Almost all Yemen coffee comes from ancient varieties of coffea arabica grown nowhere else in the world except perhaps in eastern Ethiopia. Yemenis have scores, perhaps hundreds, of names for their local coffee varieties. Most of these names and the trees to which they refer have never been documented, and are identified only within the rich and complex set of oral traditions that make up Yemeni coffee lore
- Size: 527,968 sq km
- Capital City: Sanaa
- Main Port City: Aden
- Population: 27,392,779 (estimated July 2016)
- Language/s Spoken: Arabic (official)
Coffee production in Yemen
- Population Involved in Coffee: 90,000 farmers (estimated)
- Typical Farm Size: 1–10 hectares
- Bags Exported Annually: 5,000–8,000 bags
Yemen Coffee Profile
- Growing Regions: Bani Mater, bani Hammad, Bura’a, Haraaz, Haimateen
- Common Varieties: Dawairi, Ismaili, Jaadi, Tuffahi
- Processing Methods: Natural, Tree-Dried
- Bag Size – 60 kg
- Harvest Period: October–December (early harvest); March–May (later harvest)
- Typical Arrival: Year-round
History of Yemen Coffee
Aside from Ethiopia, Yemen has one of the longest histories with coffee production: The region is largely to thank for the global spread of coffee both as an agricultural product and a beverage.
Coffee’s discovery in what we now recognize as Ethiopia was the beginning of the story, but it was the influence of spice traders and devout Muslims from the Arabian Peninsula who are credited with turning the local crop into an international one. For one thing, the plants themselves made the jump across the Red Sea, transplanted for the first time in Yemeni soil in the 17th century as the merchants sought to corner the coffee market, both for their own personal use and for trade with Europe. It was via those trade routes that the beverage of coffee spread in popularity, and by the late 1600s, Yemen was the world’s coffee powerhouse in every sense. It was a plant from Yemen – probably Moka variety, so-called after the country’s major port, Al Mokha – that made its way to Java and began the enormous Dutch plantations there, which subsequently fed plants to the rest of the New World.
Mocha, Moka or Moca Coffee
Mocha is one of the more confusing terms in the coffee lexicon. The coffee we call Mocha (also spelled Moka, Moca, or Mocca) today is grown as it has been for hundreds of years in the mountains of Yemen, at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula. It was originally shipped through the ancient port of Mocha, which has since been replaced by a modern port and has fallen into picturesque ruins. The name Mocha has become so permanently a part of coffee vocabulary that it stubbornly sticks to a coffee that today would be described more accurately as Yemen or even Arabian.
Coffee production at present
The country is currently deeply water-impoverished, and a large percentage of what water there is available for farming goes toward the production of qat, a plant whose stimulating drug properties has dominated agriculture in replacement of coffee and even many food crops. Additionally, exports from Yemen are exceptionally difficult to arrange, not only because of the small amounts of coffee available (therefore making it difficult to fill a container with high-enough quality coffee for shipping), but also because international trade has been challenged by ongoing political conflicts and governmental obstacles, which also drives prices of green coffee up much higher than in other producing countries.
Yemen coffee varieties
Almost all Yemen coffee comes from ancient varieties of coffea arabica grown nowhere else in the world except perhaps in eastern Ethiopia. Yemenis have scores, perhaps hundreds, of names for their local coffee varieties. Most of these names and the trees to which they refer have never been documented, and are identified only within the rich and complex set of oral traditions that make up Yemeni coffee lore. At least one variety is widely recognized (and admired) across Yemen, however: Ismaili, which produces tiny, rounded beans resembling split peas.
Yemen coffees are processed Tree-Dried
Yemen coffees are processed as they have been for centuries. All Yemen Mochas are dry or natural coffees, dried with the fruit still attached to the beans. After the fruit and bean have dried, the shriveled fruit husk is removed by millstone, which accounts for the rough, irregular look of Yemen beans. I have been told that some of these millstones are still turned by camels or donkeys, although I never managed to witness this spectacle. But even millstones turned by little gasoline engines are fascinating and nostalgic for the coffee historian, since they represent the oldest and most fundamental of coffee technologies.
The husks of the dried coffee fruit, neatly broken in half by the action of the millstones, are used to make a sweet, lightly a drink Yemenis call qishr. The husks are combined with spices and boiled. The resulting beverage is cooled to room temperature and drunk in the afternoon as a thirst-quencher and pick-me-up. Yemenis drink roast-and-ground coffee only in the morning, when, after bathing and prayers, they line up at coffee houses for a quick morning cup of coffee boiled with sugar in Middle-Eastern fashion.
See more Processing Methods in Yemen from Coffee Review