From Stellenbosch we head northeast, up Africa’s Indian Ocean coast and on to the Red Sea, sandwiched between the African mainland and the Arabian Peninsula.
The far southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula is occupied by the Arab Republic of Yemen. And the far southwest corner of Yemen in turn sits on a narrow thirty-mile sea strait, linking the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, called Bab-el-Mandeb, or the ‘Gate of Tears’ – an ominous reference to the number of ships that have been lost there. Here, on the Yemeni side of the Gate of Tears, is the port city of Mocha.
Where is Mocha, Yemen? – Mocha, Yemen Map – Mocha, Yemen Map Download Free Photo Gallery
No prizes for guessing that it’s from Mocha that mocha coffee takes its name: Coffea arabica, the plant from which the arabica coffee bean is obtained, is native to this corner of Arabia, and has been cultivated in Yemen since medieval times. These coffee beans were then dried and transported to the coast for trade. Thanks to Mocha’s ideal location on the far southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries it established itself as arguably the most important coffee-trading port in the world.
Before then, the coffee trade into and out of Mocha had been tightly controlled by the occupying Ottoman Empire. But when the Ottomans withdrew from the far south of Arabia in the early 1600s, trade with the rest of the world flourished – and with it, coffee suddenly became a desirable commodity worldwide.
It wasn’t until the eighteenth century that Mocha coffee first began to be described in English texts, but it nevertheless quickly gained a reputation for being among the finest coffee produced anywhere in the world. As the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham wrote as early as 1793: ‘Coffee, to be drinkable, must be made from mocha.’
Nowadays, the name mocha is less associated with the Yemeni strain of coffee beans, and more with a drink made by mixing freshly ground mocha coffee with steamed milk and powdered chocolate. This mocha made its debut on coffee-shop menus in 1977.