Review: The Monk of Mokha

The Monk of Mokha - Dave EggersTitle: The Monk of Mokha
Author: Dave Eggers
Publisher: Knopf
Publication Date: January 30, 2018
Genre: Nonfiction | Biography
Synopsis from Knopf
Book provided by PRHC

Review: When you drink a cup of coffee and savour the depth of its flavour do you ever wonder what goes into that perfect cup?  The MONK OF MOKHA is a fascinating story about Mokhtar Alkhanshali’s quest to revive Yemeni coffee while navigating the Yemen civil war in 2015.

Mokhtar is a Yemeni-American who grew up in San Francisco’s rougher Tenderloin District.  He worked as a ‘lobby ambassador’ in a high end apartment building and didn’t possess the bright future in law as was hoped of him.  While working Mokhtar noticed a statue across the street of a Yemeni man drinking coffee and thus gave him the idea to bring Yemeni coffee back to life.  It’s an interesting concept because Mokhtar knows nothing of coffee nor does he drink it and Yemen was in the midst of a civil war so I was hooked wanting to find out how this man successfully brought a $16 cup of coffee to San Francisco.

The process of growing coffee is finicky.  The coffee bean itself is deeply hidden within the cherry which must be separated to get to the bean.  The cherries are hand picked because they ripen at different times and only the red ones are picked for production.  A sensible picker will yield 360 pounds of ripe cherries per day.  The beans are sent to the mills and typically processed using the more common wet method which produces consistent quality at the expense of excessive amounts of water usage.  The less favourable method, and ancient process used in Yemen, is to dry the beans for 3-6 months and hand sort to remove any imperfect beans.  This method is less reliable as an overlooked defective bean can ruin an entire batch of coffee.

Mokhtar diligently studies coffee in the shops at home and the farms and production plants abroad.  He learns quickly the workers are exploited and has an idea to bring fair financial practice to all facets of the industry.

This book is so interesting – from the details of yielding the best coffee to exporting it out of civil war ridden Yemen, to the most expensive cup of coffee served at Blue Bottle in San Francisco.  I am recommending this book to all the coffee drinkers in my life.