The Monk of Mokha

The Monk of Mokha

From the best-selling author of The Circle, the true story of a young Yemeni-American man, raised in San Francisco, who dreams of resurrecting the ancient art of Yemeni coffee but finds himself trapped in Sana'a by civil war--and his riveting tale of escape.Mokhtar Alkhanshali grew up in San Francisco, one of seven siblings brought up by Yemeni immigrants in a tiny apartme...

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Title:The Monk of Mokha
Author:Dave Eggers
Rating:
Edition Language:English

The Monk of Mokha Reviews

  • Marie

    Eggers was the reason why I picked up this book—someone at work handed me an ARC and I was like sure why not? I didn’t even realize it was non-fiction until after the first chapter

    But holy cow, it was spectacular. It’s about a Yemeni-American who wants to bring high quality Yemen coffee back to the US and the rest of the world. I had no idea about the history of coffee and wouldn’t have thought I would find it so interesting, but Eggers writes the history portions with his famous storytelling to

    Eggers was the reason why I picked up this book—someone at work handed me an ARC and I was like sure why not? I didn’t even realize it was non-fiction until after the first chapter

    But holy cow, it was spectacular. It’s about a Yemeni-American who wants to bring high quality Yemen coffee back to the US and the rest of the world. I had no idea about the history of coffee and wouldn’t have thought I would find it so interesting, but Eggers writes the history portions with his famous storytelling touch. Not to mention that Mokha’s story is absolutely crazy. My only complaint is a small one—I thought the ending didn’t have enough detail. Then again, the story is still going on.

    If you have even the slightest interest in coffee or Yemen, it’s a good book for you. If nothing else, it will give you some good tidbits to wow people at the next party you attend.

  • Ammar

    This book made me appreciate coffee more. This is the kind of book that keeps you on the edge of the seat while rooting for the main guy to get over the obstacles and attain the goals they need to get.

    Mokhtar Alkhanshali was born and raised in California. His parents are from Yemen. He discovers while working as a door attendant in a large residential building that Yemen was a major exporter of coffee beans for centuries and had a monopoly over coffee trade through the port of Mokha.

    He wants t

    This book made me appreciate coffee more. This is the kind of book that keeps you on the edge of the seat while rooting for the main guy to get over the obstacles and attain the goals they need to get.

    Mokhtar Alkhanshali was born and raised in California. His parents are from Yemen. He discovers while working as a door attendant in a large residential building that Yemen was a major exporter of coffee beans for centuries and had a monopoly over coffee trade through the port of Mokha.

    He wants to revive the high quality of the Yemeni beans, and goes back to Yemen to explore the situation, but then 2011 and the Arab Spring changes everything in the region. He goes back and forth between Yemen, and some coffee businessmen in California, he learns how to grade coffee, he teaches Yemeni workers and farmers how to improve the farming, harvesting of the beans and improve their life.

    This book delivers on many levels, it shows the real region, it describes what people go through every day in a region plagued with war. A must read for any person who enjoys coffee, politics, history, and human stories.

  • Brian

    In a world filled with misery and pain, it's refreshing to read a well written, non-fiction story of a member of our race who overcomes all shades of adversity to succeed when every deck is stacked against him. Like his excellent

    , Eggers writes in an easily accessible narrative style that draws the reader into every facet of the story - whether it's the personal history of the protagonist or an encompassing background on the world of coffee, the prose is mesmerizing. I ended up playing h

    In a world filled with misery and pain, it's refreshing to read a well written, non-fiction story of a member of our race who overcomes all shades of adversity to succeed when every deck is stacked against him. Like his excellent

    , Eggers writes in an easily accessible narrative style that draws the reader into every facet of the story - whether it's the personal history of the protagonist or an encompassing background on the world of coffee, the prose is mesmerizing. I ended up playing hooky from work today because I couldn't put this down. Highly recommended.

  • Elyse

    Wow!

    By the end of “The Monk of Mokha”, without a sip of coffee or ( tea for me), in me, I felt the stimulant of Dave Eggers non fiction book raising my energy.

    This is one heck of an amazing rags to riches story....

    From DOORMAN ....to CEO COFFEEMAN....our uplifting boost of energy comes from a guy name Mokhtar Alkhanshali......Yemeni-American.

    Mokhtar grew up dirt poor......in San Francisco’s most impoverished districts: The Tenderloin District ( our older daughter once played the leading role

    Wow!

    By the end of “The Monk of Mokha”, without a sip of coffee or ( tea for me), in me, I felt the stimulant of Dave Eggers non fiction book raising my energy.

    This is one heck of an amazing rags to riches story....

    From DOORMAN ....to CEO COFFEEMAN....our uplifting boost of energy comes from a guy name Mokhtar Alkhanshali......Yemeni-American.

    Mokhtar grew up dirt poor......in San Francisco’s most impoverished districts: The Tenderloin District ( our older daughter once played the leading role in an indi film - at age 12 in this district- an area any mother would worry for her child) .

    “Mokhtar got used to the drug dealing, which we stand out in the open air, all day and all night. He got used to the smells – – human feces, urine, weed. To the howling of men and women and babies. He got used to stepping over needles and vomit. Older men and younger men having sex in the alley. A women in her sisters shooting up. A homeless family panhandling. An elderly junkie standing in the middle of traffic”.

    Mokhtar also knew just north of the Tenderloin neighborhood was Nob Hill .... One of the most expensive neighborhoods in United States, home to the Fairmont and Mark Hopkins Hotels. A few blocks away was Union Square with its pricy shopping and cable cars.

    Mokhtar was a creative semi- trouble maker - rascal- as a kid. He found solutions to some of his deprivations. AND WE ....THE READER....ARE ROOTING FOR HIM ALL THE WAY. He has an incredible ‘coming-of-age’ story to tell.

    He has another story to tell when at age 24 he moves to Yemen....where he learns the language- culture and works in coffee farming. He also got trapped in the violent civil war.

    But Mokhtar was drawn to the Yemeni Coffee - their culture and industry. And we follow Mokhtar’s master plan to bring Port of Mokhtar back to San Francisco.

    Reading this book was a little like a roller coaster ride. There were moments when your heart dropped to your feet....when he had THE WORSE LUCK.....and had to climb back up and start with nothing.... and there were moments of celebration...where you wanted to stand up and cheer!!

    “Congrats To Mokhtar”

    Dave Eggers spent 3 years listening to Mokhtar talk and doing research - before he wrote this book. He did a great job....got me interested ...and I don’t even drink coffee.

    Two more things...then you can stop reading my chatter: ( if you haven’t already)

    1- It’s my belief .... that what contributed to Mokhtar separating himself from the other junkies where he lived - is HE ALWAYS LOVED TO READ AS A KID. He stole books sometimes - but better books than cigarettes or alcohol. Mokhtar was always smart - and determined to live like the people on Nob Hill. SMART & DETERMINATION go along way!

    2- In June of 2016, Port of Mokhtar

    was made available for the first time at

    Blue Bottle coffee shops around the United States. It was the most expensive coffee

    Blue Bottle had ever sold. Complete with a cardamom cookie made from Mokhtar’s mother’s recipe, it cost $16 a cup.

    Mokhtar May have become rich ....but the rest of us poor if we drink his coffee too often....but Paul will love it. So ....I plan to take Paul to Blue Bottle in Oakland for his birthday. He is normally a Peet’s or Philz’s coffee drinker.

  • Krista

    is a work of narrative nonfiction by noted storyteller Dave Eggers: Focussing on the compelling

    is a work of narrative nonfiction by noted storyteller Dave Eggers: Focussing on the compelling story of one Yemeni-American's efforts to reboot his ancestral homeland's coffee industry, this book provides a microhistory of coffee itself, an overview of the often overlooked country of Yemen, an introduction to America's “third wave” of coffee production/consumption, and the whole is used as a progressive lens through which to evaluate the ways in which we weigh the value of someone's work. What I found in this book was certainly interesting and informative, I just wanted more: more on coffee, more on Yemen, and I especially felt this to be a lost opportunity to bring the world up to date on what Amnesty International refers to as

    (but I suppose if Eggers dwelled too much on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it would be hard to craft a feel good story out of using the country's bombed-out ports for exporting coffee to international specialty roasters so rich folks can spend fifteen bucks on a cup of brew). Still, this is a dramatic true life story that certainly demonstrates Eggers' stated thesis: “how these bridge-makers exquisitely and perhaps most bravely embody this nation's reason for being, a place of radical opportunity and ceaseless welcome”. Note: I read an Advanced Reading Copy and quotes used may not be in their final forms (I just can't help myself). Four stars can be considered a rounding up after much mental back and forth.

    So, who is “The Monk of Mokha”?

    This little known history – that coffee was first processed and brewed in Yemen – became a point of pride, and eventually a bit of an obsession, to a young and directionless Yemeni-American who was raised in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco by hardworking immigrant parents. When Mokhtar Al-Khanshali first heard of the monk al-Shadhili, and later learned from his mother that coffee cultivation went back generations in their family, Mokhtar decided to educate himself; eventually becoming the first Yemini Q Grader of Arabica coffee beans in the world (a prestigious and internationally recognised designation). Whenever he asked people in the industry, however, about the quality of Yemeni coffee, he always heard that it was particularly terrible; only suitable for dumping on the commodity market. Not willing to accept that, Mokhtar went to Yemen and met with farmers; eventually teaching them how to properly cultivate, harvest, and prepare their crops for export. When Mokhtar eventually got a decent sample out of the country – in a thrilling episode as Yemen descended into civil war – it went on to garner the highest rating ever given to a coffee strain. Today, Mokhtar imports tonnes of Yemeni coffee beans into the US – each variety of which can be traced back to its farm of origin, where its producer is given a fair and decent profit – and after processing and roasting in his own facility (Port of Mokha), Moktar sells this superior product to the world (a three 4 oz sample

    will cost you $158 US).

    Now, I would never spend something like twenty dollars Canadian on a single cup of coffee, but this “third wave” is apparently about approaching coffee the same way a sommelier evaluates wines: when the best in the world is identified, the discerning consumer should be expected to pay more for it; the producer should be expected to profit from providing excellence. And as this story is presented – Mokhtar pays his farmers many times what they used to receive, easing their poverty and freeing them from loansharks and the exploitative commodities market – this seems like an objective good. On the other hand, someone needs to be able to afford to buy coffee at that price, and Eggers uses this book to sneer at class stratification, using the San Francisco setting to demonstrate the unfair chasm between the haves and the have-nots. The reader is supposed to join in Eggers' outrage that Mokhtar (a college dropout without a life plan and sleeping on his parents' floor at twenty-five years old) takes a job as a doorman at a luxury high rise, making $18/hr to open the door for people who won't sully their hands to do so for themselves:

    A self-evident outrage and an assault on his pride to do what he was well-paid to do? I don't think I can follow where Eggers is trying to lead me with that. As a Canadian, I have no stakes in American politics, but it didn't escape my notice that Eggers writes vaguely of the “high paranoia of the Bush years”, and frets about the future for Muslims under Trump (a man, Eggers stresses, who was not elected by the people but whose presidency was only made possible by the electoral college), but while the actual indignities that Mokhtar experiences (racial profiling at airports, the US State Department refusing to evacuate American citizens when war breaks out in Yemen, the frequent American drone strikes within Yemen and the collateral civilian deaths, the Saudis using American-built weapons to bomb Yemen) all happened during the Obama years, Eggers doesn't link his name to any of these specific policies. This book has a particular political slant, and I just want to acknowledge it.

    Still, this is an interesting and informative story, told well, and less than four stars would feel peevish.

  • PorshaJo

    There is a lesson in this one...or two. Don't let anyone tell you can't do something. And once you set your mind to something, you can do anything. Well, in this case, said person was almost killed....multiple times. But he DID IT! He did what he set out to do which seemed like an impossibility.

    OK, this tells the story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali. A young Yemeni growing up in San Francisco, just running around, being a punk, not caring about much of anything. But he begins to see the way (after being

    There is a lesson in this one...or two. Don't let anyone tell you can't do something. And once you set your mind to something, you can do anything. Well, in this case, said person was almost killed....multiple times. But he DID IT! He did what he set out to do which seemed like an impossibility.

    OK, this tells the story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali. A young Yemeni growing up in San Francisco, just running around, being a punk, not caring about much of anything. But he begins to see the way (after being talked to) and tries to better himself. He tries to go school, but a mistake where he looses a lot of money he was given for school, is lost. So he goes to work, really pushing hard and learning. He sells shoes, sells cars, and then is a door man in a luxury apartment building. His girlfriend makes a passing statement to him about a statue and that sets Mokhtar on his next path, er,.. quest, er ....obsession, er ...goal. He wants to bring Yemeni coffee to America. You learn about coffee cultivation, roasting and importing and so much about coffee. I'm not a coffee drinker at all, never had the desire. But I found this utterly fascinating. You hear of harrowing stories of his time in Yemen and trying to get out Yemen when violence erupts. On multiple occasions he thinks he is about to die. A great story...and in the end, he brings his dream to life. Yemeni coffee can be found many places in the US these days. And along the way, helping the coffee farmers and workers back in Yemen.

    For years I have been wanting to read Eggers works. Many rave about them, there have been movies (which I have not seen) of his works, I even own a book of his, but I just never plucked him from my TBR pile. I don't know what it was about this one that when I saw it, I had to read it immediately. OK, cover love drew my attention first. I'm so glad I read this one and ignited my desire to read more of his books. And, I found out he is coming, along with Mokhtar, to a local author speaker series that I attend. So I get to hear more of this fascinating story by these two men. The only downfall....it will not turn me into a coffee drinker. I just can't. So I'll just drink my tea while I read his books and wait for his talk. Sounds perfect to me.

  • da AL

    True account of Yemen-American. When he learns that coffee originated in Yemen, he employs passion, courage, creativity, & humanitarianism to make Yemen coffee the world's best. All that amid daunting poverty, war & politics. Pulitzer prize author. Audio narrator passable, but not a quite right fit & mispronounced eide. Story was engaging all the same.

  • Donna

    Mark Twain

    This is one of those nonfiction books that seems so unbelievable that if it were fiction, you’d think the author should have tried for something more realistic. But had the subject of this biographical novel, Moktar Alkhanshali, stuck to what was considered possible, he wouldn’t have achieved all that he has, and at such a young age. Though maybe his youth and optimism, with a to

    Mark Twain

    This is one of those nonfiction books that seems so unbelievable that if it were fiction, you’d think the author should have tried for something more realistic. But had the subject of this biographical novel, Moktar Alkhanshali, stuck to what was considered possible, he wouldn’t have achieved all that he has, and at such a young age. Though maybe his youth and optimism, with a touch of naïveté thrown in for good measure, had something to do with it.

    Moktar, a Muslim Yemeni American who grew up in a tough neighborhood in San Francisco called The Tenderloin, was a restless young man who knew how to survive in any situation, but had a habit of cutting corners and cutting school, and abandoning secure jobs, and even losing money and opportunities to further his education. But he was also intelligent and resourceful, and he was driven to be an activist, spurred on by his great pride in his Yemeni heritage.

    His parents had sent him to live with his grandfather in Ibb for a year when he was in eighth grade, hoping it would straighten him out. It was there he learned the Arabic language and learned of Yemen’s struggle toward a democracy. So years later, something clicked when his close friend Miriam, dismayed by all his screw ups and bad luck, and all his talent going to waste with his inability to see something through to the end, pointed to a famous statue across from the hotel where he was a doorman. She hoped it would inspire him enough to have a goal and make something of himself. The statue was of an Arabic man drinking coffee, positioned in a spot where the old Hills Bros. coffee factory used to be.

    Curious about the statue, Moktar did some research into the origin of coffee, tracing it back to Yemen and learning how it had evolved. Long ago, Yemen had been the only place where coffee had grown, and it had been a crime punishable by death for anyone to sneak out even a seedling. Though gradually, people from other countries did just that, and the French and the Dutch rose in prominence in the industry, while Yemen lost ground.

    A light bulb went off over Moktar’s head then. He decided he wanted to restore the good name of Yemen by reviving the coffee industry there in the wake of the terrorism and drones they were known for exclusively now. But this was easier said than done. First off, Moktar knew nothing about coffee or the industry, and he had no money to invest in learning about it or to even buy a ticket to Yemen. And should he find the money he needed, the coffee produced in Yemen was now of inferior or varied quality because untrained farmers had lost the knowledge to grow it. And no one from other countries wanted to risk their necks to do business there because of the war and having to deal with local tribes and marketeers who were intimidating. Plus qat, a narcotic, was more profitable to grow there for local use, so farmers would have to be convinced to gamble on planting more coffee instead.

    But obstacle courses were nothing new to Moktar. And he had made up his mind. He would resurrect Yemeni coffee by marketing it as a specialty coffee and reviving the ancient varieties. There was still the little matter of finding a way to get the coffee out of war-torn Yemen should it even be good enough to compete in quality. But he would worry about that later when he got to that point.

    Oh boy. This was an adventure, all right, that any sane person shouldn’t have embarked on. And if you read this book, you'll learn exactly why that is when strapped to Moktar’s back every step of the way as he goes from a boyhood of aimlessness to being an idealistic and driven young man pursuing his dream while empowering Yemeni farmers. You’ll also learn a lot about the coffee industry, everything from how coffee is grown to how it’s graded for quality to how it’s stored, roasted, and sold. And you’ll learn about the exploitation of many of its farmers worldwide, and hopefully you’ll be inspired enough to look for only free trade coffee in the future.

    In another author’s hands, all those details might have been boring or bogged down the story at the book’s heart—the inspiring coming of age story of Moktar. Because this book wasn’t just about the end result of him starting his own company. It was also about how it all began. But Dave Eggers did a great job presenting everything in an organized and conversational tone that had the book reading more like an autobiography in which I imagined Moktar sitting down to tell me his own story. The parts about his boyhood were extremely interesting and well written, and they had me rooting for him to succeed from the start. And the parts where he’s older and back in Yemen, working with the farmers, was very inspiring.

    I did feel that the book went on a bit long and some of the less important details about the coffee industry could have been cut. But overall, Moktar’s story kept me riveted and turning the pages. Should you read this book and find any of his story too incredible to be true, know it has been verified by many people he came into contact with. You might also find it incredible that six ounces of Yemeni coffee sold by Moktar’s company Port of Mokha costs $65. And even more incredible, a cup of his Yemeni coffee at The Blue Bottle up north in California costs $16, though it does come with a special cookie. Read this inspiring book and find out why this amount is completely justified. And have lots of fair trade coffee on hand because if you’re like me, reading about all that coffee will make you crave it like mad.

    (A slogan on one of Moktar’s t-shirts)

  • Jack

    It's hard to articulate my thoughts on this book better than Michael Lindgren already has in the Washington Post, but what the hell I'll give it a shot - I liked the book, I don't regret reading it, but I won't recommend it to others, because after having read Eggers' fiction and memoir, I'm frankly disappointed.

    Monk of Mokha is the remarkably true story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemeni-American Millennial who overcame some pretty harrowing odds to become a successful importer of specialty coffe

    It's hard to articulate my thoughts on this book better than Michael Lindgren already has in the Washington Post, but what the hell I'll give it a shot - I liked the book, I don't regret reading it, but I won't recommend it to others, because after having read Eggers' fiction and memoir, I'm frankly disappointed.

    Monk of Mokha is the remarkably true story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali, a Yemeni-American Millennial who overcame some pretty harrowing odds to become a successful importer of specialty coffee from war-ridden Yemen. This story traces Mokhtar's journey from being an aimless 23-year old doorman in San Francisco into the bourgeois world of specialty coffee, into Yemen that was just starting to break out in civil war in 2013, and ultimately back to San Francisco for a victory lap as a resident in the luxury building where he was once the doorman.

    Mokhtar's story is truly gasp-worthy - full of danger, narrow misses, remarkable charisma, fortunes and misfortunes. It's a good-ole swashbuckling picaresque, bootstraps and all. However, Eggers is more suited to fiction and memoirs. The accounting of the story is a bit dry. Eggers lays out the facts, his prose is clear and vivid. And yes there is artistry to his exposition when he diverts us to little histories of coffee and Yemen culture, and yes there's craft to how he undoubtedly chiseled secondary diversions away to leave behind a taught narrative. However the thing that made "heartbreaking" and "you shall" electric with energy and infused with magic was I think his license to invent. The literary license in these previous works allowed him to toe into the realm of Marquez, Rushdie, and the best travel writers, who reveal the truth through telling lies. This is what art after all is supposed to do right?

    I believe the right way to tell character non-fiction stories is to let the life and history with all its peculiarity lead and ultimately determine the themes and narrative. Eggers' immigrant trilogy in contrast is very much a "framework-first-then-fill-in-appropriate-content-later" enterprise. It's a noble thought, but this approach stifles the possibilities of the stories unfolding in interesting and unexpected ways. In this book it's obvious Eggers is on a mission to to valorize ideals of democracy, liberalism, diversity, tolerance, empathy (all ideals I agree with by the way), the cost of this is that the book comes off as less imaginative, more pedantic, and ultimately flat.

    There remains certain moments of utmost satisfaction - "guilty pleasure passages." In one, Mokhtar, recently back to capital Sana'a from exploratory coffee visits out in the Yemen countryside, he appears out of place as a gruffed up provincial yokel in an internet cafe. A posse of wealthy Yemeni girls take pleasure in mocking him in English, and are shocked when he retorts in perfect American English. In another, a group of rough Yemeni gun-toting types are target practicing with their AK's, failing repeated to hit a bottle in the distance. They see Mokhtar as a soft city-slicker from America, and are shocked when he hits the bottle on the first shot then cooly walks off into the sunset. I only allow myself to enjoy these moments because they actually happened. Scenes this satisfying in a novel would just be obvious and overwrought.

    Lastly, Mokhtar's story, while truly amazing, actually gets to be a bit tiresome toward the ends. The stakes always felt high, but there emerged a repeating pattern of: hero walks up to the cusp of catastrophe, catastrophe never quite materializes, instead dissipating serendipitously, hero casually continues his journey toward pre-destined glory. His story is truly a remarkable and fortunate and TRUE one, but it just feels like lazy screenwriting...

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