The Coffee Haj: A first trip to Yemen

Yemen Saihi ValleyIt took a week to sort through all these 900 pictures, but my little travelogue for Yemen is ready more or less, just 350 photos or so. You can view it here at Sweet Maria’s, or on our new beta site Image Gallery. It’s one of the most intriguing coffee origins I have visited.  We  went to get the lay of the land, and get some sense of the very complex network of traders, collectors and importers within the country. I went with Duane from Stumptown (Portland/Seattle), and we bounced along the incredibly steep, rocky terrain for a week, breathed a lot of second hand cigarette smoke, chewed a lot of qat (see the travelogue to find out about qat), sat on the floors of the locals, a slept there once too. Hopefully this will mean some interesting Yemeni offerings for both our companies in March or so, when main crop Yemeni shipments start to arrive.

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8 Responses to “The Coffee Haj: A first trip to Yemen”


  1. 1 Steve Hobaugh

    I don’t really know what to say except thanks so very much for the pictures. I am really impressed with the coffee terraces. that was really amazing. And the Coffee Nursery too.
    The picture really is worth a thousand words.
    Steve

  2. 2 Thompson

    Thanks Steve – so many pictures, I am actually surprised somebody made it through all of them! Congrats … -Tom

  3. 3 Steve Hobaugh

    It only took a hour plus a little more, I really enjoyed looking at them very much. I was amazed at how they grow the coffee there compared to say the farms pictured just to the right of my writing this message in brazil there. It makes sense that the Yemen coffee is always a dollar or two more than other origins. with those kind of growing conditions
    And the some of those houses looked cool too. and old…
    Steve

  4. 4 Leslie Davis

    hi thompson-
    how’s it going? just checking out your blog… wow. these photos are amazing. thanks for posting them. it’s so cool that coffee takes you to so many interesting, faraway, and ancient lands. your photos from yemen brought back memories of my travels in turkey. a lot of similarities in the landscape, the beautiful children, not seeing many women out in public, etc.
    hope you and your family are doing well. how’s the little guy?
    best, Leslie

  5. 5 Hassaan

    Hi,
    I read about your coffee trip to Yemen on the website. I am grateful that you wrote about it and posted pictures. Yemeni coffee is my favourite. Since I live in Norway, its very hard to get hold of it here, also because Ethopian coffee is dominant here. In a sense I have had a mixed feeling about your (vague and>>diplomatic) conclusion on Yemeni coffee, especially at end of the two articles you have provided at the end of the webpage. “Human machine”, I am glad that this tradition is still intact, because this allows for so many jobs especially for poor people. A single women in this system is able to provide for the whole family (many places in Asia, their is a simillar system). “Cupping”, I understand that you wish to increase the quality of Yemeni coffee. But will it not also open for more rejection of the lots by Westeren markets? What I mean is that, the Yemeni`s are doing things as they have been doing for centuries. Now a days organic products are almost rare items. Vegetables get discarded because they do not have the right “shape”, even if twists and bends are natural. It would be sad to see a global market transform the traditional Yemeni coffe. The reason why I think Yemeni coffee is popular among Saudi Arabians is because of the “first cup” one tastes in the desert. Which their grandfather made on the open fire. I still remember my first cup of Yemeni coffe its scent, colour and taste. Among the Arabian “nomads” (even tough many of them work in the stock exchange now), I think that taste is still embroided in their memory and their elders memories. In this article : http://www.sweetmarias.com/Yemen_Roche_McCarthy.html
    I found a trange statement : “Yemen Cupping Training:Yemen has little or no coffee culture, even though there exists a rich history of coffee production.”
    Altough it contradicts his writing in the begining of the article:”Coffee is literally part of Yemeni culture.” Coffee, especially Yemeni has special spiritual place in my heart. Or else I would not had written this long email/commentary. There is this interesting essay entitled : “Coffee The Wine of Islam” just to prove that the coffe culture in Yemen is still deep, but maybe practised by few people.
    http://www.superluminal.com/cookbook/essay_coffee.html
    In the end, I apologize for writing this big note of idealistic thoughts!
    And again, I am grateful that you wrote your tavelog about Yemen!
    Best wishes,
    Hassaan.

  6. 6 Thompson

    I agree completely Hassaan; any changes suggested to improve the quality of Yemeni coffee must be done in accordance with the way they currently produce coffee, and have done for centuries. The things that need to be changed are few … but there are problems that coffee villages are facing that need to be addressed. There is so little water, and new ways to conserve water for crops and for humans needs to be implemented. How many times did I see garden hoses taped together to supply a small community, and it was leaking so much water – a loss to the people and the coffee. The other problem is that qat uses more water, is more profitable, so people take out coffee in favor of qat. Yemen coffee will always get a good price, even for medium quality. What we want is a Great price for Great quality. This will make it worthwhile for farmers who want to make coffee economically sustainable, rather that relying so much on qat. As far as David’s comment, I think he meant that there is no coffee “cupping” in Yemen to determine quality. I know he didn’t mean there is no coffee “culture”. -Tom

  7. 7 Hassaan

    By the way, did you speak to any other coffee traders then Mr. Sowaid?
    What did he think about the current irrigation system and how it could be improved?
    (Do you have any pictures of when they were watering the plants? Any more information about the irrigation systems in Yemen(mostly lack of them)?
    A friend of mine is almost done with his Phd in water irrigation and waste water management systems, I could talk to him about some clever ideas, as suggestions here on the blog)
    I think it is important that the coffee business, demand the government for better systems. Because coffee is one of Yemen`s few export articles. Libya has the most advanced irrigation systems in the whole region, and they also export their expertise and equipment. If Mr.Sowaid, or other coffee traders have any political connections, they should try to get help from them.
    But fixing immediate problems such as “leaky hoses”, is something that the coffee traders themselves can help implement. It is extremely important that they take an active role in communicating with the farmers.
    There is a (conspiracy)theory that the Somalis were invaded by Ethiopians, because the “Islamic Courts” banned qat in Somalia. Qat politics and economy is relatively huge in the region near Horn of Africa. I have no idea how one could counter the qat culture in Yemen. Maybe trough the popularization of the coffee house culture and by showing the farmers(as you emntioned) that there is more export demand for coffee then qat? But information such as usage of Yemen`s water resources on qat and how much an average person wastes money on it(I do not like qat, so I have to do propaganda against it), maybe could also help change the attitude towards qat(highly doubt that). I am not saying this to increase the coffee production of Yemen, but because Yemen is a poor country ,and it should use its land and natural resources wisely.
    It is very honorable of you, to care for the people of Yemen!
    Best Regards,
    Hassaan.

  8. 8 Hussein

    Hi all
    Thank you Steve for these lovely nice pictures, I would like to add my comments and my opinion to what Mr Hassan said we can’t modernize farming in Yemen, what we could do is to improve the traditional methods that in practise in Yemen, Yemen farming land is limited there is shortage of water and no way we could use advance methods of farming. What I am suggesting to improve Yemeni coffee is to educate the farmers and invest in water solutions and technology. I am from Yemen and I love Yemeni coffee I normally travel hundreds of Kilometres to buy my coffee from remote region for my exclusive coffee, as Mr Hassan said it is all about “first cup” I remember my mum making coffee in the morning the aroma of coffee all over the house and I could smell it even when I walk outside the house. I am from Yemen and I have visited many farmers and I always talk to them about coffee I found out that traders are to be responsible for this bad coffee situation in Yemen, the Yemeni government it is to be held responsible for destroying the last chapter of Yemeni coffee, What I mean here Yemeni government have some coffee nurseries to help coffee farmer but what is dreadful all trees in the one type of coffee in some nurseries so in 30 years we will have one type of coffee in Yemen and some nurseries small coffee tree has no information so farmer will find out what coffee he picked when his tree start produce coffee fruits .what make it worse the coffee nurseries with one type of coffee called” Toffahi” local name it does not produce coffee every year only once every 2 years.
    I am planning to invest in Yemeni coffee farming myself no need for government or traders to help.
    Thanks,
    Hussein

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