Yemen’s contributions to the history and culture of coffee are impossible to overstate.
The country is where the crop was first commercially cultivated and popularized. The peninsula lent the arabica species its name and established its own unique consumption trends including qishr, a brew made from the dried cherry skins and husks with spices. Innovations including roasting, grinding, the ibrik (or cezve) coffee pot, the coffeehouse, and even the word “coffee” (from qahwah, which the Turkish pronounced kahveh) 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 city of Aden in the fifteenth century.
Yet modern Yemen is sadly far removed from that Golden Age. Some small early signs of the possibility of peace notwithstanding, the most recent conflict has dragged on for nearly 5 years, cost almost 100,000 lives (disproportionately innocent civilians), displaced over 3 million, and left two-thirds of the country in need of food or medical aid.
Freshly landed Yemeni coffee is back in our coffers, and always warrants a little celebration. While the odds may be stacked against coffee in general, Yemeni coffee breaks the curve. Beyond the war, the country’s climate is dry and unforgiving. Yet Yemen is blessed with unparalleled history, uncommon elevation, and unusual access to a wealth of arabica’s genetic diversity. Out of all of this comes a distinctive coffee that defies convention at nearly every turn.
For the second year in a row, we’ve been delighted by a delivery from a small group of farmers in and around Bura’a, a district named for its impressive granite mountain, Jabal Bura’a. In 2011, the region 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—an epicenter of recent regional conflict—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.