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It's always nice when someone makes you a cup of coffee in the morning, but when they travel across the country—and that someone who's making the coffee brings their own beans and hand-grinds them—it's bound to be even better. That's just part of the story of Port of Mokha's Mokhtar Alkhanshali's visit to the test kitchen. You might have heard of Alkhanshali—Dave Eggers wrote a book about him. He grew up in San Francisco and has become the leading evangelist for coffee from Yemen through the company he founded. His goal is to bring these unique coffees to the U.S. and the world.
Not only did Alkhanshali bring his own beans and grind them right before brewing (which makes for fresher flavor), but he also bought an impressive coffee setup: a Stagg kettle to boil water, an electric scale to weigh (measure) the water, and an elegant glass pour over coffee set a friend had gifted him. He made glasses (yes glasses) of Port of Mokha's Al-Durrar for all of us as he shared the story of how he got into coffee and how he is working to share the singular coffees from Yemen, which rivals Ethiopia as the birthplace of coffee. (In fact Mokha or Mocha is a Yemeni port city and not just a coffee drink.)
As we held our small glasses of coffee, Alkhanshali advised us to "drink slowly and note the flavors as the coffee cools." He also remarked "how the coffee was light, almost tea-like but packed with flavor." And it was. This brew could not have been further from the typical cup of joe. The coffees that Port of Mokha sells are grown about 2,400 meters above sea level, on spectacular terraces cut into the hillsides. We were all surprised that coffee could be grown that high. Alkhanshali explained that the elevation is important "the higher the coffee grows, the slower it matures, that's why high elevation coffee is so expensive." At these higher elevations, the coffee has to work harder to grow, the beans are smaller and the taste different, something to savor. Alkhanshali says he is "a bridge between two worlds, helping the coffee farmers improve their production process and get a much higher price for their coffee," and he's bringing coffee connoisseurs beans that can be traced back to the earliest coffee cultivars. The beans are micro lots, some from one village, some from one farming family in a certain village.
Food editor at large Shira Bocar asked Alkhanshali about his favorite way to make coffee. As it turns out, his travel setup is a take on his favorite; Alkhanshali is a devotee of the pour over, and the pour over in his travel coffee setup is the glass version of the very simple and inexpensive Hario V60. But, he's says, "It's what you like. My mom likes French press. In Yemen they make Turkish-style coffee." The pour over, he explained, is good for lighter body, more floral coffees.
Port of Mokha is available at some leading coffee shops, like Blue Bottle, but they also sell direct to consumers so everyone, whether they live in a town with a great coffee shop or not, can try these unique coffees and learn a little about the coffee farmers and the story behind the beans.