Tucked away in the hills of Tokyo’s Daikanyama is the shop Mocha Coffee, Japan’s only cafe specializing in Yemeni Mocha (Mokha) coffee. JAPAN and the WORLD sat down with its owner Maiko Miyake to discuss the coffee culture in Yemen and her one-of-a-kind shop.
The country of Yemen, though currently more associated with its ongoing crisis since 2015, boasts a long history of cultivating one of the most sought-after coffees in the world: Mocha (Mokha). Dating back to around the mid 14th century, mocha is one of the two oldest types of coffee in the world.
Its distinct, unique flavor, comparable to that of wine and chocolate can only be created under Yemen’s harsh environment and traditional way of cultivation. Only around 3% of Yemeni land is considered to be arable; in fact mocha coffee cherries are grown only in West Yemen along the Yemen Coffee Belt, a chain of high mountains that runs vertically across the country. The beans are then hand-picked using a traditional method that has been preserved for centuries. Due to of the lack of water and generally arid climate, the mocha coffee cherries work harder to retain nutrients, resulting in that delectable, rich flavor. Furthermore, mocha is known to contain less caffeine compared to other types of coffee because it is cultivated at such high altitudes.
Offering twenty types of Yemeni mocha and two types of Arabic coffee, Mocha Coffee provides customers with the unique experience of drinking authentic Yemeni mocha. Currently the only shop specializing in pure mocha coffee, Mocha Coffee strives to serve the best quality genuine mocha and spread the coffee culture of the Middle East to Japanese people.
Many Japanese people have the perception that Yemeni mocha is a sour coffee. However, at Maiko’s shop customers can discover the true mocha, where notes of cacao, spice and fruit delicately intertwine to create one inimitable flavor.
At Mocha Coffee, Maiko offers only the best quality mocha from Yemen. Though the current civil war in Yemen makes it increasingly difficult for her to import mocha, luckily with the help of local traders she is able to maintain her unique specialty shop.
Maiko would recommend her favorite type of mocha, Mocha Malala, which, when she grinds the roasted beans, smells sweet, like ripped coffee cherries or red berries, and tastes fruity and bold.
While coffee cultivation has been a major part of Yemeni history and society, the Yemeni people view mocha coffee as a cash crop rather than a beverage to drink regularly.
While coffee cultivation has been a major part of Yemeni history and society, the Yemeni people view mocha coffee as a cash crop rather than a beverage to drink regularly. As someone with experience living in Yemen, Maiko Miyake explained to us that she hears that Yemeni men may drink coffee early in the morning before or after going to the mosque for the first prayer, but she herself rarely saw Yemeni people drink coffee on other occasions. A more popular drink in Yemen, she elaborates, is Gusher, a tea-like beverage made by boiling the dried outer layer of coffee-cherries.