The History and Coffee Pedigree
Perched at the very edge of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen represents the beginning of the Arabian civilisation and is one of the Orient’s oldest civilisations. In the eighth century B.C., the dam of Marib—located in modern-day East Yemen—collapsed, resulting in the exodus of a substantial part of the area’s population. Residents spread north and settled throughout what would become today’s 23 Arab-speaking countries across the Middle East and North Africa. Yemen is known amongst the Arabs as the "Land of Origins."
The Mystical Bean
When one thinks of the countries around the world most associated with coffee, Yemen probably doesn’t come to mind. But coffee is closely connected to the country’s history. The drink is said to have been first consumed in Yemen in 1450 by the country’s mystical Sufi population who used the drink to help them stay awake during all-night prayers and meditations. Yemeni pilgrims spread coffee to the rest of the world through their regular pilgrimages to Mecca, eventually reaching Ottoman Istanbul, home of the world’s first coffeehouse.
The Rise and The Fall
Yemen prospered as coffee made its way around the world; in the early 1700s, virtually the entire country’s income came from coffee exports, and the whole world’s coffee supply came from Yemen. However with demand exploding, importing nations focused efforts on developing other sources for the bean. In the early 18th century, the Dutch East India Company began planting smuggled Yemeni coffee seeds in Ceylon and Java, eventually producing and exporting their own coffee. The French soon followed suit, planting Yemeni seeds in Reunion. Peasants and slaves in these countries were forced to grow and sell coffee at exploitative prices to the Dutch and French East India Companies. This marked the beginning of the coffee trade’s relationship with state corporate commercial capitalism. In the centuries that followed, during Europe's Industrial Revolution and the rise of bourgeois society, slavery, coffee growth, and plantations were inextricably linked. By 1800, Yemen was producing just 6 percent of the world’s coffee.
The decline of Yemeni coffee has continued to this day due to several factors, including the drop in global coffee prices as coffee moved away from being a specialty product to an interchangeable commodity, and internal competition from the narcotic leaf qat. With the global coffee market volatile and often at a low price, farmers have found they can make more from the qat plant, and many have reluctantly switched over. According to 2012 estimates, coffee production in Yemen amounted to 19,800 tons, while qat production was at 190,800 tons. Today, Yemeni coffee accounts for less than 0.1 percent of the world’s coffee.
Yemen, Qima and The Revival
Yemen needs help, and we formed Qima Coffee to provide it through specialty coffee. We know that Yemen is capable of producing world-class coffee: Its vast desert landscape gives way to the high altitudes (1,400-2,500 masl), temperate climates, and fertile soil needed to grow specialty coffee. A Yemeni micro-lot earned Coffee Review’s highest score ever of 97, and it’s common for coffees from Yemen to score 90+ from accredited cuppers.
Sourcing coffee from across the country, Qima Coffee aims to offer a full picture of Yemeni coffee and all it has to offer in the cup: bright and complex acidity, notes of candied fruit, dried berries, dark chocolate and a distinctive winey taste. Its flavours are on the same quality level as the coffees that discerning aficionados line up for every day across the world.
Yemen’s coffee history is indisputably rich. With patience, passion, and attention to detail, we believe we can make the future of Yemeni coffee equally fruitful.