The Monk of Mokha is a modern-day Hero’s Journey – a monumental quest – and, amazingly, it’s completely true. Mokhtar Alkhanshali, was raised in the US in poor circumstances by attentive Yemeni parents. But like a lot of young people, he couldn’t get his act together. He also distanced himself from his Yemeni culture. While other friends and family members found their place, Mokhtar wandered aimlessly through life and changed jobs frequently. That is…until one day in 2015…prompted by a friend…he looked across the street from his workplace and noticed a statue of a Yemeni man drinking coffee, an artifact left over from the long abandoned Hills Brothers coffee plant. Suddenly, 27-year-old Mokhtar received his calling, and his hair was on fire.
With some research, he discovered that Sufi monks in the isolated mountains of Yemen were the first to cultivate and brew coffee beginning in the 15th century. Over the next 200 years, Yemen owned the trade, exporting high quality coffee to Europe, starting the coffee craze. He also found that the quality of Yemeni coffee drastically declined throughout the 20th century due to limited rainfall and the growing popularity of chewing qat, a mild narcotic that had overtaken coffee fields and eroded the soil.
Mokhtar decided that he was going to revolutionize the coffee of his family’s homeland, bring it back to its former grandeur, and return to Yemeni coffee farmers the dignity and prosperity they deserve. Here are just some of the challenges: Mokhtar knew nothing about coffee and must become a top certified expert, a stringent and costly venture. He had absolutely no money. He desperately needed a mentor, someone who could show him the ropes and guide him in such a journey. Few farmers in Yemen even attempted to cultivate the poor quality coffee the land produced, and he knew none of those who did. Maybe the worst: Just saying Yemen immediately brings to mind tragic civil war, staggering humanitarian crisis and extreme danger. Who would even invest in such a venture? Could the necessary infrastructure be put in place? How would travel even be possible? How would he dodge bullets and escape terrorists?
The Monk of Moha is the inspiring story, a very wild ride, of exactly how – in just 2 short years – Mokhtar Alkhanshali accomplished exactly what he set out to do. In 2017, his fledgling company Port of Mokha offered East Hayma Single Farmer Lot. It was given the highest score ever awarded by the Coffee Review’s grading program since its inception over 25 years ago. Best of all, Mokhtar has revived communities where only devastation lived. Port of Mokha coffee is now selling for $42 per 4 ounces.
The author Dave Eggers is to be commended for his social responsibility, having undertaken this unlikely, heroic tale. He successfully produced an insightful book that also offers an appreciation for Yemen, its people and culture against tragic circumstances the country is currently suffering. I also learned a lot about coffee.
Here’s an engaging bit of the story in video, told by Mokhtar himself on the Port of Mokha website, to entice you to read the book. Available in print, ebook and audiobook at Amazon and elsewhere. Highly recommend.