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History of the Mocha Coffee Bean

When you step into your local coffee shop and order a café mocha, mocha latte or mocha java, do you really understand what you are ordering and the origin of the drink? Here’s a little insight into the history of your “mocha” drink.

Mocha, also spelled Mokha, is also used to describe a variety of coffee bean. Smaller and rounder than most other varieties, these beans are derived from the coffee species Coffea Arabica (Arabica coffee), which is native to Ethiopia and Yemen. Although the beans originally shipped from the port of Mocha, Yemen, were thought to have had a chocolate-like taste; current mocha beans from Yemen usually do not.

It is commonly believed that the coffee bean that originated in the port city of Mocha (Mokha), Yemen, was encountered by Marco Polo on his trip through the Arab world.  A month and a half into Polo’s troubled journey, his party was forced to go ashore into what is now modern-day Lebanon to resupply their stocks, because their captain had provided insufficient room for food storage. In the marketplace, Polo found a salesman from Yemen who had brought coffee beans from Mocha. He purchased some and ultimately returned with them to Europe. However, the bean was not widely known throughout Europe until the 17th century.

“Mocha coffee” can refer either to coffee brewed with mocha beans, which were originally cultivated in Yemen and exported through the port of Mocha, or to a popular (yet bastardized) drink made of coffee infused with chocolate.

The term “mocha” in relation to chocolate and coffee–chocolate blends is strictly a result of European influence. Chocolate (Cacao) was not cultivated near Mocha nor imported into it at that time. Mocha Java refers to a blend of beans, from both Mocha and the island of Java in Indonesia. Now you know.

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About the Author

Sean Hand is the Roast Master and Tea Specialist for Nuance Coffee & Tea, a small-batch, artisan roaster of specialty-grade coffees, and purveyor of luxury loose-leaf teas, located in Murfreesboro, TN. Nuance products can be purchased through the Stones River Market, or by joining its Coffee Co-op; Coffee Co-op members receive a different full pound or a half pound of coffee each week. For more information, contact Sean at nuancecoffeeandtea@gmail.com.

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