Indeed, Cafe Mocha is a sweet chocolate espresso drink that is just as popular as it was when it appeared over 200 years ago. But the story of Cafe Mocha will take you back in time when the coffee trade was a closely guarded secret.
The Oldest Coffee On Earth
It may not surprise you to know that the oldest coffee beans that first made their way around the world came from Yemen. Within the Ethiopian Kingdom, Arabica beans were first discovered by accident.
According to legend, these miracle berries that grew from low-hanging mountain shrubs gave energy to birds and goats.
One legend suggests that a local 9th-century goat-herder noticed these red berries gave his flock endless energy.
It led him to try the berries to see if he would get the same results and the herder received the same exhilarating effect. It was enough for him to collect more berries and bring them to a monastery. What is more interesting is that the initial monk who looked at the berries felt they were something evil and threw them into the fire within the monastery chamber. This caused much smoke and a smell that attracted other monks to investigate.
Apparently, the resulting smell was attractive to the other monks, and it was decided to rake the remaining beans from the flames and take a closer look. These beans were then ground into small smaller pieces and then brewed in water.
This resulted in the first brewed cup of coffee, and the rest is (coffee) history!
The Port Of Mocha
In Yemen, the oldest port where these beans eventually found their way into was Al Mokha (aka Mocha). This Yemeni port was the only port where these new beans were harvested from Ethiopia and earned the name Mocha beans as a result. We now know these beans are actually Arabica beans but because these are a specific type of Arabica which are smaller and irregular shaped. Before they’re roasted, they have a pale green to light yellow color.
By 1535, the coffee trade was in full swing and the Ottoman Turks had invaded Yemen. They controlled the port and all export of coffee beans, especially the mocha bean. However, another type of Arabica was taken to through the typical trade route through the Suez and onto Alexandria. From there, it was the French and Venetian merchants who further exported these coffee beans into Northern Europe.
Despite the high levels of security of the Yemeni port of Mocha, the Ottoman Empire was desperate to protect their commodity at all costs. They refused to sell live plants or seeds to further protect their hold on a caffeinated export. Despite their best intentions, it was Dutch traders who snuck in and managed to smuggle out a live coffee plant in secret. It might have taken a few decades, but from this effort to break the Ottoman monopoly, mocha coffee plantations started to pop up just outside the borders of Yemen.
They were also out of the reach of the Ottoman Empire and allowed the mocha coffee trade to flourish. By 1699, the Ottoman Empire began to lose its grip on European settlements and internal leadership stagnation. Essentially, it was through nationalist revolts and hatred toward the Ottoman rules, endless wars that finally caused the Ottomans to fall behind on the times.
The most significant loss for the Ottomans was the Battle of Vienna in 1683, which allowed the Austrians to discover a stronger Arabica bean. But the smooth and fruity Mocha blend was still wildly popular throughout central and eastern Europe. The last straw came in 1922 when the Ottoman Empire finally ended. More importantly, when the Suez Canal was constructed in 1859, this was a clear sign of the times.
This opened a trade route that made the port of Mocha outdated and powerless to the export of Mocha coffee. This historical port is now a long-lost hub but is still part of coffee history as a whole.
What Is Mocha Coffee Anyway?
Aside from the port of Al Mokha, the word Mocha wasn’t used until 1773 to officially name the Mocha coffee bean as such. It might surprise you to know that the mocha coffee bean has a close association with chocolate and coffee. But the taste of mocha coffee by itself doesn’t have a chocolate flavor at all, then again- does it? Some questions have nagged coffee fans for decades as to what the mocha coffee bean really tastes like.
Mocha coffee has special fruity undertones that often taste similar to wine-like flavors. It wasn’t until the later 16th century in Venice and Turin, that coffee houses used Mocha coffee and mixed in chocolate after the coffee was brewed. This is perhaps the reason how Mocha coffee began to get a reputation for tasting like a chocolaty coffee drink. This led many to believe that Mocha beans have a chocolate flavor and the trend quickly spread.
It was traditional for baristas in Italy to serve a Bavareisa which was a combination of mocha beans, chocolate, and cream. This later developed into the Bicerin, and also the Marocchino. In other countries, it’s named Mocha Harrar and the Djimmah Mocha. These Ethiopian blends are reportedly part of the Mocha family and are said to have a clear chocolate flavor, but this is clearly speculation.
It seems the modern version of the Cafe Mocha was actually an extension of the Cafe Latte. The reasoning was that Cafe Latte included a shot of chocolate syrup or cocoa powder. From what history can tell us, the combination of mocha coffee and chocolate seems to fall back on the birth of the Bavareisa and Bicerin. These were clearly European innovations, but some insist the modern Cafe Mocha was an American invention.
What Makes Cafe Mocha So Different?
The iconic American hot chocolate is a sweet concoction but lacks any kind of thickness. The Italians were very clever at creating their hot chocolate with cornstarch to help reduce the milk and make it thicker and creamier. Further proof of this finally appeared in a Betty Crocker cookbook that Cafe Mocha was first introduced to the Americans. It used Mocha coffee and chocolate that was mixed to create a Mocha Cake.
The recipe cited that the Cafe Mocha was from another recipe that dated back to 1892, but the Betty Crocker cookbook was initially released in 1950. You can still find the original recipe in this edition and is readily reprinted in the format it was first released!
The Mocha Pot
Another significant invention that was inspired by Mocha coffee was the Moka pot. It was invented in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti and is still widely marketed as the original Moka Pot. It’s an Italian invention but the name pays homage to the Mocha coffee bean. Or in this case the port of Al Mokha. If you don’t have an espresso machine, the Moka pot is the closest thing you’ll get to freshly brewed espresso when making Cafe Mocha.
Make a Cafe Mocha
For the results, you’ll want to start with original Mocha coffee beans from Yemen. They need to be as close to the original source as possible. These beans will not look like regular coffee beans and will appear oddly shaped aside from most Arabica beans you’ve seen before. The flavor will have fruity undertones that don’t contain the overused selling point’ that they have a lovely chocolate flavor- don’t be a sucker- choose only the best Mocha beans!
The Original Cafe Mocha (aka Turin Bavareisa)
- 1 shot espresso
- 1 shot hot chocolate
- Cream topping
Start to make your hot chocolate using a bar of dark chocolate grated into milk and melted together. You need to add a little bit of touch or cornstarch as a thickening agent. Add sugar to sweeten the dark chocolate if you like, but the chocolate flavor is further lightened by the milk. Once you’re done making the hot chocolate, add this to your coffee cup. Brew your espresso and add a single shot very slowly into the cup.
This is further topped off with a bit of cream topping. It can be hand-whipped or just use heavy cream as-is. Finish this by shaving a little bit of dark chocolate on top and then enjoy.
Modern Cafe Mocha
- 1 shot espresso
- 1 shot chocolate syrup or powdered cocoa
- Whipped cream (freshly made)
For this version, you can use mocha coffee that you can buy from any supermarket. It might have mixed beans or added flavors that give you a chocolate flavor. Don’t worry- it won’t hurt to cheat if it has mocha beans in it. Now start with your hot chocolate by heating a half cup of milk and adding the syrup to make it as chocolate-flavored as you wish. If you use powdered cocoa, use three tablespoons to get a nice rich flavor.
As a tip: Use a teaspoon of food starch or cornstarch to make your chocolate milk slightly thicker. The next thing is to brew your espresso and pour this into your mug. Make fresh whipping cream with heavy cream and vanilla extract and a touch of powdered sugar. Whip this in a small cup using a battery-operated whisk mixer. Add this to your coffee and enjoy.