Yemen is a country in Western Asia near Saudi Arabia. Two of Yemen’s borders are bodies of water: the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. The country’s unique terrain and climate – warm, dry, and mountainous – make it challenging to grow most plants. Fortunately, coffee isn’t one of them.
Learn how coffee made its way to Yemen in the 1400s and how this small Arabic region became a catalyst for coffee expansion and popularity across the globe.
- What is Yemeni Coffee?
- Yemeni Coffee’s Rich History
- How much does Yemeni coffee cost?
- What does coffee from Yemen taste like?
- How to Make the Perfect Cup of Yemeni Coffee
- Buy Yemeni Coffee Beans from Fathom Coffee
1. What is Yemeni coffee?
Coffee made its way from Ethiopia, across the Red Sea, and into Yemen, probably during the sixth century when the Ethiopians invaded. They called the plant qahwa, which originally meant “wine” in Arabic. Today it translates to “coffee.”
Yemeni coffee is of superb quality due to its traditional, natural farming techniques that date back over 500 years. Premium Yemen coffee beans are considered by many to be among the best on the global market.
2. Yemeni Coffee’s Rich History
Yemen is known worldwide as one of the oldest-known coffee-producing regions, dating back to the 15th century when Arab Sufi monks drank coffee to stay awake for midnight prayers. Soon, it made its way to the country’s laypeople.
The Coffeehouse Is Born
Coffeehouses sprang up in Yemen’s port city, Al-Makha (or Mocha). News of the energizing drink quickly spread to Egypt, Persia, Turkey, and North Africa.
Throughout the 1500s, coffee was outlawed temporarily by various Arab leaders. They claimed people were having “too much fun in coffeehouses,” misbehaving, and participating in satirical conversations concerning the government.
Despite the ban, people continued drinking their coffee in secret. The caffeine addiction, intellectual stimulation, and natural energy boost contributed to its popularity and continued use.2
The Coffee Trade in Yemen
In the 1500s, when the Turks were occupying Yemen, coffee beans became an important export in the city of Mocha. Coffee beans soon took on the name of the port city. As coffee became highly profitable for the Turks, they held their monopoly by only allowing berries to leave the country if they were steeped or partially roasted, preventing the possibility of germination in other countries.
Despite their efforts to keep coffee in-country, travelers smuggled seeds and plants into India, Holland, and the East Indies during the 1600s. It then spread into Great Britain, Italy, France, Austria, Germany, and North America.2
Yemen’s Unique Coffee Production Process
Farmers still use ancient techniques that originated in the 1500s. Yemen farmers grow coffee trees on mountainous terraces over 8,000 feet above sea level. After harvesting the plants for five years, they delicately pick the cherries (a labor-intensive process) and dry them on rooftops for four weeks. Once the cherries are dried, farmers split open the coffee husks using millstones to collect the seeds (coffee beans) and clean them by hand.
Outside of Yemen, many specialty coffee producers separate the fruit from the beans before drying. This produces more predictable coffee beans and consistent taste. Yemen coffee is unique in its inconsistency and irregularly shaped beans. An air of mystery surrounds every cup, a hallmark of Yemeni coffee.
Yemenis don’t waste any part of the coffee plant. Rather than throwing away the husks, they use it to make qishr, a popular Yemeni coffee drink spiced with ginger and cardamom. They also use the leaves to make a tea-like herbal medicine for women.
How much does Yemeni coffee cost?
Yemeni coffee costs around $60 per pound, on average. It can, however, cost up to $240 per pound. The reason Yemeni coffee demands such a high price is due to four main factors:
- Scarcity: Today, Yemen’s coffee production is low compared to other countries.
- Quality: Yemeni coffee has a unique flavor profile with high international demand.
- Time-intensive process: Coffee production in Yemen is very time-intensive and challenging due to the traditional techniques they still use today.
- Political and economic unrest: Exporting coffee beans has become difficult because of various trade bans, tariffs, dangerous trade routes, and high shipping costs during the ongoing civil war in the country.
What does coffee from Yemen taste like?
Yemeni coffee is earthy, aromatic, and complex, with dried fruit tones and notes of chocolate. Some describe the coffee as rustic or musky. It’s often full-bodied (meaning it has a smooth quality and retains much of its flavor when diluted) and rich. It can have notes of cinnamon and cardamom or different types of fruit.
To get the most flavor from Yemeni coffee beans, they should be roasted medium or dark. The darker the roast, the more aromatic and flavorsome the coffee becomes.
How to Make the Perfect Cup of Yemeni Coffee
Ready to buy a bag of one of the oldest coffees known to humankind? We don’t blame you. Authentic Yemeni coffee is rich in flavor and history and should be enjoyed to the fullest. To experience this coffee’s full flavor profile, try brewing yourself an espresso. Here’s how.
- Coffee making apparatus (we recommend using an AeroPress coffee machine)
- Kettle to boil water
- 18 grams of ground Yemeni coffee (or about three tablespoons of beans)
- Filtered water
- Boil your water.
- Grind your coffee beans to a fine grind (similar in size to sugar or table salt).
- Assemble your AeroPress and set a filter inside the chamber.
- Wet the filter so it’s damp.
- Pour in your ground coffee, and pack it down lightly.
- Grab your favorite coffee mug and place it underneath.
- Pour 85 grams of water into the chamber (or until it rises halfway between markers “1” and “2”).
- Wait 45 seconds.
- Use the plunger to gently press down for about 30 seconds – until the plunger touches the bottom of the chamber.
- Remove the AeroPress and enjoy your cup of Yemeni espresso!
Buy Yemeni Coffee Beans from Fathom Coffee
Fathom Coffee sells three different Yemeni coffees, each boasting the flavors of its origin.
1. Yemen Mocca Hawari
This high-quality roast is complex and distinct with a classic Yemen taste. It carries notes of milk chocolate and light fruitiness of plum and blueberry.
2. Yemen Mocca Harazi
Yemen Mocca Harazi is another premium coffee with vivid notes of milky sweetness, cocoa, strawberry, and raspberry.
3. Yemen Mocca Khulani
Yemen Mocca Khulani is sweeter than many other Yemeni coffees, with chocolate, raspberry, and rose notes. This roast has a creamy, comforting texture. It’s one of the best and most historic varieties grown in the Yemen region.
- Levkowitz, Joshua. “Revitalized Coffee Economy Provides Yemen a Boost amid Conflict.” Middle East Institute, 28 Feb. 2018, https://www.mei.edu/publications/revitalized-coffee-economy-provides-yemen-boost-amid-conflict.
- Pendergrast, Mark. “Chapter 1.” Uncommon Grounds: The History of Coffee and How It Transformed Our World, Basic Books, New York, 2019.
- Alwazir, Atiaf Zaid. “How Yemeni Coffee Reaches American Cups.” Al-Monitor, 3 Oct. 2013, https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2013/10/yemen-coffee-san-francisco-coffee-shop.html.