Mokha 1450, a new high-end yet ethically minded coffee company, has launched in Dubai. Penelope Walsh meets its co-founder, Garfield Kerr, for a premium cup – and to talk pioneering farming methods…
‘You are about the 16th person in the world to try this coffee,’ says Garfield Kerr, co-founder of new speciality coffee boutique Mokha 1450. Having recently opened on Al Wasl Road, this little wood-clad majlis of a café carries a new concept, focusing on speciality coffee primarily produced in its original heartland, Ethiopia and Yemen.
What Garfield is offering us is a cup of Ethiopian Geisha. Every variety of coffee around the world, he explains, has a parent variety, indigenous to Ethiopia. Geisha coffee grown elsewhere in the world is a premium and sought-after commodity. Garfield cites a batch of Geisha from Panama, recently sold for more than US$100 (Dhs367) per pound, as an example of the Geisha’s worth. Ethiopian Geisha has, however, been untapped on the consumer market. What Mokha 1450 is serving in Dubai therefore represents a world first.
Within this cup are strong vanilla-honey tones of sweetness and rich earthy dark chocolate flavours. Each sip seems to bring out different profiles and sensations that linger with a syrupy thickness in the mouth. Garfield also detects strawberry notes in this brew. Further tastings with Garfield include speciality Yemeni varieties, with which we are bombarded by intriguing flavours that remind us of hay, grass and goats. An almost ‘gamey’, ‘funky’ quality, Garfield explains, is an infamously unique feature of Yemen’s coffee, making it easy to distinguish from another country’s crop. Weighing in on the debate about where coffee originally came from (Ethiopia or Yemen), Garfield tells us firmly, ‘It is definitely Ethiopia.’
‘Coffee is so ingrained in Ethiopian culture. If someone is getting married, they ask for the women’s hand at a coffee ceremony. But Yemen was definitely instrumental in bringing coffee to the rest of the world. Without a doubt, the port of Mokha in Yemen is where coffee started to be traded to the rest of the world, around the middle of the 15th century,’ he says. This, he adds, is the inspiration for the brand’s name: Mokha 1450.
Garfield’s own coffee story began rather reluctantly, or accidentally, he reveals. Working previously in private equity, his first encounter with
Yemen was while brokering a potential deal to buy and export the country’s coffee. The project fell apart, but Garfield’s involvement with Yemen and with coffee had lead him too far to turn back. ‘Yemen was the turning point. That trip was monumental,’ he says. ‘Part of it was just the amount of time I spent on the original project before it fell apart. The requirement was to find out the volume and also quality of coffee for each region in Yemen. You can’t do a project like that without knowing coffee. You can’t really determine this without getting a cupper certificate [a cupper for coffee is like a sommelier for grape], and once I’d done this, there was no turning back.’
‘Coffee is a cult,’ Garfield continues. ‘At the beginning everyone was saying to me, “You are in coffee now, welcome to coffee. This is how it starts.” I’d get annoyed, because I kept thinking, “I’m going back to my office after this, and will probably never see these people again.” But after about the fourth or fifth conversation like this I accepted that I am in coffee. After that, I kept being cited as an expert on Yemeni coffee and I kept saying, “I’m not an expert.” But I began to realise that after so many years in the country, I did know a lot. Actually, more even than the Yemeni department of agriculture, since they did not have a good relationship with the farmers.’
What makes Mokha 1450’s coffee ‘speciality’, Garfield explains, is a score of 80 and above out of 100 on the international grading scale used by all coffee tasters and professionals. Beyond that, what makes Mokha 1450’s concept special is its engagement with the farms it works with. Working with women’s co-operatives in Ethiopia and in Yemen, Mokha 1450’s aim is to offer developmental support to the farmers. In Ethiopia, where coffee farming is already more advanced than in Yemen, Mokha 1450 has helped to build schools and other social facilities for the farm workers.
In Yemen, the company has helped the women’s co-operative to grow and develop as a business in order to reach the level already achieved at the Ethiopian farms.
‘The modern technique for drying coffee beans is to use raised beds. The coffee gets perfectly aerated at the top and bottom. At the end of the day, it is covered with tarpaulin to protect it from dew. In Ethiopia, if one drop of rain appears, an army of women appear to cover everything up. This is the kind of attention to detail that you need to produce speciality coffee. Yemen is different to Ethiopia in
In Yemen, Garfield explains, the consistency of coffee can range drastically from one cup to the next. ‘The reason it is not consistent is down to the processing methods used. People are still using ancient methods of drying the coffee on the roofs of their houses, which is not the proper way to do it. For each harvest, farmers in Yemen have been keeping the crop until they need money, like it’s money in the bank. So you could be buying coffee from last year or, depending on how big the farm is, two seasons ago, and you can’t use stale coffee.’
Other issues effecting the Yemeni style of harvest is the practise of strip picking. This involves ripping all coffee cherries (ripe and unripe) from the branch, rather than picking the individual ones that are ripe. This creates two problems. Firstly, the coffee trees do not produce coffee cherries on each branch, each year. Secondly, the unripe cherries do not produce a good final product. ‘The reason instant coffee makes you go to the bathroom is because it is full of unripe cherries, which are full of malic acid. So it’s like eating an unripe apple,’ Garfield says.
Talok Women’s Coffee Association (which produced that gamey cup we tried earlier) is the first coffee farm in Yemen to produce speciality level coffee. It is also the first farm, Garfield says, to take on the advice of an expert agronomist. ‘They were already producing coffee to a score of 85, and willing to instigate changes. That got my attention.’
The organisation now has worldwide attention and is ‘fighting off people’ who want to work with them, Garfield says. ‘But we had developed a relationship with them, and actually tried to help them. This year was the first in which they used raised beds, so we bought all of their raised bed coffee. They are free to sell their coffee to whomever they wish.’ They chose to work with Mokha 1450 because they have worked with the company from day one. ‘The only thing everyone else was offering was a market for their coffee, which they already have. We are actually working with them to help with their processing methods and business structure,’ Garfield says.
More special coffee experiences in Dubai
This local Dubai roaster specialises in premium coffee created entirely of beans from Ethiopia (company founder Orit Mohammed’s homeland). It supplies the likes of La Serre and Urban Bistro, and also has its own coffee shop in JLT where you can sip your way through the different brews.
1 Lake Plaza, Cluster T, JLT (04 430 2775).
Dubai Coffee Museum
The UAE’s first museum dedicated to global coffee culture and history has its own brew bar. It’s located upstairs inside the traditional wind-tunnel house amid a colourful array of artefacts. Downstairs, there are also Egyptian and Ethiopian coffee makers brewing their own traditional styles of coffee. It’s a must-try experience for coffee lovers.
Al Fahidi Historical Neighbourhood (04 353 8777).
This Dubai roasting company has its own café set inside its Al Quoz roastery. Sit inside the warehouse and drink amid the sacks of beans. The brand currently has plans for an additional café due to open this month at The Emirates Academy of Hospitality.
Mokha 1450 is now open at the new Aswaaq Shopping Centre, Al Wasl Road, near Citywalk (04 321 6455).