dutch coffee wasn’t a luxury. Therefore, some rebranding was essential if the Dutch wanted to capitalize on the coffee they had finally cultivated.

This was when they came up with the idea of labeling the bags of coffee headed for the Netherlands as Java coffee. History says that this is where the nickname Java for coffee came from. It eventually became so popular that it was applied to all coffee.

whole coffee beans in a burlap sack
Image Credit: Tina Guina, Unsplash

When Did the Name Java Stick?

As late as the 1800s, the Dutch’s hold on Java was still strong, and coffee was still extremely popular. Colonialism in the world was at an extreme high, and the Dutch were the primary providers of coffee exports at that time. This made Java one of the world’s primary sources of coffee, which is probably why the nickname became so popular and still sticks around to this day.

In today’s modern world, the Dutch East India Company no longer exists and hasn’t for a long time. However, the term Java is still used to describe the coffee we all know, love, and crave in the mornings.

By the way: Want to try real Java? Take a look at our 5 favorite Sumatran coffee brands!

The Java Island

Thanks to the popularity of coffee and the fact that Dutch coffee grew so well there, the tiny Java Island is now the most developed country in Indonesia. Java won its hard-earned independence in 1949 and never looked back.

Even now, Indonesia is one of the world’s largest coffee producers, only falling behind Brazil, Colombia, and Vietnam.

The island itself is said to be run by the elite, and though it is coming into its own, it’s said that over 75% of the island still doesn’t have electricity. Perhaps that will change in years to come.

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Wrapping Up

Now you know why coffee is called Java and the word’s history. Would we have the fragrant, delicious coffee we have today without the Dutch smuggling coffee plants onto the island of Java? We probably would still have coffee, but the name Java likely would not have been associated with it. The history of how coffee earned the nickname Java is pretty interesting, and the fact that the Dutch smuggled it to the island is even more so.

Featured Image Credit: Andrija Petrovic, Shutterstock


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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