About Yemen, in Tokyo

” Can you read Japanese?” he asked.

I promptly gave up my pretentious attempt to decipher the Katakana writings on the chalkboard.

“No”, I confessed, taking a seat at the counter where Hussein was. ” Do you drink coffee?”, he asked.

What a ridiculous question.

“Have you tried Mocha coffee?”

Thankfully, I did better than proclaim that everyone’s tried Mocha, that yummy coffee+chocolate concoction.

“Original mocha coffee from Yemen?” I asked Hussein, reading off the signboard hanging on the wall of this simple, unpretentious little cafe in the trendy neighbourhood of Daikanyama. I confessed that I never knew Yemen was a coffee producer, much less tried REAL Mocha. (At this point, i also felt hurt and cheated by Starbucks). I settled on Cafe Ismaili. One whiff of the freshly ground beans and i was in mocha heaven (the real one) So that marked the start of a 2 hour conversation with Hussein and his Japanese wife, about coffee, Yemen, Japan and a beautiful island called Socotra with scary alien trees.

Mocha Coffee’s been around for just over a year, but has been making waves, as Hussein proudly showed me a feature article on Brownbook, a pretty cool Dubai publication. My short sojourn around Japan told me that the coffee culture is pretty strong, with the Japanese obsession over perfection (darn good coffee), design, and love of the quaint and quirky.(interiorgasm)

I wondered how  Mocha Coffee finds its place in Tokyo, and as Hussein puts it, there is too much of an “Otaku” culture going on. As an example, he quotes a cafe owner who wouldn’t blend beans from different altitudes. “It’s too geek”, he commented, adding on that simplicitywas his way of doing things. Good beans direct from the Yemeni farmers, roast, grind, serve, syrup optional. No fancy pancy espresso machines, just drip-brewed. Clearly,simplicity served.

He showed me photos of Yemen and the coffee farmers, and pointing to a picturesque valley, said ” The coffee you drank was from around this area”. I thought to myself, that must be the first time that I’ve had any visual reference of where my coffee actually came from.


One thing led to another, and soon I was having a Yemen 101 by Hussein and his wife Maiko, accompanied with crazy pictures on Facebook. They talked about the dry air, places so surreal they should belong to other planets, how there are only 4 Yemenis in Tokyo, Maiko adding on that Hussein is so rare she should keep him in a glass cabinet at home.

I had really meant to look for a music store there in Daikanyama, but fate had it that i would have my virgin cup of Mocha, and a very first encounter with a Yemeni fresh from a glass cabinet.

” Keep in touch, and let me know if you’re going to Yemen, i’ll tell you where to go” Those were  the parting words. And right there in trendy Tokyo, I’ve added yet another destination onto my travel list.



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