Sixteen sounds like a fairly crazy number of dollars to charge for a cup of coffee. But if the beans had to be smuggled out of a war-torn country by hand on a small dinghy across the Red Sea, we're willing to consider that the cost could be justified. This week, San Francisco's Blue Bottle Coffee drew attention this week for the hefty price of its new Port of Mokha coffee, but the real story is that it exists at all.
In March of 2015, Yemeni-American coffee importer Mokhtar Alkhanshali was doing standard business in Yemen's capital city, Sana'a, when full-fledged airstrikes broke out around the city. "It looked like Armageddon. All hell had broken loose," Alkhanshali tells NPR. All routes in and out of the country via boat or plane were blocked, and calls for help to the American Embassy for were rebuffed. Alkhanshali was trapped, and was was breaking out.
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That's when the coffee dealer decided to drive seven hours to the Red Sea port of Mocha and flee the country on a 20-foot-long motorized dinghy. Alkhanshali brought no navigational equipment along for the ride, but did manage to hoist two suitcases full of Yemen's esteemed coffee from the independent farms he had been working with. The conflict-torn country has a centuries-old history of coffee production. According to the coffee site Sprudge, Yemen's beans are speculated to be the first to be served to the Western world. In fact, the country's brew was so beloved that "in the 1500s there were more than 3,000 coffee shops in Cairo, all of them serving Yemeni coffee."