Tuesday, May 28, 2019

The Monk Of Mokha by Dave Eggers

According to history, coffee was first discovered by a shepherd in Yemen, Africa, when he noticed that his sheep seemed to be way too energetic.  He realized they were chewing berries and after investigation, found a way to make the beans in the berries into coffee.  The drink spread rapidly and was soon a major crop in Yemen and protected from exportation.  Over time, the Dutch smuggled it to the island of Java and then later it was smuggled again to South America.  Now coffee is the premier drink of the world but almost no Yemen farmers grow it.  Over time, they rotated out of coffee to growing qat, a plant that can be chewed to induce euphoria.

Recently, a young man living in the United States with a Yeman background, Mokhtar Alkhanshali discovered all this history and decided that bringing Yemeni coffee back to prominence would be his life work.  He had spent time in Yemen as a child with his grandfather and wanted to give back to his country.  He had no experience in business, no contacts in the coffee world and no real idea how to create his dream.  But he found ways to move ahead.  He attended every event having to do with coffee, visited coffee farms and processing plants and learned the process of taking a plant from berry to bean to coffee.  He became a coffee judge.  Finally, he was ready to go back to Yemen.

Once there, he again started his journey of exploration and learning.  He visited the few farmers still growing coffee.  Due to poor processing, the native coffee was now graded low and the farmers received little money for their product.  He taught the correct processes to those interested with the promise of much greater money in the future for their crop.

Finally, he was ready to achieve his goal.  He had tons of product and now needed a way to get it to market.  Unfortunately, Yemen was not a placid place but one torn by war between rival factions and Mokhtar and his partner found themselves unable to get out of the country in order to attend the coffee conference that would establish the new Yemen coffee.  After many trials, armed confrontations, arrests and last minute miracles, Mokhtar escaped Yemen, returned to the United States and successfully introduced high grade Yemen coffee.

This was an interesting book written about a young man who should have failed a thousand times over but who persisted and finally, after years of preparation and work, managed to achieve his goal.  Readers will discover the history of coffee and the political and economic realities of life in Yemen.  This book is recommended for nonfiction readers.

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