By ALEX BERNSON
“Coffee crosses borders, it crosses cultures, political hardships, and everything. I think it’s one of the best ways to create community in the divided times we live in.” – Mokhtar Alkanshali
Port of Mokha is many things—it is the port in Yemen where coffee first left Ethiopia and arrived in the Ottoman Empire, and from there spread throughout the world. Port of Mokha is also a wildly ambitious global coffee venture: in Yemen, Port of Mokha founder Mokhtar Alkanshali has woven together social, financial, and agronomic services with direct cherry buying and coffee processing from farmers growing extremely rare and beautiful coffees in high-altitude villages; and via a distribution center in Oakland, California, Port of Mokha shares these coffees with a global network of super-premium roasters, as well as roasting and shipping directly to consumers.
The port of Mokha was also the last port in Yemen that had not been bombed during the 2014 militia take over of the country. Mokhtar had the first cupping for his new venture scheduled at the 2014 SCAA Expo, and so, after being kidnapped for three days in Aden, and with only three days until the Expo, the port of Mokha is also where Mokhtar escaped via a small boat to Djibouti, and from there to Kenya, San Francisco, and Seattle. The story of Mokhtar’s Yemeni-American upbringing and his journey through coffee is captivatingly told in a recent book by David Eggers entitled The Monk of Mokha. Port of Mokha is also featured in the Roasters Village this year, where we sat down for a talk with Mokhtar. You can find an excerpt of the interview below, and keep your eyes on the SCA News site for the full interview.
Alex Bernson: When you traveled back to Yemen to begin your coffee hunt, how did you the farms you wound up working with?
Mokhtar Alkanshali: I went to 32 regions in one summer. I got malaria, tapeworms, lost 40 pounds, but I got to find these magical coffee places.
I had Arabic books on coffee production, CQI reports, USAID reports, maps, but most of the people writing them hadn’t been on the ground there. I went and asked my network of family and friends, everyone—I would go anywhere people had coffee. I fell in love with the people, how warm they were, but I saw the issues, with picking unripe cherries, with processing, everything.
I targeted the highest-altitude villages, and in particular, a varietal called Udaini, an ancient Typica mutation with some similarities to geisha. Yemen has this incredibly high genetic diversity in its coffee. I took 21 samples back, most cupped horribly, but two 90+.
You can meet Mokhtar Alkanshali for yourself during the book signing for The Monk of Mokha taking place at the SCA Store at 2pm on Saturday 4/21.