Cupping Notes: Dried Strawberry, Fig, Baking spice, milk chocolate
Yemen’s contributions to the history and culture of coffee are impossible to overstate. It is where the crop was first commercially cultivated and popularized. The peninsula lent the species its name, Arabica, and established its own unique consumption trends including q’shir, a brew made from the dried cherry skins and husks with spices. Innovations like roasting, grinding, the ibrik (or cezve) coffee pot, the coffeehouse, and even the word “coffee” are all gifts from Islam’s Golden age—the globe’s smoldering appetite for coffee was first stoked by Sufi Imams in Yemen’s port of Aden in the fifteenth century.
Freshly landed Yemeni coffee is back in our coffers, and always warrants a little celebration. While the odds might be stacked against coffee in general, Yemeni coffee likely has one of the figuratively and literally steepest uphill climbs to make it to your cup. The country’s climate is dry and unforgiving and its people beleaguered by war, disease and famine. Yet Yemen is blessed with unparalleled history, uncommon elevation, and unusual access to a wealth of genetic diversity. Out of all of this comes a distinctive coffee that defies convention at nearly every turn.
We were really impressed by the immense blueberry fruitiness of this selection from a small group of farmers in and around Bura’a, a district named for its impressive granite mountain, Jabal Bura’a. In 2011, it was added to UNESCO’s list of biosphere reserves, noted for its “rugged mountainous area intersected by several deep valleys rich in rare, vulnerable and endemic plant species.” Located thirty miles or so inland from the crucial port city of Al Hudaydah—a center of regional conflict and which Saudi and UAE backed forces have made bids for control—Bura’a, its people, and its local biodiversity, including coffee, remain at the highest of risks.
Our finest quality Yemeni coffees have frequently come to us from the Muslot family; Royal has been buying coffee from Ali Hibah Muslot and his children since 1984. This year, exceptional coffees from the Pearl of Tehama company run by Ali Hibah’s daughter, Fatoum Muslot, have been especially impressive. Elsewhere on the blog you can read an extended interview with Fatoum to hear more of her story in her own words.
The coffee farming community in Bura’a is tiny. Small outlying villages tend to have community-style gardens for their coffee terraces, typically farmers who share the plots also share a common ancestor, and have inherited the land, passed down in this manner for centuries. Most are averaging tiny, 2,500-tree coffee gardens, relying almost exclusively on traditional horticultural and preparation methods. Ms. Muslot has worked tirelessly to improve practices and traceability for her coffees, down to providing the names of many of the individual farmers who grow each lot of coffee she has supplied this year.