Yemen is the country where coffee arrived after its very first migration: from its birthplace in the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia, across the Red Sea, and ultimately to the Arabian peninsula. While it is not clearly known how coffee came to make this initial journey, whether by trade, or perhaps in the pockets of pilgrims making their way from Ethiopia to Mecca, it is certainly the case that coffee was well established in Yemen by the 15th century and Yemen was the first place that coffee was cultivated for trade and export from the hugely significant port city of Mokha. As with the Indonesian island of Java, the massive importance of Mokha to the nascent international coffee trade is indicated by the fact that “Mocha” is a word that has often come to serve as a generic term for coffee itself.
While Yemen was the dominant force at the beginning of the coffee trade, and even as recently as the 1950’s produced approximately 65,000 tons of coffee annually, its production has plummeted closer to 9,000 tons in recent years as the country has navigated prolonged political instability, brutal civil war, and a widespread humanitarian crisis due to population displacement, acute shortages of food and water, and a worsening economic climate. Despite these unimaginable challenges, coffee continues to hold great economic and cultural significance for the people of Yemen, and, as this particular offering clearly demonstrates, the potential for quality is extremely high.
This lot represents a collection of harvests from ten different producers from the village of Saut, one of the highest elevation villages in the producing area of Sana’a, among the mountainous Haraz region of western Yemen. All of the farmers contributing to this lot are true ‘smallholder’ farmers, with farm sizes ranging from just over 2 acres, to under 3,000 square feet, and the total number of trees on the smallest plots counting as few as 30 to 40. With such low yield potential for some of these farmers, it’s understandable why many exporters don’t choose to separate and keep lots traceable down to the single producer. In total, all of these producers' harvests combined to make up a total of just 14 exportable bags of green coffee.
Coffee farmers in the producing region of Sana’a plant and care for their coffee trees on traditional open terraces (conserving water and reducing soil erosion) that cover steep mountainsides rising well above 2000 masl. As with the vast majority of coffees produced in Yemen (where water is a scarce and precious resource), this lot was dry processed, allowing the fruit of the cherry to dry fully intact around the seed. Traditionally, following harvest, most producers in Yemen simply spread the ripe coffee cherries on the roofs of their homes to dry in the sun. The Saut farmers group has taken a slightly less common approach, employing the use of raised beds instead of direct rooftop drying, which allows for more even drying of the cherries and less potential for exposure to contaminants that can negatively impact flavor in the cup.