The Coffee-Flavored American Dream

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad in the New York Times:

35215524A few years ago I traveled with a group of friends from the southern Yemeni port city of Aden to the capital of Sanaa in the north, taking the long coastal road that twists and curves around the bulge of Yemen’s southernmost tip. After passing the Bab el Mandeb strait, the road stretches along the seashore. Under a clear bright sky, the waters of the Red Sea shimmered and the sand glowed a warm ocher, the monotony interrupted only by an occasional fisherman’s shack, a small nomadic settlement or a bleached one-room mosque. Flat-topped trees looming in the distance suggested an African landscape.

Ahead of us lay the port of Mokha, or Al-Mukha in Arabic, where from the 15th century onward ships set sail with precious Yemeni coffee bound for Istanbul, London, Amsterdam and eventually New York — so much coffee that the word “mocha” became synonymous with it.

Those days are gone. In Yemen today, sweet chai masala is far more prevalent than coffee, and as my friends and I drove through the dusty lanes of Mokha that afternoon, the town appeared to be little more than a cluster of mud-colored hovels and shacks built from cinder blocks and metal sheets. Mokha’s only association with coffee was the half-ruined, ancient mosque of Ali Ibn Omar al-Shadhili, the Sufi credited with bringing the coffee plant from Ethiopia to Yemen. Coffee seemed to have been relegated to history.

Enter Mokhtar Alkhanshali, the soft-spoken young Yemeni-American protagonist of Dave Eggers’s latest nonfiction book, “The Monk of Mokha,” who got into his head the mad idea of reviving that long-dead trade and exporting high-quality coffee arabica beans out of Yemen.

More here.