While coffee can trace its heritage back centuries to the Ethiopian plateau, it is in Yemen that the plants were cultivated and developed into the beverage it is today.
Early records show from the middle of the 15th century, Sufi monks used the caffeine in coffee to fuel nightlong meditations. During the 18th century, Yemen became famous for its trade in coffee, as it was the country’s most lucrative export.
Due to its success in exporting high-quality coffee, seed smuggling became popular, destroying the country’s coffee monopoly. By 1800, Yemen’s coffee production accounted for just 6% of the world’s supply.
Additionally, a civil war erupted in 2014, making coffee cultivation even more difficult and exporting it almost impossible.
Despite this ongoing war, Yemen coffee culture prevails, and it still produces some of the most highly prized coffees on the market. That said, as Yemen coffee production tends to be low and slow while international demand remains high, sourcing green Yemeni coffee can be costly.
This begs the question of whether Yemeni coffee is worth the high cost for specialty roasters.
What is special about Yemeni coffee?
Located on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen’s unique geographical location has the ideal climate and terrain for coffee production.
The country’s mountainous interior is surrounded by narrow coastal plains to the west, south, and east. To the north-east, there is the largest expanse of sand in the world, which receives little to no rain for extensive periods of time.
Notably, the highland regions are interspersed with river valleys or wadis, which tend to be dry throughout winter. Furthermore, Yemen has no permanent rivers, which can make sourcing water for coffee cultivation a major challenge.
These difficult conditions forced the Yemeni people to develop alternative production techniques, which have remained unchanged for over 500 years.
This makes Yemeni coffee production one of the most traditional, organic, and unique processes in the world.
Yemeni coffee is traditionally grown on terraced fields carved into the landscape, at altitudes of about 1,800 to 2,700 meters above sea level. This often results in a smaller, more compact, and denser bean.
The cherries are harvested by hand and then undergo natural processing. Also known as dry processing, this involves setting the fruit out to dry with the fruit and skin intact, essentially drying the bean and cherry together.
Drying usually takes place on raised beds, or on the roof of the farmers’ home. To avoid over-fermentation or a build-up of mold, they are regularly raked and turned.
Once dry, farmers remove the brittle outer layer to reveal a small, irregular bean which is the hallmark of Yemen coffee beans.
Flavour characteristics of Yemeni coffee
Natural processing is often used in countries where water is in short supply, such as Ethiopia and some areas of Brazil. While this processing method may contribute to slow production, it also accounts for the unique character of Yemen’s coffee’s flavour profile.
As with many coffee producing countries, Yemen offers more than one variety. It is probably most known for its Mocha coffee beans, which are named after the port of Mocha, al-Mukhā, where coffee was first exported.
Another common type of Yemeni coffee is Mattari, which tends to be full-bodied and highly acidic with wine and chocolate notes. On the other hand, Yemen’s Sanani coffee tends to be more balanced, with a medium body and fruity characteristics.
While these bold flavours are likely to tempt roasters into experimenting with Yemeni beans, they can be challenging to source.
The terrain often results in low crop yields, while the traditional processing takes longer and tends to produce fewer beans from what was grown.
More so, international demand is high, and the combination of low supply and high demand can make Yemeni coffee very expensive.
Important to note is that exporting from the Yemen area has always been difficult due to the mountainous terrain.
Additionally, the ongoing political and economic unrest has resulted in various trade bans, dangerous trade routes, and high tariffs – all of which can contribute to the high price of the coffee.
Is Yemeni coffee worth the cost for roasters?
When sourcing green beans, every roaster must understand the pros and cons of investing in a particular coffee.
The same can be said of Yemeni coffee. For some roasters, the premium price of Yememni green coffee is not worth the investment, due to a lack of transparency.
“Whenever I ask for justification and transparency regarding the price, I get nothing,” one roaster says. “There is no doubt Yemeni coffee can be great, but I feel the prices are not justified, and with my experience on the farm and with exports, I don’t understand it. For those prices, the farmers should be living quite well, but many aren’t, so where does your money go?”
Another roaster agreed, saying transparency is needed in a very large way for Yemen.
“Some Yemen coffee has unique flavour profiles, and one of my favourite coffees was from Yemen,” one roaster adds. “However, no one can tell you what your money is worth, or what is worth your customer’s money.”
Many roasters tend to agree that Yemeni coffees offer some incredible flavours, and many have found success in roasting it.
Offering Yemeni coffees may appeal to a niche market, but it is likely those consumers will be willing to pay the premium price attached.
Additionally, offering Yemeni coffees provides roasters with an opportunity to go beyond the cup and tell the story behind the brew. A growing number of consumers are interested in the lives of coffee producers and the intimate details behind their favourite coffees.
By providing a story alongside the coffee, roasters can help educate consumers about the difficulties Yemeni coffee farmers and citizens face. Additionally, creating an experience for consumers can give roasters an important competitive advantage.
Yemeni coffee is full of history, and there is an interesting story to tell regarding its cultivation and production. To share that story, roasters can choose to custom-print QR codes onto coffee bags, so consumers can learn more about their favourite coffees.
At MTPak Coffee, roasters can choose from coffee packaging made from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining – all of which are 100% recyclable.
Furthermore, our design team is available to custom-print QR codes of your coffee bags to help educate consumers about Yemeni coffees. Our innovative digitally printing technology allows us to complete your order in a swift turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time.
For more information on sustainable, custom-printed coffee packaging, contact our team.