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The term “mocha coffee” is most accurately used to refer to a sort of coffee bean that grows in Yemen and the Arabian Peninsula, but may also describe a type of espresso drink that combines coffee, foamed or steamed milk, and chocolate. The espresso drink is technically called “cafe mocha,” but is often incorrectly labeled “mocha coffee” by people in casual conversation. The bean is frequently held out as having a mild chocolaty flavor, which is likely why these two styles of drink have such similar names.
Enjoying Mocha Brew
Turning mocha beans into an enjoyable coffee drink is quite a lengthy process, but usually follows a somewhat standard pattern. Once the beans are ripe, they are harvested and then roasted. Roasting helps release the flavor and natural essences. A lot of a coffee beverage’s flavor depends on initial bean characteristics, but heat exposure also matters: too long or too short, and the flavor can suffer.
Roasting mocha coffee usually requires a relatively light touch in order to preserve the beans’ natural mellowness. When done properly, the final result will have a smooth, deep flavor that many people say tastes a bit like chocolate. This taste usually comes out best when the beans are freshly ground, then steeped in hot water. Some people will add cream or sugar to the brew, but many experts believe that these will mask the finer flavor subtleties. The purest way to enjoy this sort of drink is plain, or “black.” A bit of sugar is usually considered fine so long as it is not overpowering.
The Beans and Their History
Mocha coffee beans grow on the hilly terraces of what is today the country of Yemen, and are widely believed to be some of the oldest varieties of beans in the world. They are grown on high hillsides and flourish in the unique climate at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula. Part seacoast and part dry desert, the growing conditions of this region are unusual and difficult to duplicate.
The beans take their name from the ancient Yemeni port of Al Mokha, "mocha" being the Anglicized version. It was from this port that the beans were first introduced to Europe and the wider world through trade and export beginning in the 16th century. Yemeni people harvested and brewed these beans for many years before they became known specifically as “mocha," as the name really only attached as a way to distinguish them from other types of coffee that may have been available in European shops at the time. For many years, Yemeni imports were regarded by coffee connoisseurs as being the finest available.
Modern coffee authorities tend to distinguish coffees by growing region and plant type rather than by specific country of origin. Mocha beans are still harvested and sold, but usually bear the more common “Arabica” name. People who want specifically Yemeni beans often have to visit specialty shops or order directly from growers or distributors.
Espresso Drink Confusion
Mocha coffee should not be confused with the cafe mocha, a very different sort of drink that is popular at coffee shops and on espresso menus around the world. This drink is made with espresso beans, which refers more to the style of roast than the actual flavor of the coffee. Espresso is a very dark roast that is brewed under pressure by forcing hot water through coarse grinds. Most of the time espresso is measured in “shots,” with each shot coming in at about 2 ounces (about 59 mL).
In order to make a cafe mocha, a coffee preparer or "barista" will add foamed or steamed milk to espresso, then mix in chocolate syrup. The end result is a drink that many describe as somewhere between a cup of coffee and a hot chocolate. The drink is sweet, but also has a kick of caffeine. Many shops serve it topped with whipped cream.
Cafe Mocha Variations
Cafes and coffee shops have come up with many mocha variations. White or dark chocolate flavoring can be used to add richness to the beverage, and a number of different syrups and extracts can also be added to make the drink more unique. Caramel, peppermint, orange, and even raspberry mochas are common. The drink can also be served iced or frozen. While these variations are of course possible with the more traditional mocha coffee brew, they would be considered very unusual.