Last year, specialty coffee company Port of Mokha earned the highest score ever awarded in the 25-year history of the prestigious grading program by Coffee Review. Three years ago, when civil war broke out in Yemen, company founder Mokhtar Alkhanshali managed to escape to get to the Specialty Coffee Association’s annual expo in Seattle. This year, best-selling writer Dave Eggers’ released his new book telling Alkhanshali’s life story.
These three things alone serve up enough fodder to make even the most seasoned marketer break out in ecstatic flop sweats at the brand story potential. In contrast to the untold millions of companies forced to dig between the couch cushions for a shred of a story that might help their product avoid the dreaded “Skip Ad,” Port of Mokha sits on an embarrassment of riches. Besides the top-rated product and top-notch origin tale, Port of Mokha also boasts a social impact model that prioritizes paying Yemeni coffee farmers a fair wage. Five years after starting the company, Alkhanshali is now trying to incorporate it all into Port of Mokha’s first brand campaign, created with agency Eastward.
The new brand film features Alkhanshali recounting his escape from Yemen last March, when Saudi airstrikes drastically changed his travel plans to return home. At the time, his dilemma played out on the evening news, not as a coffee entrepreneur, but an American stuck amid a civil war. Then it shifts to why he was there in the first place, a quick nod to Yemen’s historic role as the birthplace of coffee, the unfortunate reality of its production downfall, and how Alkhanshali is trying to boost it back up.
“The story is the way you hook people in to first engage with you,” says Alkhanshali. “But for me, the number one thing is the quality of the product. I might have a great story, but the product has to be good. You hear about coffee that’s $16 a cup, people are very skeptical, even if they like the story.”
Alkhanshali sees broader consumer coffee culture moving towards where wine was 20 years ago, when everyday consumers began understanding more about the nuanced, higher quality aspects of the product.
“Most people knew Two Buck Chuck or Carlo Rossi, but now people know about a special vine in Napa,” he says. “My work is really about spreading the word about specialty coffee to the 99% of people who drink coffee every day but don’t know much about the diversity in the product.”
If you can eat Kraft Singles one day, then splurge on a pricey smoked gouda the next, there’s no reason you can’t find room on your palate for both that Monday morning Dunkin’ run and a Port of Mokha brew.
“It’s about letting people know about these different varieties, about why terroir matters, what the different flavor notes are,” says Alkhanshali. “So if I have to figure one thing out, it’s trying to build people’s knowledge of coffee, and all it goes through to make it’s way to you. It’s amazing that farmers are getting paid fairly for their work, but you also get a much better product.”