by Samantha & Mia
The Monk of Mokha
by Dave Eggers
January 30th 2018
Knopf Publishing Group
Goodreads Rating: 3.93
The Monk of Mokha is an enrapturing TRUE STORY of a young Yemeni-American man with boundless ambition.
Mokhtar grew up in the ghettos of San Francisco – a certified hood rat. Knowing that he was destined for more, he cleaned up his act and became a shoe salesman, then a car salesman, then a doorman, before finally finding his passion for Yemeni coffee.
While traveling back to his homeland in an exploration of the ancient art of Yemeni coffee, Mokhtar finds himself engulfed in a civil war. He faces countless struggles to return home and fulfill his American dream.
“Mohktar is both humble before the history that he inhabits and irreverent about his place in it. But his story is an old-fashioned one. It’s chiefly about the American Dream, which is very much alive and very much under threat. . . . And how direct trade can change the lives of farmers, giving them agency and standing” (Eggers xiii).
The Monk of Mokha is Dave Eggers’ latest book and does not disappoint. It is a breathtakingly relevant story about perseverance and the roots of coffee cultivation.
Not only does The Monk of Mokha do justice to Mokhtar’s story and struggles, but it also dives deep into the history of coffee cultivation and production in Yemen and elsewhere. It has several sections where the history is necessary in order to understand what Mokhtar’s goals are and why.
Did You Know?
Not only is the history fascinating – the facts weaved throughout The Monk of Mokha will change your views on how much a cup of coffee should cost and “fair trade” certification.
- 80% of the world’s coffee is produced by 25 million ‘smallholder’ farms (Fairtrade America).
- Coffee is actually a fruit that grows on trees. The coffee bean that we recognize is the seedling. Once the tree is planted it takes 3-4 years to bear fruit. The coffee fruit resembles a cherry or cranberry. Once the “cherry” reaches its ripeness and turns a deep red color it is picked by farmers one-by-one. And that is just the beginning. There are two methods of harvesting coffee beans:
- The Dry Method: The “old-age” method of processing, often used in countries with limited water resources. The hand-picked cherries are laid out to dry in the sun and rotated throughout the process (can take weeks, depending on the weather). This process takes much longer but is known to produce a higher quality product. Most coffee farms in Yemen still use this method.
- The Wet Method: The fresh cherries are first put into a “pulping machine” to remove the skin and pulp from the coffee bean. Next, the beans are soaked in water for 12-48 hours to ferment and remove another layer of skin. Then the beans are dried.
- The coffee beans still need to go through three more processes: hulling (to remove the endocarp layer), polishing, and grading/sorting (NCAUSA).
- Experienced pickers pick an average of 100-200 pounds of coffee a day. After harvesting, that comes out to about 20-40 pounds of coffee beans (NCAUSA).
- Coffee was first cultivated in Yemen. After tasting the beverage, the coffee bean (the seedling) was stolen by the Dutch, then given to the French, then stolen once again by the Portuguese and planted in Brazil. Thus, developing into the worldwide 70 billion dollar coffee market we have today.
- If you are any kind of coffee connoisseur, you have probably heard of sumatra coffee. One particular kind of sumatra coffee, known as kopi luwak, is harvested by a rather disgusting method. Locals realized that civets, a catlike mammal, were frequently eating coffee fruit from trees. They realized that once the civet digests the coffee fruit, their feces contains perfectly shucked coffee beans. Long story short, the world’s most expensive coffee is harvested from poop. A single cup can sell for as much as $80.00 (National Georgraphic).
- The Mokha Foundation provides interest-free loans to coffee farmers to promote direct trade and remove the money-hungry involvement of middlemen and loan sharks (The Mokha Foundation).
- Coffee trade is higher than any other tropical agricultural product on the planet (Fair Trade America).
- “Fair Trade is a global movement made up of a diverse network of producers, companies, shoppers, advocates, and organizations putting people and planet first” (Fair Trade Certified).
- Khat (Qat) is a widely produced stimulant in Yemen. It is illegal in some countries, such as the United States and England. It is a “cash crop” – easy to grow, easy to sell. Mokhtar Alhkanshali’s goal is to replace khat fields with coffee fields, which he has already succeeded immensely.
“My whole goal is to bridge Yemeni farmers to the world. That’s what I want to do – not to have the things that connect Yemen and the United States be drones and war and headlines, but to have something that we all know and love – coffee” (PRI).