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July 7, 2021

Indulge In A More Responsible Coffee with Mokhtar Alkhanshali, CEO of Port of Mokha, Producers of World-Renowned Coffee from Yemen

Indulge In A More Responsible Coffee with Mokhtar Alkhanshali, CEO of Port of Mokha, Producers of World-Renowned Coffee from Yemen

Come on a journey to discover the roots of coffee in the war-torn region of Yemen with Mokhtar Alkhanshali, CEO and Founder of Port of Mokha. You’ll learn how and why Mokhtar was compelled to create a socially responsible coffee company that paid...


Come on a journey to discover the roots of coffee in the war-torn region of Yemen with Mokhtar Alkhanshali, CEO and Founder of Port of Mokha. You’ll learn how and why Mokhtar was compelled to create a socially responsible coffee company that paid growers three times the rate of open market coffees, so farmers in this oldest region of coffee growing in the world could thrive while producing internationally acknowledged, award-winning coffees of the highest quality. The resounding message you’ll hear is one of conscious consumerism, voting with your dollars, paying value for the food you put on your table, and understanding its roots. 

 

About Our Guest: Mokhtar Akhanshali, CEO and Founder of Port of Mokha

Historian, community organizer, and coffee innovator, Mokhtar Alkhanshali envisions a world where industry empowers rather than exploits, uplifts rather than represses.

 

Seeking to reverse Yemen’s nearly lost art of coffee cultivation, he founded Port of Mokha. Combining his knowledge of specialty coffee production, progressive infrastructure strategy and community organizing, Mokhtar has helped to reverse the declining quality of Yemeni coffee and re-establish it as the one of industries most treasured origins. Best-selling author Dave Eggers’ forthcoming title “The Monk of Mokha” traces Mokhtar’s journey as a social entrepreneur and his harrowing escape from war torn Yemen with his first coffee samples.

 

Mokhtar can be found amongst his coffee farmers in remote villages or speaking around the world on topics of social entrepreneurship, community development and, of course, coffee.

 

Guest Sites:
Website: https://portofmokha.com/
Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/alkhanshali/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/portofmokha/ 

Monk of Mokha Book by Dave Eggars: https://daveeggers.net/monkofmokha 

 

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00:00  Introduction

03:40 From Activist/Lawyer to Coffee Company Founder

08:10 Bringing Coffee to The West From War-torn Yemen

17:05 Creating A Coffee Company with Social Impact At Its Core 

22:00 Blind Taste Test: Coffee Tasting Notes & Similarities to Wines

30:05 Why Coffee from Yemen Is Unique -- #1 -- It’s The World’s Oldest Coffee

37:24 Creating Socially Responsible Coffee for A Broader Audience

42:30 Choosing Your Coffee: Buy Local -- or -- Know Where Your Food Comes From

44:10 Closing Thoughts from Mokhtar Alkhanshali

Transcript

Corinna Bellizzi

Hello, fellow do-gooders and friends. I'm your host, Corinna Bellizzi, an activist and cause marketer. Who's passionate about social impact and sustainability. Today. We're going to talk about a nectar of the gods without which I may never have graduated from college coffee. You may be wondering how is coffee related to social impact? And it's quite simple, really. Coffee is cultivated and developing countries around the world. And laborers are often given dismal wages with a limited potential to support themselves and their families. So today we're going to meet a different sort of coffee afficianado, one who aspires to change that trend.

So the communities from which we get this sweet and sometimes bitter fruit of the gods can thrive before we meet our guest, I'd like to invite all of you to visit CareMoreBeBetter.com. You can sign up for our newsletter to be the first to gain access to new episodes. You'll also find an action page for things you can do to make a difference, even coffee.

The thing you know as coffee is simple. It's a bean at the heart of a fruit dried and roasted to perfection for a cup of morning or afternoon. Bliss. Coffee is a treat I enjoy each day and I'll confess my coffee bill as an undergrad topped $300 a month.

And that was over 20 years ago. So imagine what that would be. To talk about all things, coffee I'm joined by Mokhtar Alkhanshali CEO and founder of Port of Mokha. Mokhtar is a historian community organizer and coffee innovator who envisions a world where industry empowers rather than exploits, uplifts, rather than represses.

There is so much more to this story and I'll invite Mokhtar to tell it. Mokhtar welcome to the show.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

Thanks so much.

Corinna Bellizzi

Now as you can see, I am a coffee lover. I want to know what led you to decide that you needed to start a better coffee company with roots in Yemen. So let's start with a headline from December, 2015 and an article in the village voice.

It read two entrepreneurs set out for war torn Yemen in search of a brew that could change coffee drinking for ever tell us the story that led to that moment.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

Well, actually you remember that article and the, the journalist Lauren Maui, who is in a wonderful wine, journalist also if you're interested in learning about wine.

And I think, I think she said, when she wrote that piece and was published, she was like, I got published in the village voice I'm done now. And so that was the journey to, that was quite a, quite a long journey. I think going back a little bit further, growing up in the U S. I was always trying to, especially as a millennial, find my way in life, you know, right in college, you're trying to figure out what's your path and what are you going to do for the rest of your life?

And these are very deep questions that kind of weigh heavy on, on a college student. So there's there, there, out that, you know, society, my parents kind of wanted me to go towards, which was become a doctor or a lawyer. Um, engineer and I chose a lawyer, but that was the, that was like

Corinna Bellizzi

The lesser of all evils, to be a doctor or a lawyer?

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

Yeah, for those kinds of, I don't like blood, so I can't be a doctor. Um, I'm not, I'm not good at math. I can't be an engineer. So I think we give this law thing a try. And so I was going to try to finish undergrad to go to law school and I was working at the parallels. At the same time I was doing some policy work in local government in San Francisco.

Mainly about civil rights issues in, in the, in the community with different groups, like the ACLU and the Asian law caucus. And, I was always a fan of history. I always thought that history was a really wonderful to see the different patterns and different industries and people that have lived before us and have that kind of impact are our world today.

And I found out about coffee in the middle of this phase of life in college. Right. You know, uh, th th moving up from college to quote unquote real world, and I didn't really have any idea about business. I just was very intrigued in the history of coffee and Yemen's role. My family's, you know, ancestral Homeland, which I had visited a lot growing up.

And so I was very connected to that land. And when I found out that there was a city in Yemen called mocha, and there were these kind of these mystic monks who were first to discover coffee and how this thriving trade and the first place to commercialized coffee began Yemen around the 16 hundreds.

That was very interesting to me. And the same time. This is 2012, 2013, this kind of third wave hipster coffee movement. Kind of start to spring about, um, the laughing it's I kind of want to know, do you have any experience in that or? Well, I laugh because it's in Santa Cruz county. I think I recall the exact moment almost where it seemed like there was three, three new coffee shops that I'd never seen before.

And each of them was backed by a different set of 20 somethings who just decided that they were going to get into coffee. Fits my kind of role that time. And so I saw this, this group of people, this new, these new terminologies, they were talking about single origin and it was like, they were talking about the varietals and flavor notes.

And so when you think of coffee, they, this there's kind of this third three waves. They talk about the law, the first way of being kind of the, the early 19 hundreds, you know, where companies. In the middle of the 19 hundreds, like 1930s and forties really start to spring about like Folgers and the Hills brother, which is they started actually in San Francisco.

Um, and then you, you, this brings into Maxwell instant coffee, really, you know, can coffee. The second wave is a kind of think about Friends and Central Perk. You know, where you have, like, you know, this, like the kind of talk about Guatemalan coffees, you see the Frappaccino and cappuccinos and Starbucks becomes like a really big movement there.

And people have this kind of third space between your work and your home. And I think friends that show really embodied the third space a lot. Um, I think Howard Schultz when he went to Italy and he saw. Having this kind of coffee culture, he brought, you want to have that back in the U S um, so companies like coffee connections, which is another company that Starbucks acquired from a friend of mine and George Howell mentor of mine was it was about connecting people through coffee.

And I really like this. I love that part of coffee, even the history of coffee, back in the 17 hundreds, it was a place where humans got together people and they fought and they had revolutions and arts and all kinds of wonderful things happen in these spaces. And so moved forward to 2012, the third wave, which is kind of.

Really about transparency. People want to have more of an intimate knowledge of their coffee, sort of like wine, you know, and have turned cultivars in certain natural wines versus like non that shows. You see this a lot in chocolate. And so I walked into one of those cafes owned by one of those 20 something year olds.

And there was a cup of coffee, a cup of coffee. That was $5. Which at that time I thought was ridiculous. Um, just because I grew up in Brooklyn where my dad had bodega, it was a dollar, dollar, 50 for a cup of coffee and, and so $5, I thought that was kind of expensive. So I'm behind this coffee and drinking it.

And I remember it had like blueberries. Like very distinct blueberries and honeysuckle, and it was super sweet and just this like really lingering after taste. So I talked to the barista, asked Lisa, what did you, what did you put in his coffee? How does you know, what is the flavor in there? Because like, no, there's not any there's no, there's no flavor.

This is the, this is how coffee should taste. And he explained, explained to me how they have this direct relationship with this producer in Ethiopia. And so that, that really started that journey for me. And from there, I, you know, began to understand the space more. And I decided to think about this idea.

Corinna Bellizzi

Wow. So in that article, we, they mentioned war erupting in Yemen. As you were bringing this coffeeto market something like two suitcases full of coffee, and on your way out, war is erupting behind you, and you were quoted as saying, it's a miracle. This coffee is here. So I would like to know more about that story.

Like, as you went all the way to Yemen to find this single origin coffee and ultimately bring that to market.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

I think. And there's a point when any entrepreneur, has there a hot moment or there's a, there's an exploration phase kind of after or during it? I hadn't had the aha moment yet by CA I had an aha.

Like it wasn't crystallized yet, but I could feel that this is a, this is a path I wanted to take. Um, and in this exploration moment or phase, it's really exciting because you get to like, this is we dive into something new, a new one. You read the books, you go to the conferences, you watched the videos, you know, and for me, I, I, I did all these things and at some point I would ask, I have to go to Yemen now, you know, I have to go and just kind of, and so you can imagine for a month, I'm on my phone or my laptop and reading books about coffee villages and elevations.

Yeah. I hadn't seen a coffee tree, you know? And so then fast forward to, um, the summer of 2013. I'm now in Yemen. And I'm like seeing all the, you know, these, I mean, I remember being on a mountain village, it looked like we were above the clouds, you know, and it was just amazing. Seeing people live this uninterrupted way of life, they take care of the land and land takes care of them.

And I was like, this is so interesting. I saw these farmers who they were just so far away from any idea of like those 20 year olds. You know what, I'm a 20 year olds in Santa Cruz or in San Francisco. And I just felt like they they're coffee needs to make it to these coffee shops. Like they have really interesting stories.

I hadn't this, their coffee yet, but I just felt like I have a kind of responsibility. Maybe I could just, I could figure out a way to connect them, you know? Um, and so there were a lot. There's a lot potential in their coffee lobby, you know, interest in varietals are very old, the elevation of the coffee trees, the, the, there were certain natural characteristics that made the coffees that great, very wonderful, but they're all issues that they're having and how they were drying it.

They were using these, um, these old methods where they copied with actually get ruined. It was fermented too much on the, on these like, uh, on their roofs where they would dry the coffees, uh, for those listening or watching this coffee. Coffee is. It tropical fruit and it grows like a tree, a shrub, and it has these kind of cherries.

Uh, and they, they, there, they ripe into become really red, dark red. And in those cherries, you have kind of these layers of like husk, outer skin. The sticky mucilage is a parchment. There's a silver skin. And then there's this, these two seeds inside it, which are actually the beans you roast the roast, the beans that we roast and grind and brew.

Those are seeds of the coffee tree which is a cherry. Um, and it's like being in America, we're so disconnected from our food. We don't even know that. I didn't know this. When I first started that coffee was a, was it a fruit? I thought it was a button you press and Starbucks that just somehow came out. Um, and so when, when coffee is dried, they would drive these rooftops.

And unfortunately they would, there was no airflow chickens with poop on them sometimes, then they would mix the coffee from, uh, from one farmer to another village or different places. By the time I made it to the exporter, it was just a mess. It was mixed and processed incorrectly.

So I brought in certain tools in turn like new technologies, you know, my idea, how do I keep the truth additional way of doing things, but how can I blend it with something of the new new world kind of like me, you know, if I felt my stomach, that was a perfect idea. I'm I'm Yemeni, but I'm also American.

You know, if we live, you know, 400 years ago, you know, they would probably use like a blender if they could. Cause some people are purists. Like, no, we have to do things well, I'm like, how can we do it in a way that makes sense. Uh, especially when you're trying to build a business, that's scalable.

And so I brought on these things like moisture analyzers. Drying bed systems. Um, certain things that help put the quality, but unfortunately like, like there's, there's always a political reality to everything that, you know, we just don't see it. Um, but like our food are closed. They come from countries that sometimes are that go through different difficult struggles, whether it's military dictatorships, revolutions, you know, pandemics, poverty.

Um, and a lot of times, unfortunately like, uh, We don't know where things come from. If we knew that, people were committing suicide in factories, in China, making iPhones, how would that make us feel? If we saw our faces, if we knew that people who pick our produce here in California, they're out in the 110 and 115 degree sun.

And the people died from heat. Like it was basically, you know, I think it's, it's, it's this injustice when we're that disconnected from the reality of our, of our producers. And in the case of coffee, you know, millions of cotton farmers around the world are being exploited because of cheap coffee, just like fast fashion and fast food.

And so in Yemen, Yemen, it was going through a very delicate and difficult. Political situation, where there was a dictator that ruled for 30 plus years. And he was ousted during this revolution called this peaceful group movement called the Arab spring or millions of young people around the middle east were just fed up with living under these dictatorships and wanted civil liberties and rights that they saw their people around the world have through social media.

Um, and so I decided to start a business in the middle of this movement, but once again not knowing the difficulties that I, that were ahead of me, I probably would have been more cautious, but I just felt deeply about this idea. And so, as I was progressing in my business, and as I was moving forward with this, for every like one step, I would get nine issues that would come out of nowhere.

Um, and at one point the country went into civil war on March 25th, 2015, about two and a half years into this project. And I woke up one night. Explosions and all mean Milsap mean dropped and, and I felt there were laser beams being shot in the sky, but there were anti-aircraft machine guns. And, you know, it's just like, I've never, I never knew nothing of war except what I watched on TV or read about in books.

But to live it, experience it. It's very, it's scary. It's, it's sad. It's very sad because you eventually normalize it. People around the world. They have, especially children, they live through these kinds of things and they're, they're traumatized with us their lives. So as I was building my business and in my, my value chain over it, and you haven't this happened.

And so I was trying to leave to attend. I'm giving you guys a brief version. I was, I was working with these communities of Yemen and I was trying to leave to attend a coffee conference in Seattle, Washington. That was kind of the coffee Olympics right. It's like a hundred plus countries, you know, 15,000 people from around the world.

And my goal was okay, this is where I'll find buyers. You know, I'll be able to showcase our coffee from Yemen and the work that the farmers have been doing. And before I left, you know, a couple of days, the war began and they bombed the airports. So I was stuck with those two briefcases, two suitcases full of coffee samples, and it's a longer story, but being kidnapped and going through difficult things there, it was just really hard.

All along. I had my samples with me and really by many miracles angels, I was able to make it out of there. Take a fishing boat across the red sea, to east Africa, to Djibouti near Somalia, go to jail there because they thought all the smuggler eventually was able to leave my contact in the state department.

And it's along. Weird funny, scary series of events made it to Amsterdam from Amsterdam to the airport in San Francisco. And then it was giant press conference. For me, it was hundreds of people there and TV. And, uh, then I flew the next day to Seattle. I made it to the conference the first day of the conference with my coffee samples.

And, you know, that was excited that the coffees made it there and, you know, 14 tons that were stuck in Yemen, but I made and the coffee samples made it. And we found really interesting people that are like, love their coffees. One of them was blue bottle. That was our first kind of clients customer. And I was complaining about the $5 cup of coffee.

A couple of years back, they charged $16.

Corinna Bellizzi

Okay. So that's a little bit more than IMS. I spent on a cup of coffee at a coffee shop to date, but I'm itching to have the opportunity. Now I do know you sent me some samples to try, which are purely divine. I have to say I've. Siphoned just a little bit out to enjoy during our talk here.

I would like to know more about the impact you've been able to have thus far from your efforts in Yemen with the coffee farmers there, given the changes that you've made and the price that you're commanding for the coffee that they're producing.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

I think, but the term sustainability, you know, a lot of companies have CSR programs now, and I think.

There are so many problems in the world. It's important for people who are built, thinking about business and enterprise, think about a problem they can solve, what is a product or service I can build and create that can solve one of these issues and try to be impact driven as opposed to just making a bunch of money and then trying to add on a social impact component.

Which I always thought was, it's good to do that. It's good to, you know, figure out your carbon footprint and make sure you have like, you know, sustainable audits in your company, but, you know, but there are, there are a lot of problems out there. So I think it was important for me to find that, because to ask me what has made social impact model, you know, and, um, I, I, my answer is my company is in essence, social impact driven.

That's what we do. There's no attachment on there. So yeah, the first question is how much should someone pay for a cup of. You know, why is cut? Why is, why would someone pay $16 a cup or $5 or that, or even $1? And I think a lot of it is we need as consumers to become more conscious of what we consume, how we consume it.

You know, when I talk about wine, we have no problem paying $20 for a glass of wine. That's some special vine from like Napa or even more sometimes, um, same with a lot of things. And we understand the labels. Boone's farm. And two buck, Chuck and Colorado is also a special Opus one. And like, you know, especially screaming Eagle Boldo wines with cheese there's there's Velveeta and craft.

Right. And that is like special ages school tape. But when we talk about coffee, it's almost like this like angry reaction people get, like, why would I pay more for this coffee? No, the reality is when you decided to go cheap, someone has to pay for that consequence. Someone pays for that. Whether you like it or not.

And we've been taught and conditioned that coffee it's cheap. It's cheap. It's $2, $1 it's, you know, it's just coffee. It's one flavor. Even when it's such a vast ocean of flavors, we have coffees that go from mango and papaya to that go chocolate and cream brulee flavors, tropical flavors, you know, things that you would never think coffee could taste like.

And that's the reality what it is. It's kind of. You know, so it's sad on the consumer side that you get something that's really inferior and you don't know what any, you have to put cream and sugar to drink it, to make it drinkable. It's kinda like having a special lag or Kobe beef.

Would you, you know yeah. Put a steak sauce on it. No, because you know that, yeah. It's a great piece of meat that's been taken care of and you know, same with coffee. And so for us, like what is a price point that you should pay? When I started. I saw what the farmers were being paid for the local marketing, which is really like nothing.

And because I was vertically integrated because like, I am trying to shorten the distance between producers and consumers as much as possible. And because I can do that, the added costs from producer to collector to collector to Miller, to export import roaster. Every one of those people are trying to cut corners, squeeze, margins, and make a business.

And what you lose is quality. And the farmer who did all the work is the least one who gets made, paid in this chain.

Corinna Bellizzi

Right. They're treated as a commodity, right? They're basically, oh, well, you're treating grain on the global stage or something. It's treated as a commodity.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

Even the way we say like supply chain, like I use word value chain.

I think everyone brings value to it. So if I can roast it and sell to the consumer directly or roaster. In part of myself, if I can export it, like in millet, if I can process it even, and I just buy directly from the farmer, I get no that my money is going a hundred percent of this farmer. There's no other person and I can cut all the costs of the consumer and get the value much better.

So I have had these benefits, but the, my, my disadvantages, I didn't know anything about these parts. I didn't know about supply chain management. I didn't know about marketing. I didn't know about roasting. I didn't know about packaging. They bought. Like there's so much that goes into export laws, process and fermentation.

Like a lot of the work we do now is fermentation design, how you produce flavors and coffees. So being able to do transfer that the farmer, it really helps. So the farmer goes from getting paid, you know, in most cases, $2 a pound to now getting paid close to $6. Right. That's a huge increase. That's a life change increase for them.

And the status school before that was, most farmers were being taken advantage of by loan sharks, who gave out loans ahead of harvest at low price points, these predator loan sharks. So getting rid of that, being able to do free micro loans with no interest. My goal is right now is I, I'm constantly trying to figure out ways to increase that value, but I've, it's been a long journey, but I'm happy to be right.

Yeah. Well, I'm happy that you have been able to successfully bring a Yemenis coffee to the marketplace. Cause I had never, frankly heard of one before we started connecting now in preparation for this interview, you actually sent me two samples of coffee to try and a blind taste test. You labeled one a and one.

And I have to say I had a strong preference for B of the two. I felt like it was earthier darker and a little less fruit forward. Okay. I sound like I'm talking about a wine, right? Like we've been talking about wine and terroir and things like that. As they relate to grapes, I've never had this conversation specific to coffee beans, at least not like this.

So. You know, now that we're talking coffee, I would like for you to just go through the basic differences of what even might differ from that a version and that B version that you sent to me as sample, it's actually pretty amazing. I'm going to read something to you. One of the last people who received that someone, a friend of mine from the east coast, and it's also very important to engage with customers and do as many focus groups as possible because one of the problems with businesses is that when you, when your ego gets involved and you think, you know, it's good, it's not easy. It's not the same. Well, actually what people actually wants. So for a, she wrote citrus, floral, acidic, and bright B nutty tobacco, full body chocolate.

Like exact same profiles you gave. And basically what I did there was, um, I decided we've even working really hard to try to produce a, because our covers are very expensive, we have them as gift boxes right now on our website. There. People will love coffee. It's like the perfect gift to give somebody.

And we're trying to transition to do more, become more than everyday coffee, you know? And so with the Yemen, it's a bit difficult because it's like, kind of like menuca honey in Hawaii or somewhere or New Zealand. It's, it's expensive. It's very little bit of quantity. Um, so we've been, we've been investing heavily in our supply chain and we're, you know, our current coffee offerings.

It's like, you know, four ounces. Which is I think, quarter of a pound, uh, for about $45. It's very expensive. The coffee you're trying is a new coffee. We're trying to call the everyday man. And it's going to be around $20 a pound, which is for eight ounces, from side $40 a pound for eight ounces, about 20 $20 for subscribers, um, which is.

20 bucks for an eight ounces. Half a pound is closer to an everyday coffee price point. Right?

Corinna Bellizzi

I think I pay about what 15 or 20 pounds. Cause I like to buy Pete's coffee and I buy it, get it ground fresh. And that's my preference. Right? I go for pizza. Garuda, I think is one of my favorites or I'll go for the Arabian mocha Java now beyond.

The names of them. I know the flavor profiles are different and a little bit about what makes them taste a little different, but when you have something that's so fruit forward where literally you taste the blueberry, how is that coffee processed so differently from something that we might be more accustomed to as a French roast?

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

That's a very good question. What, what really is happening is the darker roast coffees, the French roast. It's just darker roasted and hides those flavors, but it also hides a defect. So when you have a coffee it's medium or light roast, it's going to taste sweeter sometimes because those are coffees. If you have a coffee that has like that very sweet citrus note.

So here's the thing. Some people really like those notes and they want to taste those notes. And we first sent out samples of the everyday and I picked an, a basic coffee that had like, it tastes like stories. The story was sweet. It was floral. And we sent it to different people and none of them liked it.

They said it was too sweet and too sour and too acidic. And I was like, well, that's what I like. You know? So in the role of coffee, there's like people who like the bright, acidic and sweeter coffees and that fruit forward and there's folks who just like the caramel, vanilla chocolate, full body kind of earthy flavors, which is most people actually probably 80% people.

They're used to that coffee. They want it. So for this coffee, we decided to do two versions, a light and a medium or medium dark. And the light one is, was a, the fruity one citrus for one. That's what you're getting at there. The same one B is just roasted. It's also darker and it, it hides those sweetened fruit notes, but it brings out more of the caramelization of the coffee.

Um, and so we were like, okay, we, if we want to help our farmers, we have to find out how to get our coffee more people's heads. And so if you go on our website, you know, pair them up with.com, you'll see this everyday Yemen a couple of weeks, and you'll see, a light version with, you know, sweet brown.

Sparkling acidity and you'll see a dark and a medium or dark medium. It says chocolate toasted, nuts, caramel or toffee. And you probably are going to go towards the darker medium one, um, with dear friend, for instance. So we're trying to, you know, be more of a kind of be spoken kind of, but yeah, you're a, you're a feedback was super helpful.

So thank you so much for being a part of this, uh, this coffees.

Corinna Bellizzi

Well, thank you. What I'll also say is, you know, I've become a little bit of a tea snob over the years too. And what I used to know is green tea is something I wouldn't even bother drinking today. So I wonder if part of this is just the fact that we've become used to something and.

You remember probably growing up, you might've been told even the same thing. I was that coffee was an acquired taste, much like red wines are an acquired taste. And when I first started drinking red wines, guess what? I went for, the darker, bolder, super rich, um, you know, cab Sauvignon. Uh, Zinfandels petite Siraz and now as my palette has developed and changed over the years, I'm more likely to pick a lighter bodied red wine that might be on the Pino side, grown on the coastal slopes here in Santa Cruz.

So it's a little less earthy than some of the Oregon, wines that are coming out of Willamette valley. And that's the evolution of my. So perhaps just through access and trying some of these lighter roasts of really high quality copies, the same thing will happen instead of, you know, going and getting the standard green tea bag that I used to buy years ago.

I'll consider it in another realm where I'm actually going to a tea shop, doing a tasting and picking the green teas that speak to me. And that tend to be lighter and even have a different color. And. Flavor profile that is completely different than what I traditionally knew. So that's kind of what I expect the journey to be through exposure.

And I mean, I'm just excited to have the opportunity to try coffees from Yemen. I honestly had not even heard of coffees from Yemen and I'm touching on this again, because I think most of our audience would be in the same realm. So I'd like to know a little bit more about coffee from Yemen and what makes it different from the coffees that we might be familiar with from south America and elsewhere.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

First of all, before I go into that view, that was such an incredible analogy. I'm definitely gonna use that in my talks from now on you hit it on the nail. Like that is exactly it. We hope that we can take people on this journey, you know, because not long ago I didn't drink. I didn't like coffee. First of all, seven years ago.

That's shocking to me to say now, but I just didn't. I thought it was very good. No, I just used it to use just to cram before exams that night or for, for studying. But I had this kind of evolution just like you had with your, you know, infidels and eventually you made it to your, you know, Santa Cruz, you know, more light footy, lighter bodied wines.

I think that's a great example for coffee and we kind of want to get them in with something that they use. You know, maybe, maybe they move to go for a dark, dark chocolate, strawberry, or dried fruits infused in the chocolate favor and eventually get them to the, the, the fruit of your coffee. And if not, if whatever they like, w we want to be able to, you know, to give it to them as long as you know, and I'll just do the work we are doing with our farmers.

Right. And so to answer your question, Yemen. There are probably, there are a lot of reasons why Yemen coffee is very unique. First of all, it's interesting. Like very few people know about Yemen coffee were, you know, 150 years ago. Everyone knew what human coffee was for 200 years in the 16 hundreds, the 18 hundreds Yemen, or from the forties and fifties to the 1650s, rather Yemen had a monopoly in the world, coffee market.

Wow. Every only coffee in the world. That was being sold was from Yemen. And even the blue bottle was like founding story. How the Turkish soldiers or the Ottoman empire was be in the Vienna and they, they lost the battle and left behind all their things. And some of it was coffee beans, but someone took and he was able to open the first cafe in Vienna called the blue bottle.

Those beans came from mocha from the port of mocha Yemen. Um, and, and so. Um, it's an amazing history of hot coffee left Yemen to Indonesia and from Indonesia to Java, to, to the world. Um, and it's a different podcast, but, um, there's a few books to read coffee, a global history. It's a great book. Another one is the merchant houses of mocha by Nancy owned.

Two amazing books on the history of coffee. Um, and so there are probably three characteristics that are always talked about for Yemen coffee. One is the elevation. The higher coffee is grown, the better it usually tastes. And the more expensive it is because as it grows higher, it becomes it mature, slower, develops more sugars and acids.

And Yemen has like the highest of the highest milk coffee in the world. Most coffee in the world of 1200 meters to 1400 meters above sea level. It goes up to 2,500 meters, see that, which is 7,500 feet above sea level. These villages, if you go on a website, you know, portofmokha.com, you can kind of see the villages there, like on the tops of these mountains.

It's insane how they live there. And they, they built these ingenious terraces to grow their produce and coffee. So that's one, the second is there the most amount of all the oldest cultivars of coffee? So when I say cultivar variety, it's kind of like an apple. You have grantees. And foodie apples in Washington, apples.

So in coffee, there's different types of cultivars, typical pro bowl, and why Katurah geisha, Houdini, each one tastes different how the different flavor profile. So Gavin has an amazing amount of diversity of that. And the third. And I think you'd understand this because you understand wine, the lack of water and Yemen, we don't really have much water.

And so the trees are always stressed and that stress. Um, the trees produces more complexity in the flavor and the cup. And so these are three things that make you uncomfortable, unique. It's hard to find it out this because there's just, you have to go up these mountains. The supply chain is so difficult, the language barrier, and it's very unsafe.

And so for this whole period of the last 150, 20 years, Yemen has kind of been in this bubble. It didn't get affected by globalization, the realization. It kept these, these, these like ancient cultivars untapped. The villages we work with typically have been grown coffee for three to four and a years.

Like they have like records that go back that far. One of them actually had a record that went back 600 years, you know? And so these are very old vines or roots you can say no. And, and, and maybe the older, the roots are, I found the better copy.

Corinna Bellizzi

Wow. So that's similar to what happens with the Zinfandel grape. I had the pleasure of doing an archeology dig at mission San Antonio de Padua, which is one of the oldest missions in California.

And it's on the property with Fort hunter Liggett . Right. So it hasn't really been developed around there. Because it's military property and then the mission's preserved. Right. But they have some of the oldest grapevines and all of California they're specifically like from the 17 hundreds.

And, uh, the fruit they produced is quite limited today, but the berries themselves. Are very sweet. The vines have been super stressed because they also have very limited water. And so therefore produce higher levels of resveratrol, , which you might've heard about. Right. So drink your wine and get more resveratrol.

I'm sure the same is true of coffee. That's grown in those conditions. So quite interesting. I had just thought that for some reason, perhaps the, the skins had been dried on the bean or something like that to add the fruity flavor to the bean itself. And that, that was adding a difference as opposed to another process.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

I just you're very close. Your, your, your, your questions are like, it's amazing hearing someone from the outside kind of world. Uh, but you're right on to that. So there are two main ways coffee's processed after it's picked, because the goal is getting the seeds out of the cherry. Right. And so the old way.

It's called a natural process way or the sun dried naturals. You put it in the sun and let the sun dry up. The new sludge is sticking me. So then you can get to these machines that separate the bean from the, the husk. The other way is called a wash process, which is probably 80% of world, which is used lots of what you do.

Deep pulp that you take out the seeds out is the machine at the pulps. It, and these are lots of water, people like that because it's more even, it's easier to produce, but the natural processes. Because the mucilage sticky misses on the bean longer, the fruit, it definitely affects and impacts the flavor.

And particularly of the acids that it produces one called a scenic acid that in small quantity is very fruity as it becomes the more fermented, it becomes a kind of fruity wine, which is an amazing place I try to find. But if you develop it too much, it becomes. And so people are afraid to do natural because it can mess up faster.

It's also a lot more work. You have to move it with your hands and turn it on the drawing tables or the patios with like these large sticks. Um, but. Exactly. Especially with exotic Lauder, kind of bolder flavors of like these actual, like, um, fruits. It, it's an amazing, especially with, for the body of it, the textile field, they tend to produce better bodies too.

So I'm a big natural coffee lover. Um, I wouldn't say it's better than wash, but it depends on the coffee. Really? Where, where the coffee has a lot of environmental impacts.

Corinna Bellizzi

Well, I feel like you're helping me rediscover coffee. And so I'm excited about that next journey. I mean, I don't have to consistently just dilute my coffee with milk in order to make it palatable.

I think that's why my coffee bill in an undergrad was so high because I would just go to the coffee shop and have lattes all day to escape, uh, my roommates and be able to focus on my stuff. You know, because that was life. Then a bunch of college kids packed into a single house, right.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

That moment of coffee, like people, a lot, especially airlines, they choose coffees that have a certain smell because it calms you because it reminds you of like home or like that kind of like space.

So it's very nostalgic. And that's why like, some people are very like, we love dark roast because it reminds me of a certain time in my life where I drank it.

Corinna Bellizzi

The Folgers in your cup. Right. I never drank Folgers. So I really don't know, but, um, that's great. I would like to know a little bit more about where you see this business going.

We've talked a little bit about some of the partnerships you have and that people can buy your coffee directly on your website, but where are you seeing this develop over the course of the next few years? So you can continue to have a positive impact on those farmers and Yemen and produce a more socially responsible coffee.

That's beyond fair.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

We've been very lucky to work with some wonderful Olsen partners here in the states, like, uh, blue bottle and collected, equator coffee scene in San Francisco, Terra Mia, George Howell. There's some, a really wonderful coffee shops around on dragon fly roasters around the country. And so anytime you see a part of a coffee there, it's, it's going to be one of our spaces.

They kind of go after our, our, our really cool and unique allots for those, uh, and our website also promote.com. We sell really unique coffees and we have a monthly subscription service for people who really like want to go deep into the origin of coffee. So for us, you know, I just got back from Yemen and I was there for seven months.

So I'm going to be going back there in a couple of more months. So in terms of the business, we are definitely focusing on continue to streamline our supply chain Yemen and to work on building that up more. We're going to be probably, you know, moving towards other origins in the future. Most of the people reach out to me are producers from other countries.

And so. You know, Yemen, it would be our kind of, it's a very unique coffee and it's very special and it just, it's a coffee that, you know, you do when you want to splurge. You want something special. You have guests over, it's a coffee to bring out. We're going to be working on producing some really interesting products like, uh, these recyclable in this festival.

I think it would be really great for hotels and restaurants. And then, um, I'm going to send you, uh, a few other things that are launched one called pour over pouch, which does, you know, I love to improve overs, but you have to have the grinder and then the scale and this whole thing. And so we did it.

There's a really cool Japanese way of making coffee, where you've just got. Put it on top of a cup and you can use it one time. They're recyclable. So we're trying new new ways to get coffee, to try to limit eliminate barriers between people in, in good coffee. And I guess our company ethos is always trying to shore in distance being the producer, the consumers.

So that's kind of our route is one, trying to find more creative ways to get coffee to people. Um, whether it's, you know, you're an Airbnb host you want, or you'll have a hotel or restaurant, and what happened is special. And the second year. Trying to expand our project to other origins. Just so many other farmers in the world who, you know, who, who have amazing coffees, we have a special way, unique ways of permitting processing and roasting that we've really perfected and been lucky to win a lot of awards.

And then the coffee space, which is very hard because people are very pretentious and especially the coffee community. And it's like really hard to get. Uh, street credit, quote unquote. So we were lucky to like in 2017 we were number one coffee in the world, right. By the cover view, they give us a 97 point score, just the highest they can give.

And we got another one last year. And so we're, we're very fortunate to have, these kinds of coffees, but, yeah, and hopefully be able to speak with more people like you, to who ask these kinds of questions and go really deep. And I've, I've done a lot of. Interviews, but this was very refreshing to have these kinds of questions because they're, most of the questions are very superficial and they don't really go deep into the actual coffee product itself.

So, thank you so much for having me on your end for asking these kinds of questions.

Corinna Bellizzi

Thank you for coming. I mean, I just love it. So I want to know one more thing. Is there a goalpost that you have down the road where one that says perhaps for you, when I get to this point, I will have done what I can and to do here with Port of Mokha.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

Gosh. One of his, I do want people to know and to be more knowledgeable about their consumer choices. And I've always wanted to educate people about that. When I, when that article said, it's a miracle, the coffee even made it here, actually most coffee. It's a miracle. It gets you the way it does, whether it's in Guatemala or if it's from Yemen or for Kenya.

And I think consumers, we have opportunity to really impact the world. If millions of people will do small things, right. You know, I've gone to San Diego, the border of Mexico, and I've, I've met with Guatemalan farmers who are stuck in the border, who risk their lives, their families, and asked them, you know, why did you leave your farm?

He's like, no one wants to pay me enough to grow coffee. And so like, there's, I really want people to understand how they can change the world through how they, how they consume what they buy. And that's a long-term goal. I don't really know how to, what the metric for that is. And I guess the second one, I guess the second one is like, I really want to support farmers around the world, in coffee and other industries, just, and neither of these goals, I have like an end goal.

There's no like IPO or acquisition thing for that. I'm just happy that I found a path in my life. That's more of a calling than a career where I feel that, you know, there's a lot of other things that could do that could pay me much more money, a lot less stress, you know, I, I like. This job. I like what I do.

I like working with these producers and being around harvest patterns. And I love seeing our coffees being consumed in Japan and Paris. And just, just knowing the journey that you were a part of, it was this, uh, it's very meaningful to me.

Corinna Bellizzi

And, you know, too, that the effect you're having on the communities that you're working with from a farming perspective is one that's positive and will allow them to thrive.

Long-term as opposed to just basically. Taking them for granted at every step of the way, right?

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

Yeah. Yeah. These farmers, I mean, I, I, we are a lifeline from, from many of these farmers and I know what their lives would be like. We would, we couldn't support them. And so for us, if we decided to go cheap with farmers, they're going to stop growing coffee, you know, they're going to stop.

So even as a business, sustainable, you know, the long, the future, like farmers that needs to be changed. We have to change the way we consume our coffee and you don't have to buy the foodie, exotic coffees. You can buy your darker roast coffees just to make sure that the you buy local support, local business, you know, and here there's a, there's always a local roaster in your community, in your city, in your town, and try to seek out places where they can tell you where the coffee is from.

If they can tell you this coffee's from Columbia from 90 Norwegian, it's going to 800 meters above sea level. It's a special Casteel variety. And they're, they're really excited about that. The coffee, you can tell this is probably a person I should buy it from. They have this connection. So that's pretty much my, I just buy local and know your food coming.

Corinna Bellizzi

Well, that's the journey. And I think we should all get there every day, because as you mentioned earlier, people are breaking their backs to bring the food to our table, and we need to appreciate the effort that went into that. It doesn't happen by magic. And I think so many people just think, well, it's on the shelf in a store.

Of course the conditions were just fine. And the reality is often the opposite of that. So. I applaud your efforts. Now I want to go ahead and just thank you. Mokhtar Alkhanshali for joining us today. I also would like to offer you the floor for a moment. If you want to direct people to your website, I know you also have a book that's been written about you.

So people who are curious can find out more and continue on this journey.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

If you want to know more about my story, personal story and what I've gone through, but it's a good book to teach you a lot about coffee, kind of, it kind of sneaks that in there that, you know, in it, because it talks about coffee, history and economics.

When a lot of coffee books are very academic, it's called The Monk of Mokha. I did not write it's by Dave Eggers. I was very fortunate to meet this wonderful individual and he's been a good friend for many years now. Um, so it's a bit about my story and, you know, I. Someone had a dream and is trying to pursue that dream, I guess.

And our website part of mocha.com, P O R T O F mocha is MLK ha. So the right way to spell it, that's com and if you want to know more about our, our service that we offer and it's been more of our story. Um, but yeah, again, thank you so much for this interview. It was really, really great to too. Talk to you instead of just being interviewed.

Corinna Bellizzi

Well, we dish and that's what I like to do here. So thank you so much for being a part of that and for being so open with our audience, um, you know, we're really just here to put a little bit more good into the world every day. That's how I look at this podcast. That's why it's social impact and sustainability.

We invite people to care a little bit more so we can all be a little better together. So thank you so much. this has been my sincere pleasure. Now to my audience, I'd like to invite you all to act. As I often say it doesn't have to be huge. It doesn't have to feel like a Herculean effort. It could be as simple as sharing this podcast with someone in your community that you think would enjoy it.

And they can learn a little bit more about coffee, where it comes from and how they can select a better, more responsible product to find suggestions. Visit our action page on CareMore B better.com. There you'll find causes and companies that we encourage you to support. We're not backed by the companies or the interviewees that I bring on this show.

This is really just an effort to put more good into the world and to help amplify the effect of really important work done by inspiring individuals like Mokhtar. I invite all of you to join the conversation and the community we're building. You can even join conversations on clubhouse at CareMore be better.

I want to hear from you. You can even just send me an email to hello at care Morby, better.com. Thank you listeners. Now in all ways for being a part of this pod and this community, because together we really can do so much more

Mokhtar Alkhanshali

CEO & Founder, Port of Mokha

Historian, community organizer, and coffee innovator, Mokhtar Alkhanshali envisions a world where industry empowers rather than exploits, uplifts rather than represses.

Seeking to reverse Yemen’s nearly lost art of coffee cultivation, he founded Port of Mokha. Combining his knowledge of specialty coffee production, progressive infrastructure strategy and community organizing, Mokhtar has helped to reverse the declining quality of Yemeni coffee and re-establish it as the one of industries most treasured origins. Best-selling author Dave Eggers’ forthcoming title “The Monk of Mokha” traces Mokhtar’s journey as a social entrepreneur and his harrowing escape from war torn Yemen with his first coffee samples (https://daveeggers.net/monkofmokha).

Mokhtar can be found amongst his coffee farmers in remote villages or speaking around the world on topics of social entrepreneurship, community development and, of course, coffee.