|This is a report by a Japanese broker for Volcafe, with some funny comments -Tom||I added some picture from my Yemen trip to liven things up here. Clicking on the images will take you to my Yemen travelogue.|
Yemen trip; Comments from a Japanese Broker
with Mr. Sakamoto, Managing Director of Key Coffee to visit one of the oldest coffee producing countries for the first time for both Volcafe Osaka and Key Coffee
2. producing area
3. processing and flow of coffee
6. Yemen Coffee Processing
7. Yemen Coffee Association
After my trip to Yemen, it was clear that quality improvements must be made to secure an even higher price for Yemeni coffee. Most of those issues are eloquently addressed in the above report, but I would underscore a couple things.
The goal is not to transform Yemeni coffee into something else, but to make it even more of what it is; it's distinction is not only rooted in the unique cultivar and agronomy, but also in the culture of the people who produce it. How do you make improvements that actually promote the culture of the coffee producers, and allow them to farm their coffee traditionally, without contradicting or eroding those traditions at the same time? Mr. Sowaid was very interested in traveling to India to buy post-harvest cleaning equipment for his warehouse in Hodeida, but was as adamant about making improvements to the process as he was about continuing to employ all of the women who sort the coffee. As I wrote in my travelogue, Yemeni coffee is produced by a human machine, a complex network that has an obligation to employ Yemeni people at all levels. The idea of making that system more efficient, or cutting out middlemen, of automating the sorting, etc, is antithetical to the cultural practice of coffee production in Yemen.
It is of the utmost importance that the pure Mokha seedstock be maintained; there is no seed to experiment with cultivars in Yemen, except to map the current genome. Any hybridizing or other methods of "improvement" would quickly and completely erode on of the key factors that makes Yemen coffee so special. While shade trees are used in some valley areas (such as Saih from my travelogue), I can't see how they can be used on the terraces. One area where improvement can be made is in the exportation. The first issue is the fact that coffee is sorted and cleaned in Hodeida, not Sana'a. The problem is the poor climate of the coastal areas. The catch is that the women who do the sorting, many with 20+ years experience, are mostly Afro-Arab people of Hodeida. To Mr. Sowaid, there was no way around this. If coffee is cleaned promptly in Hodeida, loaded on the ship in the proper place (not the top container in the stack, away from the engines and other heat sources) and if the ship departs promptly, the quality of the coffee seems to be intact. But if any delay occurs, there is damage to the lot. At the prices Yemeni coffee currently obtains (and a future higher price for regional coffees of top quality), we are going to experiment with vacuum packaging, locking in the coffee at 11% moisture and see what the results are after the 45-60 days of transit. As a small scale test, it should be interesting to cup the results side-by-side with jute-bagged coffee. Multiple layers of craft paper liner might be a worthwhile test too.
As I had mentioned, the lack of cupping is unusual. I do not doubt that there is no professional level cupping lab in Yemen. The collectors, bulkers, and exporters all use visual references to evaluate the quality of green coffee. They have fantastic experience in this type of evaluation, but to move forward towards greater quality, and to communicate with buyers, cupping needs to be instituted. To this end, we brought many cupping room supplies to Yemen, and have shipped a Behmor 1600 roaster to Mr. Sowaid to replace his air popcorn popper! We have also suggested meeting in Ethiopia in February to do some cupper training, or to meet in Yemen for several days for the same purpose. We are also sending a small home vacuum bagger to make some tests. -Tom
Trusty No. 11 and jambia
Well armed, but for no apparent reason than looks. When Ali told me that
it's simply a tradition to have a gun around in rural areas, I told him
it was just about the same in the US, it's just the guns look a little
different. This one is called the No. 11, from Russia.
Rounded Shape of Shibriqi Mokha Shibriqi coffee cherry is smaller than Tufahi, and has a very rounded shape
Yellowing cherries Here we found coffee cherry that was turning yellow, but it is not a yellow cultivar (ie. turns yellow when it ripens). This appeared to be a nutritional problem, or lack of water. It looked to me as if there was very little composting, and the soil around the coffee appeared too fine, too heavy, too silty, without organic material.
Checking out the Coffee Cherry We came across a guy resting after picking some coffee (not the guy in the image - that's me.) In Central America you see pickers with huge amounts of cherry, but with such low production in Yemen, with so little coffee in the trees, this was a miniscule bag in comparison.
Saih Valley Coffee Family He wanted a picture with his little boys and girls...
Qat, the edible part Qat is very mild really, but is a stimulant. (If it was something, like alcohol, that could lead to unconciousness, it would be forbidden under Islam). You eat the very fine leaves and stems from the tips and outer branches.
Typical Roadside View in Yemen Qat in the foreground, town, and terraces for agriculture.
Al Hagarah On the way to Haras, Yemen, you pass this especially imposing town, Al Hagarah. By the way, there's always a variety of way to spell things in Yemen. I was given the names of Al Hagrah, Al Hajrah, and Al Hagarah for this town.
"Heavy" Production At any other coffee origin, this tree would be either removed, heavily pruned to increase next year's production, or fed a lot of organic (or non-organic) fertilizer. But in Yemen, that's a lot of coffee cherry for a tree.
Yemen: Comments from A Japanese Broker
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