Mokha or "Mocca" or "Mocha" or "Moka" or "Al-Mahka", how should we call it? Apparently, the correct name should be "Udaini " . Keep reading to find out why.
While investigating the origins of commercial varietals of coffee, I stumble upon a a wealth of information regarding coffee growing regions, exotic places and cultural facts that have occurred for centuries. Now we know that the Caturra varietal comes from the Bourbon varietal that was cultivated in the Indian ocean island of Reunion by the French colonists, who in turn got the seeds from Yemen at the port city of Al Mahka, or Mocha or Mokha. It is widely known that Yemen was the place where coffee became popular as a commercial trade and where the first commercial coffee farms where planted.
Coffee farms at jebel Haraz, near Al Jabal الجبل - - About 112 km from the port of Al Hudaydah, Yemen
To find out which varietal were planted at the time the French arrived in Yemen, it is logical to ask for the origin of the coffee plants in present day Yemen.
To this regard, I did a little search in Google and found an interesting study published in 2005 by the USAID.GOV agency. In this document I found the following chapter dedicated to the original strains of coffea Arabica in Yemen:
1.1 COFFEE VARIETIES
Over the course of centuries the original strains of coffea Arabica have evolved uniquely in the many remote
pockets of the Yemeni highlands. Today dozens of local names identify plants whose origins are lost in time.
Some like Mattari from the Bani Mattar district and Ismaeli from the Haraz district are well known even in
some foreign markets while many are only known or used in local areas. There is no clear understanding of
their provenance and little is known about what exactly differentiates the many types.
It is clear that various local types have characteristic physical commonalities that could be classed together.
Leading researchers in the field disagree about which landraces may be the progenitors and how many there
actually are. Researchers have concluded different numbers but most seem to agree on four main varieties:
Udaini, Dawairi, Tufahi and Bura’ai. According to “Surveying and Classifying Coffee in Yemen” (Ali Mukrid
Qaid 1993), most of the Yemeni coffee plants may belong to these four main varieties. The Coffee Research
Unit of the Ministry based in Taiz, indicates a potential fifth basic variety called Abu Sura. In 2004, Al-Hakimi
and Allard (2005) concluded that there were six main varieties in Yemen. Many of the local types tend to
most resemble the Udaini variety, leading to speculation that this variety may well be the oldest coffee
landrace in Yemen.
Recent efforts by the MAI’s Coffee Department, Agricultural Research Authority, and its regional research
stations, and the Genetics Origins Center of Sana’a University are beginning to build the data for these plants
in order to create a solid taxonomy. However, there is inadequate scientific effort to identify the
characteristics that would be most desirable for either the farmers (e.g., drought tolerant, pest resistant, high
yielding, etc.) or the marketplace (e.g., bean morphology/hardness and flavor characteristics).
This extract can be found in the following document:
Indeed, now we know, thanks to this well researched paper from the USAID agency, that Yemen coffees are classified in 4 varieties:
Yemeni coffee farmer proudly showing an Udaini Coffee tree varietal. The picture was taken near the city of Ibb, aprox 172 Km from the Port of Mocha in Southern Yemen
70 years old Udaini Coffee tree found near the city of Ibb, 172 km from the port of Mocha, Yemen.
Also, we have learned that most likely the Udaini coffee variety might be the oldest of all. Should we call the Moka Varietal the Udaini Varietal instead?
The Udaini coffee varietal produces once a year and can grow in altitudes of up to 2000 meters above sea level
According to the above research, it is safe to say that the Moka coffee varietal was named after the port of "Al Mahka", or Mocha in Arabic المخا
However, as per the above found evidence, the real name that should be given to this type of coffee shrub should be Udaini Coffee variety. The coffee farms along the road between the city of Ibb and the port of Mocha are most likely the origin of the few coffee seeds taken by the French merchants to the Bourbon island. As we all know, from there coffee plants were transported to Africa and the Americas and thus giving birth to the gigantic coffee industry that we see today.
Coffee valley near Ibb, Yemen.This valley is facing south west and coffee grow at 1500 meters above sea level.
Nowadays, from Scandinavia to Argentina to Australia and South Korea, and any place in between, the Udaini coffee tree is most likely present in every cup of coffee that is brewed.
Old coffee cultivar near the city of Ibb, aprox 172 km from the port of Mocha in Yemen
In this video you can see first hand a coffee farm in the highlands of Yemen. Impressive landscape that is!
For some great pictures of a coffee region in Yemen, visit these links: