When Blue Bottle Coffee began offering $16 pour-overs of Yemeni coffee in 2016, the media, predictably, rebuked the premise, questioning whether it was worth it, and calling it “so SF.” The coffee, a collaboration between Blue Bottle’s roasters and Port of Mokha, was not an instance of price gouging. Rather, that $16 cup was priced so that the farmers who grew the coffee berries could be paid a salary that would enable a dignified life.
In other words, a $3 coffee should raise questions about who along the supply chain has been taken advantage of.
Ninety percent of the world’s coffee can be genetically traced back to Yemen, though years of instability have made Yemeni coffee hard to come by. Port of Mokha founder Mokhtar Alkhanshali set out to establish a company in his ancestral homeland that was firmly grounded in sustainable and honest business practices. After surveying dozens of coffee-growing regions, he isolated three and began to educate farmers, acting as a benefactor of sorts. Alkhanshali’s interests extended beyond coffee, though. He established farming collectives, all of whose boards are comprised of at least 50 percent women, and began offering interest-free loans to farmers for weddings and community infrastructure.
The system, which Alkhanshali has dubbed the “Mokha Method,” leads to compensation 33 percent greater than competitors, as well as improved quality of life for farmers and higher-quality coffee for consumers.
Yemeni coffee is grown at exceptionally high altitudes. In much the same way that stressed wine grapes boast more condensed flavors, the coffee beans are richer and more nuanced in flavor. Alkhanshali first presented Port of Mokha at the 2015 Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) conference in a series of blind tastings, following a harrowing journey out of Yemen (the subject of a forthcoming book by Dave Eggers).
His coffees bested those from long-established, world-renowned coffee farms, garnering bid and contracts from specialty roasters — including Blue Bottle. In subsequent years, Port of Mokha has garnered further accolades, most notably a previously unprecedented score of 97 out of 100 from craft coffee authority, Coffee Review.
While Port of Mokha’s yield has increased as the sustainable business and farming practices continue to take root, Alkhanshali insists that expansion will be slow and prices will continue to be dictated by farmers’ needs, not market demands. He has toyed with the idea of expanding the Mokha Method to other coffee-growing regions, but for now, his focus remains on Yemen.
Port of Mokha sells individual boxes of single-lot coffees, like its flagship Al-Wadi ($42) from the Inner Hayma region, but it’s the coffee trio that most accurately displays the pedigree of Yemeni coffee. Retailing for $158, the Port of Mokha Yemen Trilogy box set showcases three single-lot coffees in stunning, high-quality packaging — aptly reflective of the care that Alkhanshali and the farmers he works with have put into the product.