Barista Magazine

DEC 2017-JAN 2018

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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Page 98 of 107

Mokhtar Alkhanshali THE MAN BEHIND YEMEN COFFEE'S MOMENTUM By Ashley Rodriguez MASTER THERE AREN'T A LOT of stories in coffee better than Mokhtar Alkhanshali's. Mokhtar grew up in proximity to coffee—visits to his family in Yemen involved picking cherry from some of the oldest coffee trees in the world. A transformational cup from Blue Bottle in California years later led him down a rabbit hole that would eventually dic- tate the course of his career. At the time, Mokhtar was working as a community organizer, but his curiosity about the deeper story of coffee had been piqued. On his next journey to Yemen, he went with a question: Why weren't more Yemeni coffees making their way to North America? Soon he was working with farmers to implement systems designed to improve both quality and worker wages, and realize the full potential of Ye- meni coffee. While green buyers have long waxed poetic about coffee from this country located at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, they didn't know or understand enough about it to demand easier access to it. Mokhtar's background and resolute commitment to bringing Yemeni coffee to a specialty market made that possible. After working with Yemeni farmers for two years, Mokhtar was ready to showcase what would end up being some of the most exceptional coffees to hit the specialty-coffee scene. However, the day he was to travel to the U.S.A. to attend the Spe- cialty Coffee Association of America's annual Expo in 2015, civil war broke out in Yemen. Mokhtar famously escaped on a small fi shing boat through a small port—the Port of Mokha—to Djibouti to fl y back to the U.S.A., with just a suitcase full of coffee samples. Mokhtar's harrowing story has been document- ed on myriad news channels, and is the subject of Dave Eggers' soon-to-be-released biography, The Monk of Mokha. What makes Mokhtar stand 99

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