What is Mocha?

Malcolm Tatum

While mocha is sometimes best known as a coffee blend today, the origins of this beverage are a little more involved. Often understood to be the world’s oldest cultivated coffee, mocha is a very strong and slightly bitter brew of select coffee beans. The name for the beverage comes from the port in Yemen, where the coffee is thought to have first been exported. Today, it is typically used to refer to a number of different coffee-based beverages, often including chocolate and similar ingredients.

Mocha coffee may be enjoyed hot or cold.
Mocha coffee may be enjoyed hot or cold.

Coffee Drinks

In many parts of the world, "mocha" has come to be understood as a coffee with a unique flavor that sets it aside from other beans. Many special coffee beverages use these particular beans as part of the basic recipe, as well as include the word in the name for the customized beverage. For example, a basic "mocha latte" includes the combination of the coffee brewed from these beans, a small amount of chocolate syrup or powder, and a light topping of steamed milk. As this drink has increased in popularity, many people still refer to it by this name, even when other beans are used to make the coffee in it.

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An electric milk frother.
An electric milk frother.

Using the basic recipe of coffee and chocolate, a number of different beverages have appeared in recent years. "Swiss mocha" beverages use rich Swiss chocolate in the recipe, while "Suisse mocha" often refers to a drink made with a powdered form of chocolate. Many people enjoy these types of drinks either hot or cold, and purchase them prepackaged from numerous supermarkets.

Mocha coffee beans.
Mocha coffee beans.

Home Preparation

Even without a special machine, these drinks are quite easy to make at home. A coffee maker is typically required, so that someone can make a fresh pot of coffee, usually a bit stronger than normal. While mocha beans can be used, it is not absolutely essential, and someone can simply combine the coffee with chocolate syrup or powdered hot chocolate mix. Someone can then top the drink with heated and foamed milk, though this is not necessary.

Milk is steamed to create a mocha latte.
Milk is steamed to create a mocha latte.

Origins and Cultivation

The production and shipping of mocha beans began in the 17th century, and soon spread to many different areas of the world. By the middle of the 19th century, it was distributed from several other major ports, including the port of Aden along the Arabian Peninsula. Today, these coffee beans are cultivated in a number of countries, and distributed from a variety of locations.

Growing the coffee beans to produce mocha usually involves careful cultivation on small farms. The farms are typically located in ideal climates found in mountainous terrain. Growers often carve terraces into the sides of the mountain in order to provide the ideal controlled environment for the beans.

Mocha is used in a lot of coffee drinks.
Mocha is used in a lot of coffee drinks.

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Discussion Comments


I remember W.C. Fields in a movie, asking for a "cup of mocha java."


I make a smoothie using chilled coffee. Put two scoops of vanilla ice cream into a blender, cover with ice, a few spoonfuls of "mocha" powdered flavoring, four packets of Equal. I fill the glass with the chilled coffee and blend.


I really liked this article -- I never knew that there was a specific type of coffee beans called mocha, I always thought it just referred to the chocolatey drink.

My personal favorite is the Ghiradelli white mocha recipe -- google it, it's killer.


Mochas aren't really that hard to make at home. A quick and dirty version is to brew a cup of coffee and stir in a spoonful of hot chocolate powder.

If you want to do it properly, you can do that at home too. Just steam some milk (but don't scorch it), then pour that over a shot of espresso.

Then you can mix in mocha powder (available in grocery stores), top with whipped cream, and enjoy the feeling of not having shelled out $5 for a Starbuck mocha frappuccino.


For me, there's nothing better than an iced mocha on a hot day. The sweetness of the chocolate mixed with the coldness of the ice is just the perfect recipe for summer, in my opinion.

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