Yemen’s coffee farmers bid to win over baristas to their heritage beans

Modern coffee connoisseurs have largely neglected the beans that have been cultivated in Yemen’s harsh mountainous terrains for more than 600 years.

Last month, however, a group of farmers wearing ceremonial garb and equipped with daggers in their belts visited a London coffee-roasting company with the intention of restoring Yemen’s reputation as the birthplace of good coffee.

At the inaugural National Yemen Coffee Auction, the farmers brought 28 samples for tasting and, within days, had sold their beans to buyers from Europe, Australia, the Middle East, and east Asia.

The purpose of the online auction was to connect the growers of Yemen’s western mountains directly with traders, as opposed to selling through a network of profit-taking exporters.

“The auction was excellent. It was the first time Yemen had participated and a fantastic opportunity for the farmers, according to Ahmed al-Murri, whose coffee sold for $42 (£37) per pound. “The customers’ consumption of our coffee has diminished the gap between us and them.”

Murri, a former travel agent who returned to Haraaz in 2014 when war broke out, enthusiastically took over his father’s coffee plants and began a business.

Image 1: a close-up of coffee cups. Two photographs of Yemeni farmers dressed in traditional attire.
Last month, London hosted the National Yemen Coffee Auction, where growers brought samples of their coffee. Jeremy Stern/Mokha Institute Photographic advertisement

“Upon my return to the village, I discovered that my father and grandfather had produced coffee, but that it had been forgotten. We chose to begin processing specialty coffee,” he says. “Yemeni coffee was not well known internationally and did not have a good reputation, but we hope that this new market will change that.”

It is believed that modern coffee cultivation began in Yemen around the 15th century, with trade passing through the port of Mocha. In 2020, however, it ranked 61st in coffee exports, selling $21 million worth of beans compared to Brazil’s $5 billion.

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