Promoting the ancient Yemeni coffee culture is what is needed to restore hope in such a challenging time for Yemen and its people
Yemeni coffee: context overview
Yemen is a small coffee producing country that only grows Arabica plants, introduced into what is now Yemen over a thousand years ago. Coffee from Yemen was the first coffee introduced into Europe and was considered a highly valuable commodity (Coffee Quality Institute, n.d.). In fact, whilst the coffee tree has its roots in Ethiopia, the coffee drink originated in Yemen (Qima, n.d.-b).
Coffee Quality Institute began its work in Yemen in 2006 and was involved in a number of grants with several organizations concerned with the coffee sector as a whole, notably with vital factors such as production, processing, cupping, barista training and marketing (Coffee Quality Institute, n.d.).
Unluckily, in 2015 civil war broke out in Yemen and all international embassies were forced to leave, suspending and eventually ending projects that would have supported numerous Yemeni coffee farmers (Coffee Quality Institute, n.d.).
Yemen: a unique terroir and a diverse cup profile
Yemen hosts one of the world’s most diverse topographic profiles, with extreme desert plains in the east, large coastlines and coastal plains in the west and in the south, and large volcanic mountain ranges in the centre of the country. Owing to its topographic diversity, Yemen’s climate is quite diverse as well, with temperatures ranging from subzero to over 45°C (Qima, n.d.-b).
Most of Yemen’s specialty coffee is grown in the highlands at altitudes above 1,800 metres, which results in coffee beans embodying an unusually complex concentration of oils characterized by precious aromas and flavours (Qima, n.d.-b).
“The most exceptional coffees tend to express bright and complex acidity, with delicate notes of florals, candied fruit, citrus, berries, dark chocolate and a distinctive winey undertone with a lingering, heavenly finish. The profile displays excellent range and dimension and the fragrance and aromas are intensely exhilarating” (Qima, n.d.-b).
Yemeni coffee culture’s history
Coffee culture is deeply connected to Yemen’s history. Reportedly, the coffee bean was first consumed as a beverage in western Yemen in 1450 by the Sufi monk population, who used coffee to stay awake during their night meditations. By the early 1700s most of the country’s income came from coffee exports and the entire world’s coffee supply came from Yemen (Qima, n.d.-b).
Much of Yemen’s farming population therefore turned to growing coffee in the 17th and 18th centuries. As the global demand for coffee exploded, colonial trading companies began smuggling beans out of Yemen and planting them in countries under colonial rule, often forcing farmers to produce and sell coffee at prices imposed by the colonial trading company (Qima, n.d.-b).
The availability of cheaper coffee beans on the market made it difficult for Yemeni coffee to compete, so its market share began to shrink. By the 1800s Yemen was producing just 6% of the world’s coffee, while today it produces less than 0.1%. Yemen’s coffee industry was neglected and often considered as a relic of the past. Moreover, the civil war has made the Yemeni coffee industry’s future even more fragile (Qima, n.d.-b). Nevertheless, Yemen, with its unique terroir, cup profile and genetics, has much to offer the specialty coffee industry.
Qishir: an energy boost with a ginger flavour
Qishir is a traditional Yemeni drink which combines coffee and ginger. It is a natural energy boost that is usually offered in minutely decorated cups with honey sweets. The union of coffee and ginger enhances the organoleptic features of each ingredient and creates a 100% Middle-Eastern atmosphere (Cescotto, 2018).
According to the principles of natural medicine, regularly drinking this unique and peculiarly spicy coffee positively affects health and well-being. In fact, qishir reportedly helps digestion, tackles nausea and prevents gastric issues. Moreover, it controls the glycaemia and cholesterol levels and helps to strengthen the immune system. Furthermore, qishir is considered a natural painkiller and an anti-inflammatory which also boosts your metabolism (Cescotto, 2018).
Will you give it a try? Take a look at the recipe below, then!
Source: Dersut Magazine (Cescotto, 2018)
Qishir: how to prepare the ginger coffee at home
If you are willing to taste qishir and to feel the Middle-Eastern atmosphere you don’t have to fly to Yemen: you can prepare it directly at home! To make it, you’ll need very high-quality ground coffee, granulated sugar, water, powder of dried ginger and a small saucepan.
If you want to feel closer to the tradition, you should use a briki, the traditional small pot that is used in the Arab countries to make coffee. When you make qishir, make sure you are concentrated and your movements are slow and careful, as it is a real ritual.
For two qishir coffee cups we recommend using the following ingredients:
- 30 g high-quality ground coffee
- 230 ml water
- 20 g granulated cane sugar
- 7 g ginger powder
You’ll just need to mix all the ingredients in a small pot and wait for it to start simmering. Then, you’ll have to let the liquid cool a little bit and make it simmer afterwards. You should do this at least 3 times so that your qishir will become a bit thicker. When your coffee drink is ready, you should pour it into the traditionally decorated cups and wait a minute so that the powder settles. Finally, sip it and feel the embrace of the Arab atmosphere.
Recipe’s credits: Cescotto, 2018.
Source: Dersut Magazine (Cescotto, 2018)
Yemeni specialty coffee: Qima Coffee
Qima Coffee aims at using coffee as a vehicle to improve lives and livelihoods sustainably. Qima Coffee, which promotes innovation as the future of specialty coffee, works exclusively with fresh cherries to ensure that every step of the post-harvest process is carefully managed and controlled. It also underlines the importance of the human dimension behind the coffee cup, and that is why Qima Coffee operates directly at farm-level, to ensure full traceability. Finally, the core purpose of Qima Coffee is to rebuild Yemen’s specialty coffee industry and restore hope, also through education and agriculture projects (Qima, n.d.-a).
Private collection Auction: Alliance for Coffee Excellence and Qima Coffee
The Best of Yemen 2021 auction is supposed to take place online in August, with approximately 3,000 smallholder coffee farmers. The Alliance for Coffee Excellence and Qima Coffee are willing to extend the competition to any Yemeni farmer who wishes to submit coffees, and also to extend the platform in order to include Yemeni exporters.
The Best of Yemen 2021 is part of ACE’s ongoing Private Collection Auction series, that is to say a private companion to the ongoing Cup of Excellence series of countrywide auctions.
Qima Coffee photo from the Al-Ruwad Coop in Yemen. Source: (Brown, 2021)
The previous two Best of Yemen auctions presented by Qima and ACE presented amazing prices for premium Yemeni microlots, including US$207.15 per pound for the top lot in 2020, where the average price for all 20 lots scoring 87+ was $54.43 per pound (Brown, 2021).
Amal Yemen Movement
Amal Yemen – which means “hope for Yemen” – is a manifestation of collective energy, drawn from a global community of people from diverse backgrounds who share a common interest in assisting others and in celebrating culture. It is a movement aiming at illuminating Yemeni coffee history, culture and arts. This movement is meant to be a way to connect an international audience to Yemen’s past, present and future in its famous and legendary coffee sector. In such a challenging time, in which Yemen is devastated by civil war, a movement like Amal Yemen may be a vehicle to raise awareness and to mobilise communities towards understanding and supporting the coffee sector’s role in giving hope to Yemeni people. All funds raised will be addressed to humanitarian relief efforts, as they will be donated to Médecins Sans Frontières and Mercy Corps (Amal Yemen, n.d.).
Source: Amal Yemen
Amal Yemen. (n.d.). Amal Yemen Movement. Retrieved May 2, 2021, from https://amalyemen.com/
Brown, N. (2021). ACE and Qima Coffee Expanding Best of Yemen Auction for Fall 2021. Daily Coffee News. Retrieved from https://dailycoffeenews.com/2021/04/20/ace-and-qima-coffee-expanding-best-of-yemen-auction-for-fall-2021/
Cescotto, K. (2018). Il Qishir yemenita: caffè e zenzero uniti in un connubio di profumi e aromi unico. Dersut. Retrieved from https://www.dersutmagazine.it/cucina/il-qishir-yemenita-caffe-e-zenzero/
Coffee Quality Institute. (n.d.). Overview. Retrieved May 2, 2021, from Yemen website: https://www.coffeeinstitute.org/coffee-places/yemen/
Qima. (n.d.-a). Welcome to the coffee revolution. Retrieved May 2, 2021, from https://www.qimacoffee.com/
Qima. (n.d.-b). Welcome to Yemen. Retrieved May 2, 2021, from https://www.qimacoffee.com/yemen-1
Picture credits a: A variety of fresh and roasted coffee grains are on display at an event organised on the International Coffee Day in Yemen’s capital Sanaa, MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP or licensors. Retrieved May 7, 2021, from: https://www.euronews.com/2020/10/02/the-treasure-of-yemen-international-coffee-day-is-celebrated-in-sana-a