Yemeni Coffee History

The origin of coffee is rooted in Yemeni history and tradition!
Yemen was the first country where coffee was prepared.

Beans began to be processed, distributed, and commercially traded across the seas. It is impossible to unlink the history of Yemeni coffee from the coffee beans now found across the globe. Whether they are beans found in Brazil, Indonesia, Columbia, or Ethiopia, Yemen is present in all these beans’ lineage.

Beginning of the story
Where was coffee first consumed?

Legend has it that the coffee trade’s roots stem from regions inside and between Yemen and Ethiopia. The two oldest records of when coffee was first consumed are linked to Middle-Eastern and Islamic culture. More than a thousand years ago, under the knowledge of Dr. Abu Bakr Muhammad Al-Razi -Rhazes- (865-925 AD), the medicinal properties of coffee were published in a health encyclopedia “Al-Haiwi (The Continent)” for the first time. He wrote about the properties of a plant/ fruit known as bunn (coffee cherry) and the medical advantages of drinking its extraction; he called it “bun chum”. He mentioned that it is a hot and dry beverage and very good for the stomach.

Later, the Arab physician and philosopher Ibn Sina “Avicenna” (980-1037 AD) further explained in his book Al-Qanon Fi AL-Tebb (The Canon of Medicine) how coffee cherries stimulate healthy digestion and described it as “coming from Yemen, It is of a lemon color, light and of a good smell, is the best. It is hot and dry in the first degree. It fortifies the members, it cleans up the skin, and dries up the humidities that are under it, and gives an excellent smell to all the body.”

  • Both of these early accounts describe coffee and its effects within the confines of humoral theories of medicine, which would later be used by their counterparts in Europe. The descriptions of bunn and buncham by Rhazes and Avicenna clearly described what we all now know as coffee. However, written references about coffee and its effects had almost disappeared from the time of Avicenna to the 15th century, almost 500 years. While documentation is sparse for coffee during this period, it is clear that it was known to and being utilized in the Islamic world, for when references to coffee reappear, it was fully integrated into the life of Yemeni Sufi monasteries.

  • Antiquity

    As early as the 16th century, Yemen was the first country to commercialize coffee. As of 1,536 AD, most of the cups made throughout Europe were prepared with beans grown in Yemen. The Ottoman Empire controlled the export of Yemeni coffee from the port of Al-Mokha (Yemen) to the entire length of the Red Sea and, for more than 150 years, they managed to be the only coffee traders.

  • Conservation

    As a measure to preserve their business, the ancient Yemeni coffee traders partially roasted or boiled the green coffee beans to prevent them from being replanted and cultivated in other lands.

A little later, the Dutch also traded Yemeni coffee under the name Mocha / Mocca / Mokha coffee (the name they gave it for the seaport of Al-Mokha), which gradually became an adjective for coffee and chocolate. This mixture is due to the fact that Yemeni coffee has always had strong notes of chocolate and cocoa, a result of the natural conditions of Yemen where the properties of the soil, the climate, the altitude, the unique varieties as well as the coffee growing processes stand out. This process gives the beans such unique qualities: small but very dense beans, with sweet, strong chocolatey, and fruity notes; qualities and processes that are still preserved today.

In the year 1600, a pirate managed to remove seven green coffee beans stuck to his belly. This smuggler reached South India, where he successfully cultivated coffee plants. A few years later, the Dutch took some coffee trees and grew them in Java, Indonesia. And that is how, little by little, Yemen lost the world coffee trade. However, thanks to this, more than 90% of the coffees grown in the world come from Yemen’s mountains. Many of these varieties evolved to other origins, but in Yemen, the original plants were kept. No matter what origin you drink, there is a high probability that Yemen is present in that bean’s lineage.
Yemeni coffee farmers have maintained their coffee tradition

To this day, they have managed to maintain and improve the working processes they used back when they were the only country that exported coffee. One of these processes is natural drying, where after the ripe cherries are hand-picked, they use the floating system to get rid of any defected cherries, then spread them out under the sun to dry naturally. This process can last between 16 and 22 days, which leads to intense sweetness and an explosion of fruity notes. This process can be done on raised beds or on the rooftops of farmers’ and growers’ houses. However, the natural process is not the only factor that brings out the exotic flavors of Yemeni coffee. Most of the coffee plants in Yemen are cultivated at some of the world’s highest altitudes (1.800 – 2.700 meters above sea level). This makes the beans smaller, compacted, and very complex.

Centuries ago, Yemen dominated the world coffee market, while today, Yemeni coffee represents only 1% of this market. Although the production is very limited, the global demand is quite high. Due to the high quality of the beans, the ancient varieties, the history and the process at the farms, Yemen is considered to be a unique and a highly valued origin.

Currently, only 4% of Yemeni territory has soil suitable for growing coffee. But as an origin with high demand, unfortunately, there are many counterfeits on the market! And to solve this problem, it is common to see extended traceability information such as farmer’s name, farm’s information, elevation where coffee was grown… etc, on most Yemeni coffee bags. This practice was adopted after a joint effort between coffee growers, exporters, and importers to maintain traceability of Yemeni coffee. By tracing our coffee, we seek to ensure the origin of the product and honor all the heroes behind such high quality specialty coffee because we believe in sustainability and transparency throughout the entire coffee process.

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