Moka & Co.’s Yemeni coffee is a hit in East Lansing

Owner plans to open additional locations in Okemos and Bath Township this year


Throughout his first decade living in Greater Lansing, Ahmed Sufyan would occasionally make the drive out to Dearborn, his hometown, to treat himself to a cup of Yemeni coffee.

“In our family, we grew up with these traditional coffee drinks. Unfortunately, they weren’t found here,” he said.

With more than 14,500 Yemeni Americans living in Dearborn, according to a September 2023 report by the Detroit Free Press, the Detroit suburb has become a mecca for the craft.

“People argue that it’s the origin of all coffee. It has a unique flavor, very aromatic,” Sufyan said. “I thought it was something our area would appreciate.”

For the past few years, the East Lansing-based plastic surgeon had been considering bringing a Yemeni coffee shop to Greater Lansing. In December, he opened Moka & Co. in a 2,700-square-foot space at 565 E. Grand River Ave. in downtown East Lansing. The shop held a soft opening in October, but it’s now firing on all cylinders, with a formal grand-opening event slated for 4 to 8 p.m. Feb. 15.

“Many of these drinks have spices and other enhancers that are just not found in, let’s say, a regular cup of American coffee,” Sufyan explained. “For example, if you go to some of the big-box names that are everywhere, it’s more uniform — kind of over-roasted, bold, almost earth-flavored. Growing up, we never had that type of coffee. Our coffee was always lightly roasted or, sometimes, not even roasted. You would appreciate the flavor of the bean itself.”

Sufyan said his favorite drink on the menu is the Jubani, a blend of coffee and qishr, a traditional hot drink made with spiced coffee husks, cinnamon, ginger and cream. The drink takes its name from Juban, a small district in southwestern Yemen where Sufyan’s grandparents once lived.

“It’s made with an unroasted bean that’s naturally green. If you’ve ever seen the coffee fruit, it’s usually red. As that coffee fruit is dried, the shell is removed and discarded by everyone else, except us. In this drink, we use the shell, or the unroasted bean, with a mixture of spices that really provides this very aromatic, robust, almost tea-flavored coffee drink,” he said. “For me, it’s almost like a dessert coffee. I love it. I get it without cream, which is the way it comes normally.”

The inside of Yemeni coffee shop Moka & Co. in East Lansing pays homage to its roots through its decor.
The inside of Yemeni coffee shop Moka & Co. in East Lansing pays homage to its roots through its decor.

To get his day started, Sufyan prefers the mofawar.

“It’s a bolder drink that’s very smooth and might be similar to that latte flavor, even though it’s not espresso. Mofawar means ‘steamed’ or ‘boiled.’ It’s just plain coffee beans, and it’s cooked on a stovetop and boiled over, which gives a very smooth, robust, almost chocolaty flavor. And there’s no flavorings added, just the beans,” he said.

Sufyan gets his beans straight from the source.

“All our coffees are organic, and we get our beans from local farmers, co-ops and a couple of cities in Yemen,” he said. “Instead of buying it from a huge supplier, where there’s markups on markups, we’re able to go directly to the farmers. We’ll sample the beans and make a claim for how much we want, and those are our beans for the whole year.”

Sufyan recently opened a second location in New York City and plans to open a third in Okemos, at 4738 Central Park Drive, within the next month. A fourth, in Bath Township, is still about six months away.

He hopes Moka & Co. becomes a destination spot for all four communities.

“We also have these great pastries that match up extremely well with our coffee, so for someone going out to have a little dessert after a meal, I think it’s the perfect place. Our goal is to provide the best experience possible, and one that I think is unique. I hope people enjoy it,” he said.


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