It’s been a wild last couple of years for Mokhtar Alkhanshali, the Yemeni-American coffee trader behind Port of Mokha, focused on global export of high quality coffees from Yemen. Catapulted into the spotlight by features in NPR, the Village Voice, and other publications, Alkhanshali’s story feels like a triumph of coffee globalism, centered on a fraught boat escape from the war-torn nation, and concluding with a reintroduction of delicious Yemeni coffees to the global quality coffee scene. Roasters like Blue Bottle Coffee found Alkhanshali’s story—and his coffees—irresistible, leading to a global run on his limited supply that has include collaborations with roasters like Coutume (Paris), Dragonfly (Colorado), Slate Coffee (Seattle), Equator Coffees (Bay Area) and more.
We’ve featured Alkhanshali twice on the Coffee Sprudgecast: once for a more general interview at the Counter Culture Coffee training center in Emeryville, CA; and again for an interview following US President Donald Trump’s failed Muslim travel ban, which unconstitutionally targeted immigrants and refugees from majority Muslim countries, including Yemen. In both those interviews we asked Mokhtar Alkhanshali the same question, “What’s next?” Today we have an answer.
Meet the first-ever box set of coffees from Port of Mokha, launching today and available in pre-order at the newly revamped Port of Mokha website. Available in limited qualities, this box set is an expression of three single-family lots in the Yemeni mountains, from the growing regions of East Hayma, West Hayma, and Haraaz. While Port of Mokha will continue its collaborative work with quality roasters worldwide, this box set marks their launch into the consumer market as a roasted coffee brand, and extraordinary opportunity to drink coffees roasted and sourced by an importer with hard-earned, intimate knowledge of his crop.
“Are we producers? Exporters? Importers? Roasters? It’s been hard to answer that question because we are all of these things but in a different way,” Alkhanshali tells Sprudge. ” As you know, the direct trade coffee world is far from perfect.” This sentiment echoes our ongoing feature series on Direct Trade coffee’s challenges and triumphs by author Michaele Weissman. Could roasting be the next step for importers seeking to broaden their impact on the Direct Trade cycle? “We believe that producers need support throughout the year to produce great coffee,” Alkhashali says. “In our process, we developed “The Mokha Method.” The Mokha Method is virtuous cycle of social benefits and quality protocols–on the ground with farmers. On the quality side, we ensure quality by using state of the art technology like raised driving bed system, moisture analyzers and very strict protocols while on the social side we promote gender equality, give out interest free micro loans and pay the highest price in the world to coffee farmers.”
I’m not sure Mokhtar Alkhanshali has answered his own questions—is Port of Mokha now a roasting brand? This tasting box marks the launch of a new facet for the company, and provides direct access to the coffees of Yemen to curious American consumers. This is a country in crisis, and the situation remains much the same as when Alkhanshali fled by boat with his first Port of Mokha crop. “80% of the country now is food insecure,” he tells Sprudge, “but our all-female quality team have become the primary breadwinners for their families, since there are fewer and fewer opportunities for their husbands and fathers. And, we are now seeing remittances being sent from our farming villages to the cities, reversing what has been a decades-long trend of city-dwelling family members sending money to their families in the rural areas.”
He’s real about the situation in Yemen, but sees coffee as a way forward for security and growth in Yemen. “We hope Port of Mokha can be a ray of light amidst all the darkness there.”
Jordan Michelman is a co-founder and editor at Sprudge Media Network. Read more Jordan Michelman on Sprudge.
Images courtesy of Port of Mokha.