Yemen Coffees, AKA Arabian Yemen Mocha
Yemen coffee is the ancestral wild coffee beverage which 90-100% of all other coffees we drink today originate from. Since its recent ability to be exported, it has become incredibly sought after and praised for being one of the best coffees in the world.
History of Yemen Coffee
Most agree that the original coffee plants were native to the western regions of Ethiopia. Coffee was recorded as a beverage as early as the 6th century, utilized by the Ottoman Empire. It was in Yemen, however, that these plants were finally cultivated and developed into the beans and beverage that we know today. History records Sufi monasteries on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula processing Yemen coffee over 500 years ago. The Yemen farmers to advantage of the unique terrain of their country, which has conditions of climate and environment which were not considered ideal growing conditions for other plants. For 200 years, Yemen was the only source of coffee. Originally the primary mode of travel was by camel, but later, this Arabic Coffee was named after the Mokha Port which is on the coast of the Red Sea, from which these were eventually shipped. By 1650, coffee became popular in Europe, spawning the beginning of coffee shop and café businesses.
What Makes Yemen Coffee So Distinctive, Prized and Expensive
The production process for Yemen Coffee beans has stayed the same for over 500 years. Small family farms plant on terraced fields carved into the Yemen landscape. The coffee plants are raised in the old way, without any use of chemicals. Once the fruit, referred to as “cherries” are ripe, they are hand-picked. The beans are not removed from the fruit, but dry-processed together. The fruit goes through a special drying period in caverns, and in some cases, on rooftops.
Once the fruit is dried, it’s easy to separate the beans from the husks, which are discarded. This leaves a very irregular and rough seed, which is the hallmark of Yemen coffee beans. The millstones that grind the beans are mostly turned by donkeys or camels. Even when grinding is powered by small gasoline engines, progress is slow with small output batches. Only the more aged and richly flavored beans are exported since they fetch a higher price. The territory in which this ancient coffee variety is cultivated is in a high altitude and drought-prone land. While these processing factors add to the rarity of these low production crops, it also accounts for the unique character of Yemen Coffee’s special flavor profile.
Yemen coffee has a distinct flavor and aroma. It’s complex earthiness often holds tones of dried fruit, partly due to being dried with the fruit husk. This Arabian Yemen coffee also carries notes of chocolate, cinnamon, cardamom or tobacco. The strongest of these notes is chocolate, which might account for the modern use of the word “Mocha” in association with Yemen coffee.
Authentic Yemen Coffees Can Be Expensive
Due to the conditions in the land in which the coffee fruits are produced, the yield for crops is very low compared to other varieties of coffee produced in the western hemisphere. The low technological processing takes longer, producing fewer beans from what was grown and at a slower rate. Since Yemen coffee production is slow and low, and because of its unique and highly prized flavor profile, the demand for it internationally is very high. This combination of low supply and high demand make it very expensive.
There are similar varieties of Mocha-type coffees, and many which are not considered authentic, which are sold by Saudi Arabia and Ethiopia. This keeps competition very high. It also presents a challenge to have true Yemen coffee authenticated, creating more expense for documentation. Additionally, exporting coffee from the Yemen area has always been challenging, partly due to growing in a mountain terrain, but also from economic and political unrest in the region. Various bans on trade, dangerous trade routes and transporting, tariffs and poorly regulated border procedure can create challenges to exporting the beans.