Yemen has a coffee culture like no other place, and the distinct flavor profile can be partially credited to the old style of trade in the country. Yemen is the first place coffee was commercialized, traded through the port city of Al Mahka (Mokha). Yemeni coffee has a distinct, rustic flavor profile which can be attributed to the old seed stocks cultivated there, the near-drought condition in which the coffee survives, and (sadly) defects in the cup. These defects are usually due to poor picking and processing, delays in transporting the coffee, and the very humid climate of the port city, Al Hudaydah (or Hodeidah).
Hajja is situated at 1800 meters and is northwest of the capital of Sana’a. It is surrounded by the mountains of Al-Sharaqi Maswar and Bait Adhaqa from the south and Kohlan mountain from the east. Like other mountain towns in Yemen, Hajja was built as a fortified stronghold, with a palace and courtyard for the founder, Imam Ahmed. The greater Hajja district has one of the higher peaks in the area, Maswar, at 3000 meters. The coffee is actually grown slightly lower than the town, at 1675 to 1775 meters. Like all Yemeni coffee is is grown from local heirloom varietals, and dry-processed. It was prepared at the Rayyan Mill in Sana'a to very high standards, with a beautiful appearance to the green coffee, compared to other Yemeni coffees. This was part of the additional cost we paid for this new regional coffee, as well as returning the best prices possible the farmer and the mill.
This coffee is intensely sweet from the dry grounds, with dried banana and peaches, milk chocolate, and a heavy cream sweetness. Adding water, it gives a complex set of aromatics, with clean earth tones, cedar, sarsaparilla, vanilla bean, and a hint of fresh leather. On the break, cola nut and clove are released. The cup has a surprising sweetness, as well as plenty of rustic elements as found in the aromatics, the scents of exotic spices, incenses and fruits. There is a strong fruited note, of qishr tea (made from dried coffee cherry skins), lychee fruit, cantaloupe, cooked apples, and dried pineapple. The spice notes are multi-layered, baking spices like clove and allspice with a cinnamon-like woody accent. Along with an earthy hint, there is this note of fresh leather which seems to fade as the coffee rests. Whether a brewed cup or SO espresso, like all Yemeni coffee, this greatly benefits from a few days rest. 48 hours is great but we found 72 hours of post-roast rest to be best.
Ismaili is a "fabled" origin. Even in Yemen, in a local market in Sana'a, the spice-tea-qishr-coffee vendor told me his green beans (much of it broken "triage" coffee, mixed with cardamom pods) were truly special. "It's Ismaili coffee, " he said. I didn't mention that I slept on the floor of a villagers house the night before, in the mind-boggling vertical mountains of Ismaili, a landscape etched in stone with ancient terraces lined with ghat and coffee trees. The cup has always had a big spicy character, not the fruitiest Yemen coffee but with a unique flavor profile. It's amazing, with all the issues in Yemen, we were even able to get coffee exported in 2012. But here it is, and it is cupping really well.
Like most of our Yemeni coffees, Ismaili cups well along the whole roast spectrum, and its aroma and flavor profile is as variant as the roast possibilities. In the dry aroma, lighter roasts show milk chocolate, concord grape, strawberry, and banana bread, whereas darker roasts have dried banana, tobacco, and cacao nibs. The wet grounds smell of chocolate brownie, and mulling spices, while the break has a scent of Mexican hot cocoa, and pine. This is a very pleasant cup at City+/FC. There's a lot of dried fruit in the cup, such as tamarind, strawberry, apricot, and banana. It has a rustic sweetness that is akin to natural, unrefined sugars like muscavado, or turbinado. Full City+ roasts have a much more intense flavor profile with strong bittersweet notes throughout. It's still a relatively "spicy" cup, but more in line with root beer or even raw licorice root. There's lots of cacao in the finish alongside hints of aromatic wood, and tropical fruits. Dark roasts make a nice single origin (SO) espresso, and would also be a great component to an espresso blend. Whether cup or SO espresso, like all Yemeni coffee, Ismaili benefits from a few days rest. 48 hours is great but we found 72 hours to be best. This is even more true for espresso. The SO espresso was very intense and complex. With Ismaili it's fun to try a melange of 1/3 City+ roast and 2/3 FC or FC+ roast, either for drip or espresso.