I-lab Startup Applies Socially Conscious Mission to Yemeni Coffee Imports

The company also faces the challenge of ensuring the quality and purity of its coffee, Greeney said.

According to Greeney, local coffee merchants often illegally mix cheaper Ethiopian beans with more expensive Yemeni beans to lower costs. Mokha Origin, however, which sells exclusively Yemeni coffee, has spent $5,000 to make a database of Yemeni seeds that a research lab can use to identify contaminating strains of beans.

Mokha Origin places such a high premium on the purity of the coffee they import because Yemen was the origin of coffee production worldwide.

Although many believe that coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia, Sufi monks created coffee in Yemen in the 15th century, Greeney said. In fact, Al Mokha was a port city in Yemen where coffee merchants first shipped coffee to Europe during the early 17th century, he added. The modern chocolate drink “mocha” derives its name from the port city as well, Greeney said, because Europeans often confused coffee beans and the South American cacao bean, which were introduced to Western Europe around the same time.

Rosenthal added that modern coffee consumers continue to have many misconceptions about the origins of coffee.


“The global coffee market knows very little about Yemeni coffee,” Rosenthal said. Building brand loyalty through a comprehensive marketing strategy is key to overcoming this unfamiliarity, he added.

“Mokha Origin has gotten a lot of attention at Harvard, and their challenge is taking that excitement into the outer world beyond the University,” Rosenthal said. “I think they’re well-positioned to do that.”

—Staff writer Karl M. Aspelund can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @kma_crimson.

—Staff writer Marco J. Barber Grossi can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @marco_jbg.


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