Dutch winds blew chilly outside World of Coffee 2018, but inside, at the Amsterdam RAI convention center, June 20th to 23rd were hot-ticket days.
Breaking records this year, nearly 11,000 professionals registered for WOC, according to its organizing body, the Specialty Coffee Association. At a pre-ribbon-cutting press conference prior to the trade show’s official opening, SCA chief events officer Cindy Cohn cited a presence of 271 exhibitors and called it “the best-looking event we’ve put on.” Later, on the competition floor, Agnieszka Rojewska from Poland made history by becoming the first woman in the contest’s 18-year existence to win the title of World Barista Champion.
Visitors to Amsterdam sometimes joke that they can’t remember much from their trips to the famously live-and-let-live city, but these five WOC booths proved unforgettable.
At WOC Amsterdam, the launch of Qima Coffee, a London-headquartered company sourcing specialty beans from Yemen, was bittersweet. “The Yemen Coffee Revolution Starts Here” read the slogan on the stand’s backdrop, a lively mocha- and gold-toned illustration of Sana’a’s ancient skyline. Helping lead that revolution is Faris Sheibani, a UK-born Yemeni who founded Qima in late 2016, seeking to do something for his parents’ country of origin, where civil war has killed, wounded, and displaced thousands of people since early 2015.
Booth-side, Sheibani and colleagues warmly received visitors, telling them about Qima’s debut collection. Some 800 smallholder farmers across northern and central Yemen produced about 250 coffee lots, which were cupped and scored by Dutchman-gone-Californian Willem Boot of Boot Coffee. For the expo, Cafe Keppler co-owner Kees Kraakman roasted sample beans and praised Sheibani, a former SCA course student of his, for “how he combines a moral cause with a commercial enterprise.” Some farmers can now earn 20 times more income working for Qima, said Brahim Boukadid, Qima’s commercial manager in the Netherlands. He reported that 10% of profits get reinvested in the farmers’ villages, supporting agriculture and education projects, though above all, he emphasized: “We want to give them hope with this coffee.”
Attendees showed avid interest in Qima, suggesting its commercial prospects in Europe are real. Those glimmers of hope, however, were overshadowed by a conspicuous absence: that of four Yemeni farmers and a Yemeni NGO worker who were expected to be part of the company’s Amsterdam delegation. Their visa requests to visit the Netherlands were denied twice after what Sheibani described in an impassioned video message as an arduous, time-consuming, and humiliating application process filed via the Dutch embassy in Amman, Jordan. The visa denial made headlines and generated social media posts hashtagged #freeourfarmers. Qima has been outspoken about the decision’s unjustness and its irony. In the same video, Sheibani stated: “The Dutch East India Company took—smuggled—seedlings from Yemen, coffee seedlings from Yemen, to Amsterdam to plant them in the botanical gardens in Amsterdam, illegally. Four hundred two years later, we wanted to legally… together with the Dutch, celebrate coffee culture.” Qima has since published a follow-up video, captioned as a “message of hope and coexistence from the farmers of Yemen to the people of the Netherlands and the world!”
At the time of writing, three of the farmers remain in Amman, Sheibani told Sprudge in an email shortly after he returned to the UK. He said that he is helping the farmers apply to other global coffee exhibitions so they can personally represent their coffees. “If they go back empty-handed, it would be a devastating blow to thousands of farmers following the events from Yemen and a significant setback to the Yemeni coffee industry in general,” wrote Sheibani. (For the latest news, follow Qima on Facebook.)