Episode 662

Yemen Sanani-Mahwiti Natural

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 fourth 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.

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.

This lot has come from the traditional coffee production of Yemen - being sold as dried cherries. Traditionally, coffee producers would dry their cherries on the tree and then on their roofs, storing the dried cherries for selling as they needed cash (or in trade for other goods). As time moved on, it became normal for traders to buy these cherries, combine them and sell them on. This meant that finding a great lot was always a bit like finding a needle in a haystack, but finding one from the same producers next year was absolutely impossible.

Recently, some enterprising speciality coffee exporters have tried to give Yemeni coffees that traceability and consistency. At the front of this is Qima, who source fresh coffee cherries from farmers and handle the drying of those cherries at one of their special facilities. They’ve also supported recent research into the coffee plants in Yemen. The results are super interesting and hold a lot of promise for the future, as they have shown that although some of the coffee plants in Yemen are descended from Bourbon and Typica (the plants from which the rest of the world’s cultivated arabica comes from), some of Yemen’s plants are not related to these at all. This collection of varietals - dubbed Yemenia - is thought to have come as wild Ethiopian arabica into Yemen at some point and then not left. This could offer not only new flavour profiles, but also hope for finding varietals which will handle drought, high temperature and diseases better than their more well-known cousins.

Qima have done an amazing job buying fresh cherries, but the production in this way is still a super tiny amount and they’re ambitious to make a bigger impact. This has lead to a sister company - Arabica Felix. They combine the traditional method of selling dried coffee cherries with the traceability, expertise and control that the infrastructure on the ground makes possible. This lot, one of theirs, is sourced from 6 communities around Sana’a and Mahwit. The cherries are delivered to the processing centre in Sana’a where they are assessed and sorted, before being matched together into bigger lots.

The flavour profile you’ll get here is distinctively a “Classic” Yemeni coffee - there’s chocolate and dried fruit flavours and full body, but with an unusual spice edge to the finish. We’re really excited to see a good example of this unique coffee style again.

This is an unusual one - it's rather like a fruit crumble, but what's coming to the fore changes a lot as it cools. It starts off with a big grating of nutmeg. When it's hot, the crumble topping and brown sugar stand out too, but when it's cooled down there's a fruitiness of cooked plums and prune, with a little cinnamon edge coming in.

  • Country: Yemen
  • Region: Sana' a and Mahwit
  • Farm: Various local smallholder farmers
  • Varietals: Tuffahi, Dawairi, Jaadi, and other indigenous wild varietals
  • Collection centre: Sanani-Mahwiti
  • Altitude: 1,700-2,300 m.a.s.l.
  • Processing method: Natural

CUPPING NOTES

Nutmeg, brown sugar, cooked plum, prune, cinnamon.

Clean cup: (1–8): 6
Sweetness: (1–8): 6
Acidity: (1–8): 6
Mouthfeel: (1–8): 6.5
Flavour: (1–8): 7
Aftertaste: (1–8): 6.5
Balance: (1–8): 6
Overall: (1–8): 7
Correction: (+36): +36

Total: (max. 100): 87

Roasting Information
Medium Dark - This is a very tricky one to roast! It needs lots of heat to get it through crack and won't make much noise, so is tricky to judge. You want to get the coffee through first and be looking for the end of the gap (the gap is longer than you'd think too!).

Previous episode

Episode 661

Watch episode

Next episode

Episode 663

Watch episode