Monk of Mokha follows the life of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, told by award-winning author Dave Eggers, including his journey through the coffee world.
BY ASHLEY RODRIGUEZ
BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
There are celebrities—the folks we whisper about walking into our cafés as we stare at our feet and make their cappuccinos while trying to keep our cool. And then there are industry celebrities—the people you recognize for winning the World Barista Championship or reinventing our understanding of an important coffee idea. You’re probably more nervous pulling a shot of espresso for James Hoffmann than you’d be for Louis C.K., but you’re telling your friends about the time Louis C.K. came into your café (both true stories).
Dave Eggers is one of the first type of celebrities. He’s a notable writer, journalist, and the author of works such as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and You Shall Know Our Velocity. Soon he will be bringing one of the most talked-about coffee stories to light in his next book, Monk of Mokha. In it, he’ll tell the story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, founder of Port of Mohka and generally recognized as bringing Yemeni coffee to the specialty-coffee world.
Mokhtar’s story is fascinating and filled with ups and downs—growing up in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, Mokhtar had his first sip of a coffee that completely changed him at Blue Bottle, and then began a journey trying to figure out why specialty coffees shops didn’t serve coffee from Yemen. His journey then took him to Yemen, where he worked with farmers to improve the quality of their coffees. He’d eventually pack up samples ready to take back to the United States, until civil war broke out in Yemen and he’d resort to evacuating via a small fishing boat. The story would become viral, and covered by news outlets all over the world, including this story on NPR.
It was after this story was published that Dave got in touch with Mokhtar, but Mokhtar had actually known Dave long before that. “I met Dave probably five years ago while he was writing a script for a TV series about a San Francisco cop who was Yemeni. A mutual friend connected us when they needed someone to be a cultural consultant. HBO picked it up, but things never worked out,” shares Mokhtar. “That whole time I didn’t know Dave was famous at all. He’s a very low key and humble individual.”
Once he got back from Yemen, he met with Dave at the Webster Street Blue Bottle, and began talking about his time in Yemen. “I remember grabbing a Kenyan coffee and explaining to him the varietal (SL28), the elevation, how it was naturally processed, and why I believe specialty coffee was the greatest way to have social impact in the world,” Mokhtar shares. “After about a day, he called me and told me, ‘I was really taken aback by your story and I think it’s very inspiring and one the world should read. I would be honored to write a book about your life in coffee.’”
Reluctant to accept, Mokhtar was encouraged by one of his friends to pursue the project. “It wasn’t until I told one of my close friends and he told me to wait and brought out two of Dave’s books and told me, ‘He’s literally my favorite author, you have to do this!’” Dave didn’t just listen and recount Mokhtar’s story—he’s been following him and learning about coffee in the process. “I agreed, and for the last three years he’s been following around my coffee world visiting Ethiopia, Yemen, Djibouti, my childhood neighborhood in the Tenderloin. He’s interviewed dozens of my close friends and family and spent hundreds of hours interviewing me. He’s taken the Q course, too.”
The book, which is a biographical account of Mokhtar’s life, is slated to come out in January 2018, but you can pre-order your copy now. Monk of Mokha will not only share Mokhtar’s story with a larger audience, but will likely change the way many people view and think about coffee. “When I first met the publisher, the first thing they told me was, ‘I didn’t know coffee came from cherries!’ I’m really looking forward to people learning more about the miraculous journey coffee takes,” Mokhtar shares.