city located in the harbor of a natural lagoon on the Red Sea coast of the Republic of Yemen (13°19′ N, 43°15′ E). The name of the port is synonymous with coffee. Legend attributes the invention of coffee drinking and, hence, the foundation of the town to a local fifteenth-century CE hermit, Shaykh ῾Ali ibn ῾Umar Shadhili, who died In 1418 (AH 821). Mocha was the sole port for the shipment of coffee during the Yemeni monopoly on production of the crop (c. 1550–1725 CE). The city was linked by road with Bayt al-Faqih, to the north, which was the emporium for collecting the bales from the mountainous interior where the coffee grew.
Before the arrival of European traders (i.e., before the seventeenth century CE), Mocha served as a small port in the Egypt-India trade. It grew in importance after Ottoman Turkish measures against the Portuguese restricted trading activity at the port of Aden. English and Dutch factories were established first under Ottoman authority In 1618; the height of the coffee trade was reached between about 1660 and 1780. The French did not establish a factory until 1713, but they successfully transplanted coffee bushes to Réunion, breaking the Yemeni monopoly.
There have been no excavations at Mocha. The city's archaeological history is mostly derived from European descriptions, including lithographs. Mocha had no city walls until shortly after 1700. Eighteenth-century descriptions are consistent in their disparaging remarks about the flimsiness of the masonry—too thin to resist canon shot and a suitable deterrent only for cavalry or those without artillery. Aerial photographs taken in the 1970s show the position of the walls and the defensive bastions. The two most significant monuments are the tombs of Shaykh al-Shadhili and Shaykh al-Amudi. The settlement was severely damaged by offshore bombardment during Italian-Turkish engagements before World War I. Worse devastation was inflicted by a flash flood from the mountains that sent a wall of water 1 m deep as far as the sea.
The name of Mocha is inextricably linked with that of Muza, the pre-Islamic port listed in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea, which describes it as a station between Berenice in Egypt and Barygaza in India. The archaeological quest for the location is hampered by the similarity of the names of Muza, Mukha, and Mawza῾—the latter located 25 km (15 mi.) inland, which Ptolemy describes as the town associated with the port of Muza. Numerous, mostly informal expeditions have tried to locate Muza, but to no avail. In an analogy with the coastline at Faza, to the north, the harbor of Muza should be sought at least 5 km (3 mi.) south of Mocha and inland: at Faza, early medieval port sites are found stranded to the south and east of present- day lagoons. Prevailing onshore winds and tides have a tendency to create sand bars which form natural anchorages for shallow- drafght boats. In time, the lagoons silt up, and another natural harbor forms farther north.
- Donzel, E. J. van. “Al- Mukhā.” In Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 7, pp. 513–516. Leiden, 1960–. Covers the Periplus era, as well as the coffee trade.
- Hattox, Ralph S. Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East (Seattle, 1985). Provides a more critical analysis of the Shadhili legend than Macro (1960, below).
- Huntingford, G. W. B. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. Hakluyt Society, Second Series, no. 151. London, 1980. Supercedes the much quoted commentary by Wilfred Schoff (New York, 1912).
- Macro, Eric. “Notes on Mocha.” In Bibliography on Yemen and Notes on Mocha, edited by Eric Macro, pp. 31–63. Coral Gables, Fla., 1960.
- Macro, Eric. “The Topography of Mocha.” Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies 10 (1980): 55–66. This and the above report are supplemented by artist's illustrations published by Macro in Proceedings of the Seminar for Arabian Studies (1982, 1984, 1987).
E. J. Keall