As civil war erupted in Yemen, Mokhtar Alkhanshali found himself imprisoned, with $5,000 stuffed in his underwear and his coffee samples confiscated. To get those samples to the biggest specialty coffee expo in North America, he’d have to survive more than one near-death experience. Would his coffee be worth the risk?
If you want to learn more about Mokhtar's story, check out The Monk of Mokha by Dave Eggers. You can buy Mokhtar’s coffee at Port of Mokha. And for more information on Mokhtar's non-profit, and the National Yemeni Coffee Auction, visit the The Mokha Institute.
The Sporkful production team includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Tracey Samuelson, and Jared O'Connell. Editing help this week from Devon DiComo.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
- "Iced Coffee" by Josh Leininger
- "Talk To Me Now" by Hayley Briasco and Ken Brahmstedt
- "Steady by Cullen Fitzpatrick
- "Layers" by Erick Anderson
- "Enigmatic Rhodes" by Stephen Sullivan
- "Can't Bring Me Down" by Jack Ventimiglia
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Stern.
Dan Pashman: Previously on The Sporkful …
CLIP (MOKHTAR ALKHANSHALI): I would ask seasoned coffee buyers and roasters, "Where can I get Yemen coffee?", and they would say things like, "It's just really hard to get. We don't know where it comes from cause we don't — we can't go to that country. It's very expensive and it has a lot of defects, but the best cup of coffee that I had was like a Yemen coffee 10 years ago or 20 years ago."
CLIP (MOKHTAR ALKHANSHALI): And I looked at Willem, he had this kind of Mona Lisa smile. [LAUGHS]
CLIP (DAN PASHMAN): Like a very subtle smirk.
CLIP (MOKHTAR ALKHANSHALI): Was that a smile? I don't know. Maybe is it good? Is it bad? I don’t know. It was so different. He said, "This is one of the best coffee I ever tasted."
CLIP (MOKHTAR ALKHANSHALI): I could feel like the earth shaking. And I went outside I saw what looked like laser beams being shot in the sky. And those were anti-aircraft machine guns being shot at fighter jets.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it’s not for foodies, it’s for eaters, I’m Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people. This is the second half of our 2-part story about Mokhtar Alkhanshali. If you haven’t listened to Part 1 from last week, please start there.
Dan Pashman: When we left off, Yemen was erupting in full blown war. Mokhtar was trying to leave the country from the port of Aden.
CLIP (MOKHTAR ALKHANSHALI): And all I had with me are my coffee samples. And I had $5,000 that I hid in my underwear and Colt 45 handgun.
Dan Pashman: Mokhtar needed to get out of Yemen alive, and get those coffee samples to the big Specialty Coffee Association Expo in Seattle. This was his chance to show the high end coffee world that Yemeni coffee was incredible, and that he had access to it.
Dan Pashman: He hired a driver and bodyguard, and they left for Aden. When they got there, they were stopped by an armed group of resistance fighters who thought Mokhtar's driver and bodyguard were part of the conflict, fighting for the other side. All three of them were blindfolded and taken to a local jail.
CLIP (MOKHTAR ALKHANSHALI): And it was a very difficult moment that I really can't speak a lot about, but I ended up um, you know, it was — I mean,at one point I was — I had my hands tied up behind my back and I was blindfolded. And someone told me they were gonna kill me. And I just kept thinking to my family, and why did I put myself in this position, and like my whole life behind me and eventually go in this like disgusting jail cell with a lot of people who were mentally unstable. And by that point, they had bombed both airports and both seaports. There was no way out the country, but there were small ship that leaves from the Port of Mokha to east Africa.
Dan Pashman: The Port of Mokha is where coffee was first brewed by Sufi monks. Coffee spread from there across the Arab world. The story of the Port of Mokha is how Mokhtar first learned that coffee came from Yemen — it’s how he got started on this journey. Now, it might be his only chance.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: And so in my head, I was like, “Wow, if I ever left this, you know, this prison, I'm going to go to this port.”, but it was a far away fantasy. I'm like, you know, tied up right now. And you know, I don't know, I'm barefoot in this space where people were taking shits around me and talking to themselves and saying — this was a very difficult place to be. I barely could breathe even.
Dan Pashman: What happened to your money and gun and coffee at this point?
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: Gun is with them. Coffee samples are with them. They were in this Samsonite bag. [LAUGHS] And my money was still in my underwear. No one had checked my underwear and, and so I had $5,000 in cash this whole time.
Dan Pashman: Over several hours, Mokhtar talked to his captors about who he was, his mission to help Yemeni coffee farmers, and why he was trying to leave Yemen. Mokhtar was not a hostage negotiator, he had never done something like this before. But he had learned a lot about how to deal with people, especially from his grandfather.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: He would walk into a room and people would just stop talking and look at him. And there was a way he looked, cause he always had something to say that was just different. Typically, when you meet people in a room, you go and you shake each person’s hand. What he would do, he would slap people’s hands and give high fives. You know, things like that. I think one of the biggest lessons was grit. You’re going to be in very difficult positions, and in those times it's easy to compromise on your values or easy to give up even. And so he would say things like, "You know, the person who’s bravest in the last hour wins the war."
Dan Pashman: Mokhar tried to channel his grandfather and kept talking to his captors. Finally, he convinced them that he wasn’t fighting for either side, and he and his crew were released. They had missed the ship out of Aden, so they decided to try to leave from the Port of Mokha — a 4-hour drive away. They spent a night at a local hotel, planning to leave in the morning. But that night in the hotel, they had visitors.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: In the middle of the night, they came in, six guys with their faces covered with guns in their — like they're all holding AK-47s. And that was scary because when people cover their faces, it's not a good sign. They don't want you to see who they are because they might do something to you.
Dan Pashman: Mokhtar, his driver, and his bodyguard were captives once again. These guys took Mokhtar's gun, and coffee samples. But Mokhtar was able to get in touch with Summer Nasser, the Yemeni-American woman who had told him about the ship in Aden. She got a well connected friend to come to the hotel, explain to the armed men who Mokhtar was, and get him and his crew freed. They were about to leave the hotel, when Mokhtar realized he needed something.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: I said, "Okay, can you go get my coffee? My samples?" He's like, "What?" I'm like, "No, no. I have a bag. It's a Samsonite. It's a black Samsonite bag. I'm not gonna leave without it." He said, "What are you talking about?" The guys, they're like, "Hey, we — let's just escape now. Forget about the samples. I'm like, "No, like we need those samples." And I made them go and they took an hour. And an hour at that time and you're hearing like bombing and you're hear like, howitzer shells coming around you, and it was like — and my friend's like, "What do you — we could have just left." He comes with Samsonite bag.
Dan Pashman: So this suitcase of samples held the product of two years of work. And the reason why it was so important was because you wanted to get it to this trade show, to show everybody how great the Yemeni coffee could be.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: And I had promised these farmers, this dream. You guys work on producing coffee and doing these new techniques and extra work. And I will promise you, I can find buyers for this coffee. And so I couldn't let them down. And that was like — you know, and especially in a place like Yemen, hope is a very heavy burden to have. And if you give people hope, you just can't — it's something you have to be very mindful of. And so I really wanted to figure out how I was going to make this promise happen. And so in my head, I'm already thinking about the Port of Mokha. I'm gonna go to do this. I get back. My family was like, thank God you're alive. You know, forget about coffee. My partners even, the investors, were like, “Forget about the coffee project. Just like stay safe.”
Dan Pashman: But Mokhtar did not forget about the coffee and he did not stay safe. He had a trade show in Seattle to get to. He went to the Port of Mokha, but the ship he thought he would take was broken down. He heard about a smaller boat headed to East Africa.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: It's like a little 16-foot dinghy with like a little 40-horsepower, Yamaha motor on it. And I'm like, are you — like this is — are we gonna be able to cross the ocean on this little thing? And I realized, you know, I made, a — you know, for me, like I'm a very spiritual person. And I believe in God and I — in these kind of situations, you really have to have something to like, to believe in. And I took — I got on that boat. It was a few hours into the ride. They were in the ocean. We were like in the ocean, like ...
Dan Pashman: Can you see land in any direction?
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: No, this just like, the waves are huge. It got dark. And it looked like Moby Dick. It was just like — and I'm like, why am I doing this? Like I could've — at least if I died in the land, I would've been buried. Like not I'm gonna die in sea. My parents are gonna like never gonna find my body. It’s very scary and I realized people who — you hear these stories of migrants who take these ocean voyages off the coast of North Africa to Italy, or Greece, from Syria and the stories of bodies that wash up, and children. And you wonder, what makes somebody — what makes someone do that? Why would they risk their lives and their family’s lives to do that? Or even here in the U.S., why would someone go through coyotes and through different smuggles to come from Mexico or Guatemala up here. This is a poem from Warsan Shire, she said [something like], "No one leaves land to go into the ocean, unless the whole city is fleeing," and so I really resonate with those people who take these journeys and risk their lives. But in that journey, you know, I made it across. We made it to the east Africa, to Djibouti.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: I get there and the ocean naval authorities come out with their guns and rifles. They think we're smugglers. I pull out my U.S. passport. I tell the like, no, I'm a U.S. citizen. I have coffee company or I'm planning to do a coffee thing. And they're like picking up like the — or my Samsonite was pretty heavy with coffee samples. They opened it up and I'm like, "No, look. It's coffee beans. It's not — they're not drugs." And they don't believe me. No, they're like, "There's drugs in here."
Dan Pashman: Coming up, Mokhtar finds himself imprisoned and separated from his coffee samples … again. Then later, he attempts to make his first sale in the world of specialty coffee. Stick around.
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful, I’m Dan Pashman. Hey, make sure you sign up for our newsletter. We give away a lot of really cool stuff. We just gave away some Burlap and Barrel spices, an Omsom starter pack, Brooklyn Delhi achaars, and a lot more. Whenever we do these giveaways, we always pick people off our mailing list. And if you're on the list, you're automatically entered into all our giveaways. Plus, you get our newsletter, which I think is pretty good. You find out what people on the Sporkful team are eating and reading each week. You'll get good recommendations. It's a lot of fun and you might win something. Sign up now at sporkful.com/newsletter. Thanks.
Dan Pashman: Now, back to the story of Mokhtar Alkhanshali. He made it across the Red Sea from Yemen to the East African nation of Djibouti, but the navy there assumed he was a drug smuggler, and arrested him.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: And I'm in jail and I have still my $5,000 in my underwear. And so I took a hundred dollars out and I gave it to one of the guards and say, "Hey, can you gimme a SIM card for my phone?" He Gives me a SIM card and the iPhone SIM cards, there are these smaller mini SIMs. And this was a giant SIM card. It didn't fit. And so I'm like crap. So I'm there in the cell. I'm bored. I put my SIM card on it from Yemen and I start to cut up around this giant Djiboutian SIM card.
Dan Pashman: Mokhtar took his Yemeni SIM card, which fit in his phone but wouldn’t get service in Djibouti. He laid it on top of the big SIM card that the guard gave him, and cut the big one down to the size of the small one — the one that did fit.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: This was just for fun, just for like, you know, let me just — for I don't know why. And I did this thing and I had it for, like, you know, a couple of hours and I decided to try to stick it into my phone. Why the heck not? And I stuck it in and it worked. And I like totally MacGyvered this thing. And if you ever get these SIM card, you just gotta make sure it fits into your phone.
Dan Pashman: If you're ever stuck in a Djibouti prison and your SIM card doesn't work, this is the trick. If you take one thing from this episode ...
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: [LAUGHING]
Dan Pashman: While all this was happening in Djibouti, a lot was also happening back in America. Mokhtar’s family and friends had been pressuring the U.S government to get Mokhtar out of Yemen. When he called them from the Djiboutian prison to tell them where he was, they were already mobilized, and quickly contacted the U.S. government to get him released.
Dan Pashman: Mokhtar and his suitcase full of coffee samples were sprung from jail again. With his samples in hand, he flew from Djibouti to Kenya, then to Amsterdam, and then home to San Francisco. After a couple of days there, he made it to Seattle, and arrived at the Specialty Coffee Association Expo right on time. Days earlier he was in a war zone being held at gunpoint. Now, he was in the land of lattes.
Dan Pashman: And once again, his coffee needed to be tested and evaluated by experts. Remember, when his first samples of Yemeni coffee were tested the year before, two of them were world class, but the other 19 of them were terrible. If Mokhtar was going to get his business off the ground and start making some sales, he had to prove to the industry that those high scores weren’t a fluke.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: And I get to the trade show and the coffee gets submitted and blind tastes, it does really well.
Dan Pashman: Mokhtar’s samples scored higher than any Yemeni coffee had ever scored at this conference. With those results, he caught the attention of specialty coffee insiders, including the C.E.O. of Blue Bottle, James Freeman. And remember, a few years earlier, Mokhtar was pestering baristas at Blue Bottle to help him learn the basics about coffee. Now, he was talking to the big boss. Mokhtar went to Blue Bottle’s roasting facility in Oakland, hoping to sell some coffee.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: I get there in the morning and it's my coffees. There were two, but then there was all these other coffees on the on the table. I'm like, "What are these other coffees?" He goes, "Oh, I wanted to taste it alongside other coffees.", and he had some of the world's best coffees there. I'm like, crap, like now, like, yeah, along — our coffees are good, but along these giants, they're not gonna — you know, we're not gonna shine. And so we're going around tasting it and it's a blind tasting. And there was one coffee. I remember it was on the left corner. And I looked at everyone who tasted it and their face changed. And so at the end, when they revealed those scores and like they revealed which coffees was which, it was — that was my coffee. And to me, that was — you know, it was an amazing — it was an amazing moment because like I'd never expected to be at that level, that pinnacle of quality of flavor of sense,of that enjoyment. And to hear my industry hero, James Freeman, talk about this coffee. His quote was, "This is what angel singing tastes."
Dan Pashman: This is what angels singing tastes like. James Freeman said he’d buy the entire lot, 860 pounds. It was all the coffee that Mokhtar had. But getting the coffee out of Yemen was another ordeal. Every morning at 4 A.M., Mokhtar checked in with his team in Yemen. The war there was getting worse. His processing plant had to run on generators because electricity was unreliable. After months of delays, he got the coffee to the port of Aden and on a ship to Oakland. Now Blue Bottle just had to sell it.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: And a month later, we met ahead of their launch team, for this coffee. They had their marketing team there. They had the PR team there. They had their — all these people in this meeting. And he mentioned it was gonna be $16 for a cup. And I just like — I stopped everyone. I'm like, "Wait, excuse me?", like I got — I was a little mad. I was like, I felt like, "Is he trying to overcharge it because of the story? Like why is it so expen — like, who can afford that?" He goes, "No, no, Mokhtar. We have a formula, whatever the green beans cost, we just use this formula." Like, so ... [LAUGHS]
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: They normally pay, you know, I don't know, $2 or $3 a pound for coffee. And then for a really special coffees, they might spend, like, I think $8 a pound. This was $58 a pound for this coffee.
Dan Pashman: That's so much he was paying to ...
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: Me.
Dan Pashman: To you.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: I had no idea about the price economics of coffee. I just was like, I went Yemen. What are you being paid now, these farmers. Okay. If I told you to do this, this, and this, and you want to live a more dignified life, like, how much more should I pay you? And they said this much more. And so I just paid them that, what I thought was fair for them to get paid. I didn't think about how that would transcribe into a cup later. I just started that way first. And so, I said, "Who's gonna buy it at $16, like if you've never sold coffee at this price before?" And James Freeman had the vision. He said, "No, this is this coffee's that good, you know?" And so we went on the tour for this coffee and people had this visceral reaction, I remember, like why would someone charge $16? People would come to try to like talk crap out this coffee and drink it. But like, wait, this coffee tastes like strawberries. And it was the first time they sold the coffee with a story. So every person who bought it, they got this coffee, but they got this like little accordion booklet and the story of it and a little cookie that was based off of my mother's recipe of cardamum cookie. And I always joke and tell people, "No, no. The coffee's the coffee's $2. They cookie’s $14."
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Right, right.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: It sold out within a month, by the way.
Dan Pashman: Blue Bottle’s thinking was, if people will pay hundreds or thousands for a rare bottle of wine from a specific region with a special back story, why shouldn’t they pay top dollar for coffee that’s on the same level?
Dan Pashman: The next year, Mokhtar shipped 50 percent more coffee to Blue Bottle and it still sold out in a month. Soon after, The Coffee Review, the trade guide that introduced the industry’s grading system, gave one of Mokhtar's coffees a 97, the highest score ever for any coffee. By 2018, Mokhtar was starting to think even bigger.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: I did an auction in 2018, Yemen's first coffee auction. And the way auctions work, it's a way for coffee — when there's like a certain type of coffee that's really sought after for buyers to compete for it, and it creates these crazy, amazing prices — and I used to make decent profit, but the auction gave me like 20x return.
Dan Pashman: You were just auctioning your own coffee.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: My own private auction. Yeah.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: And then I started to feel uncomfortable. Like, okay, I do this, but what about these other farmers, people who can do this also? And I has this idea, why don't we have Yemen's first national coffee auction?
Dan Pashman: Mokhtar had been doing private auctions, selling his company’s coffee to the highest bidder. But a national auction would mean farmers across the country, even ones who didn’t work with Mokhtar’s company, could sell their coffee directly to buyers they normally wouldn’t have access to on their own and keep the proceeds.
Dan Pashman: This is the auction you heard about at the start of the first episode, when Mokhtar shared his feelings on the eve of the event.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: Our biggest fear is that we don't succeed. Meaning that we sell the coffee at a lower price than what farmers can sell in Yemen. And what's a bigger fear than that people have given us much of their hope. We can’t fail because if we fail for this, it means that people will feel that trying something new isn’t going to work.
Dan Pashman: Mokhtar told me more about how the auction was set up:
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: We had a competition where farmers from around the country could submit their coffees and the very best make it to the final round. We had the 161 submissions and 28 coffee lots from across 13 regions made it to the final, and then those get auctioned out. And buyers around the world could compete for those auctions and buy directly from the farmer.
Dan Pashman: Why not just take all of the great coffees that are winning that made it to the finals of the national auction and just export them through your company?
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: I mean, first of all, like there's way more coffee than I can ever buy in Yemen. And that's not — my goal was always to try to help Yemen rebuild this coffee infrastructure and revitalize this ancient arts. And that needs hundreds of people, thousands of people who do what I do, really, to make this actually happen.
Dan Pashman: So like you have the 28 farmers who made it to the finals, who got to auction their coffee. For the other farmers who submitted, but didn't make it to the final 28, is there any benefit for them to the system?
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: Yeah, actually a lot of side effects happen. So when we think of like certain types of like wines, like in Bordeaux, or like in, say, Napa Valley, it's not one estate that makes it famous. It's a lot of people doing it together and creating a brand. So I'm trying to create this coffee brand for Yemen internationally. And I want Yemen coffee's profile to be elevated. Secondly, in this auction, farmers — these small holder farmers thought, "You know, what's the point of me trying to pick better cherries or do these things". Now they feel like, "Oh, there's actually a way to doing that." And so now what's happened is that the other — the price of coffee in Yemen, the average price is rising now. So the collectors — and it's really helping push the industry forward. Cause right now, less than 2 percent of Yemen's coffee is specialty coffee. And we're trying to push it to go to like, you know, much higher than that.
Dan Pashman: Mokhtar spent years working on this national auction. He created a non-profit, The Mokha Institute, to manage it. He took time away from his coffee business, traveling back and forth to Yemen, getting government officials and academics and farmers and exporters all involved.
Dan Pashman: The big day was set for August 31st, 2022, just this past summer. And right beforehand, Mokhtar decided to do something unexpected, and out of character. I almost couldn't believe it myself.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: And I was like, okay, I'm gonna take a couple of days to go — you know, I'm gonna force myself to go on a little small mini vacation. So I promised myself, I would not look on my phone or laptop. I'm just gonna go have this vacation.
Dan Pashman: The vacation was during the auction?
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: It was the day of the auction. Yeah. I was like, I'm not gonna — I'm gonna just disconnect, cause it's been, you know, at this point, 2 years of my life and I haven't taken any breaks. And I was in London. I'm like, let me just go to south of France to Nice. I've always wanted to go there. Let me just go and just chill there for a couple of days. And I couldn't even enjoy anything. I was terrified of what would happen.
Dan Pashman: The promise Mokhtar made to himself about how he was gonna disconnect? He broke it almost immediately. He was in his hotel room in the south of France glued to his laptop, waiting for the auction to start. The buyers would be all over the world. They had bought samples of the coffees being auctioned, so they knew which ones they wanted ahead of time.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: The auction goes live at 10:00 A.M. London time. And so most of the buyers are from, a lot of time, Asia. So like in that part of the world, but also there are people up at 1:00 A.M., 2:00 A.M. in the U.S. like Goodman roasters in Chattanooga, Tennessee. And so it started out very slow, you know? And a lot of the — like half of the lots, no one bid on them in the first like hour, I think. It was like — there was like 15 that were still not — it was a very bad sign. And so I remember like, I'm like, "Where are the Asian buyers? Why aren't they waking up?" And then the first Korean buyer woke up, Marcella from South Korea. He gets up and he starts to bid in. Okay, great. The the Koreans are in there. And then I did this thing where as a different country would get in, I would put a song on and send it to different Whatsapp groups. So when that happened, "Gangnam style"
["GANGNAM STYLE" BY PSY]
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: When Goodman Roasters from Tennessee came on, I put on the "Chattanooga Choo Choo".
[“CHATTANOOGA CHOO CHOO”]
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: When Kuwait, I think it was Richard's coffee and Kuwait came on, I put on an Arabic Kuwaiti song.
[ARABIC KUWAITI SONG]
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: I mean, that was my way of kind of trying to ease attention from our team members, cause they were very stressed out. I'm like, "Hey guys, it's great." you know? And then there were still not a lot of buyers from Asia. It's like, why aren't they coming on? And so guys, these are professionals. They're gonna come in the last second. You know, that scene in The Big Short, when Brad Pitt (playing Ben Rickert) goes in that pub and puts on his headset?
CLIP (BEN RICKHERT): 90 million.
CLIP (COUNTER BIDDER): 70.
CLIP (BEN RICKHERT): [SCOFFS] 85.
CLIP (COUNTER BIDDER): 78.
CLIP (BEN RICKHERT): 84.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: [LAUGHS] And I sent that scene to them. [LAUGHS] And Jerry was like, "Oh, I love that scene."
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: And they did.
Dan Pashman: How much time was left in the auction at that point?
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: We didn't know how long it would last because it can go from an hour to like five hours.
Dan Pashman: How do you determine when it ends?
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: They way it works is that after the first hour, a timer goes off, a 3-minute timer. And if it gets to zero and no one bids, the auction ends.
Dan Pashman: Oh.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: And every time someone bids, it starts again.
Dan Pashman: Right, it was a 3-minute timer
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: It would get to like 20 seconds, and then come back again, you know? And that kept happening. And so at that time, we didn't know what would be the last 45 minutes or last half hour almost. The last lot got bit on. I'm like, okay, thank God everybody has their coffee. Now I can breathe now. Let's see how far I can go. These farmers, they've never sold coffee, most of them, more than $8 a pound. So the prices went on for like $25 a pound, $26 ... There was one that was like $40. Then there was one that went like $50. And then there's another one, it went to $78 a pound. And so for $78 a pound, that's life changing for some of these farmers.
Dan Pashman: These final results topped all of Mokhtar’s expectations. Two years of work paid off.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: I remember after that I fell asleep. Like I have — I sleep like five, six hours, sometimes or four. And I in my adult life have never slept that much. I went to sleep about 1:00 A.M. and I woke up at 11:00 A.M., like straight sleeping.
Dan Pashman: You talked about the idea of sort of like the blind spots that we all have. I feel like you thinking that you would be able to relax in Nice ...
Dan Pashman: On the day of this auction, that's a blind spot, Mokhtar. Like, that does not seem realistic. [LAUGHS]
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: I was like, if there's anywhere in the world I'm gonna be able to relax and force myself to do this, it's gonna be the French Riviera. It's good to enjoy what you do and that's really amazing, but you do have to make sure you take these breaks. You know, just like ..
Dan Pashman: Yeah, for sure. But not on the day of the biggest event that you've been working for — working towards for two years. You take the vacation after that, Mokhtar.
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: I'm hearing what you're saying right now, it sounds ridiculous.
Dan Pashman: Is your grandfather still with us?
Mokhtar Alkhanshali: My grandfather passed away like two years ago from cancer. And he was able to see a lot of like, you know, my coffee, the first launch, and the things that happened. And, you know, I wish he was around to see the auction and or see our coffee states. But everything I do, I try to showcase the best he taught me and what I learned from him in my life. I think that our grandparents teach us how to live by their passing. When he passed away, it was just — I really felt this ... my mortality in a different way. And like while we have a few breaths in this world, what are we gonna do here? What are we gonna leave behind? And so he would always ask me, "What is your fingerprint on this earth?", in Arabic. What are you gonna leave behind here? And so he left behind an amazing legacy and I hope to continue that through my work.
Dan Pashman: That was Mokhtar Alkhanshali. If you want to learn more about Mokhtar, Dave Eggers wrote a book that goes into Mokhtar’s journey in even greater detail. It’s called The Monk of Mokha. You can get it wherever books are sold.
Dan Pashman: And if you want to buy some of Mokhtar’s coffee, you can do that at PortOf.com, that M-O-K-H-A dot com. And Mokhtar’s non-profit, which ran the coffee auction, is called The Mokha Institute. Their website is The Mokha Institute dot org. We’ll also put those links on our show page and in the episode description.
Dan Pashman: We are on a break next week, so our next episode will up in two weeks. But if you’re looking for more Sporkful, I hope you'll check out the recent one where I visit the Consumer Reports headquarters. Consumer Reports has a reputation for some of the most rigorous product testing around, and I got to see how it works behind the scenes. That Consumer Reports episode is up now. Please check it out. And please connect with our show wherever you listen, whatever your podcasting app is, just go there right now. Go to our show page and click plus or heart or favorite or subscribe or follow, whatever it is in your app, there's a thing to do. Please do it. You can do it right now while you're listening. Thank you.