In today's coffee-drinking world, the culinary use of the word "mocha" is loosely bandied about with little understanding of its origins or its significance in coffee history. In fact, there are products on the beverage market completely devoid of any arabica or robusta bean that still use the word "mocha." The confusion is so great that some consumers today equate "mocha" with chocolate, not coffee, accents in a beverage. So exactly what is the meaning of this illusory word?
Mocha is a Red Sea port city in the Republic of Yemen. From the 15th to the 18th century, the then international trade hub on the southern end of the Arabian peninsula served as a market place for coffee. Turkish occupation of this area in the 1500s is sometimes attributed to the worldwide distribution, and subsequent popularity of, coffee and the spread of the associated linguistic tag, "mocha." Mocha beans, from Coffea arabica plants, were world-renowned during that time for their flavor and, according to popular accounts, were only sold after roasting so that others could not propagate the strain.
The later invention of the café mocha (sometimes known as mochachino or latté mocha), an espresso centered creation with milk and chocolate, seems to have given rise to an association between the word "mocha" and a cacao tree pod product.
Next time you are in the company of someone imbibing a fine "mocha" product, take pride in your knowledge that Mocha Port no longer exports coffee and that what you are witnessing is a an interesting linguistic artifact of coffee history.
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