||Yemen Mahal Aqeeq ul Yemen Red Cherry Natural 2018
||Varietals: Tuffahi, Dawairi, Jaadi, and other indigenous wild varietals
Aside from Ethiopia, Yemen has one of the longest (and we think among the most interesting) histories with coffee production. The region is largely to thank for the global spread of coffee, both as an agricultural product and as a beverage. Yet in recent years it has had a dramatic decline in both the production and, unfortunately, the quality of its coffee, largely due to political and social upheaval.
Yemeni coffees were some of the first really different and unusual lots we came across and we were very proud to offer, but because of the difficulties in Yemen we were unable to find any great lots for six years. Then, in 2017, something very special came across our cupping table – a great Yemeni Natural – and this is the third crop we’ve had following on from that.
Coffee’s discovery in what we now recognize as Ethiopia was the beginning of the story, but it is 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. They were 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 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 the 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.
However, since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and thanks to recent political strife and natural disasters, Yemen has gone from being one of the wealthiest nations in the world to being one of the most aid-dependent and war-torn. The country has been in the midst of a brutal civil war since 2015, and its other seemingly most-newsworthy characteristics are its water impoverishment, an increasing dependence on the narcotic plant qat, and its appearance on the U.S.A.'s recent 'Travel Ban'.
It’s among the most dangerous and difficult places in the world to survive – let alone to do business and to help communities. Despite this, we’ve seen a small, very fragile bloom in the last few years of people doing just that and using coffee as a way to a better future. One of those people is Shabbir Ezzi, an entrepreneur and the owner of exporting company Al-Ezzi Industries. Shabbir has invested not just money, time, and energy, but also his life: he relocated to Yemen in order to make high-quality coffee a viable, sustainable, and empowering pursuit for the farmers in and around the coffee region of Haraaz.
Shabbir had the passion for improving Yemeni coffee, but not necessarily the background in quality development. He’s explored different ways of achieving this, but for us what’s most exciting is his focus on buying fresh (not dried) cherries from producers, and his practice of drying the cherries evenly on raised beds. This is different to the traditional method, where each smallholder would pick and dry their coffee on patios and rooftops, or even by leaving it on the tree.
The ways that Al-Ezzi does business in Yemen's coffee market are substantially different to the norm.
Farmers are paid a high base price for bringing their coffee to Al-Ezzi's own or participating receiving stations, and are given premiums for coffees that meet certain standards of moisture, quantity, and quality selection.
Coffee farmers are voluntarily issued ID cards, which are used not only as a point of pride and respect but also to keep track of their deliveries and ensure proper, timely payment.
Each farmer's individual contributions are meticulously recorded, which means the coffees are traceable down to individuals – highly unusual in a country where the average farmer produces less than 100 kilos of cherry.
Fresh, ripe red cherries earn an additional premium over dried cherries (how coffee is traditionally sold at market); buying fresh cherries allows Al-Ezzi to ensure ripeness and quality before drying, and to control the drying process for evenness.
This is similar to what has started happening at co-operatives in other coffee producing regions, and is massively innovative and important for Yemen. All in all, Yemeni coffee is difficult to produce, difficult to buy, and not very easy to roast – but it is unique and very special.
Traditionally, coffees from this area are associated with sweet spice and heavy body. Look out for those characteristics, but with the more refined processing at Al-Ezzi adding a cleaner, more complex cup.
This particular lot comprises fresh coffee cherries purchased directly from producers who have picked and/or sorted perfectly ripe fruit and delivered it to Al-Ezzi's collection point at Mahal Aqeeq ul Yemen immediately after harvest. This is located just southwest of Sana'a in one of the main coffee producing regions of Yemen. Fully traceable via producer ID cards, this coffee is dried on raised beds and milled at Al-Ezzi’s facility in Sana’a.
In the cup expect a dessert. There's a sponge cake-like sweetness paired with creamy rum and raisin ice cream, all finished off with a little allspice on the finish.
Region: East Haraaz
Farm: Various local smallholder farmers
Varietals: Tuffahi, Dawairi, Jaadi, and other indigenous wild varietals
Altitude: 1,900–2,440 m.a.s.l.
Processing method: Natural
Drying method: Raised beds
Medium dark – this needs to go through first and just up to the first pops of second crack, but you'll need plenty of heat to get it there.
"Quick Look" Guide
Sponge cake, rum and raisin ice cream, allspice.
Note: Cupping Score for Mouthfeel is actually 7.5 & Balance is 6.5, not as above (software limitation, allows whole numbers only)
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