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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

1. general
as expected, there was almost no statistical data of production and even export volume of Yemeni coffee available to us. we neigher found any reasonable map with alphabetic indications. total production figure has been said to be around: 200,000 bags by a private exporter
195,000 bags by latest USDA
50,000 bags in website by Wataru Japan
anyway, it seems that nobody doesn't care much about the production size of this unique specialty coffee.
production trend appears to be steady to slightly down due to the new planting of Qat which is resistant to the cold dry weather and gives bigger and more frequent cash income to the farmers.

2. producing area
main producing areas are namely Bani Matar, Hayma and Harraz located quite close to the capital Sana'a, maybe within 100 kms distance. the access to the main towns of these regions is quite easy by alfalted roads from Sana'a but the roads inside the coffee producing areas are extremely steep and rough. the coffees are planted wither on the terraces 'sustained' on the steep valley (with highest point at 2200m a.s.l.) or on the dry river bed down to the bottom of the valley (lowest point at 1450m a.s.l.).
no chemical input. only goat shit sometimes especially on the terraces where the soil is not as fertile as on the river bed. but the amount of the cherries on the trees looked quite big in spite of the poor dry appearance of the coffee plantation. my personal guess is that the soil of the coffee plantation is quite rich in mineral thanks to the original nature of the land which is said to be formed by ancient activity of the volcanos.
the main difficulty for the farmers is the water supply. on the dry river bed, the farmers are digging wells 5-10 meters deep to pump up the water. but the farmers on the terraces seem just dependent on the rain.

3. processing and flow of coffee
all the yemeni coffee is sundried. this sound natural considering the lack of water.
the producers dry the cherries on the ceiling of the houses only down to relative high moisture (20%??). this is for the easier hulling of dry pulp husks in a good condition. such hulled pulp husk is called as Kashr or Kshir etc and people drink its infusion with spices such as Cardamon. this infusion is called KAHAWA in yemen! the coffee beens are almost byproduct of Kashr.
the hulling is done by the collectors with offices in producing area or more dominantly in Sana'a. these collectors should have outlets of both Kashr to the local market and Coffee beans to either exporters or direct oversee buyers such as Saudis.
the latest process of the coffee beens seems to vary depending on the exporters. only one expoter, Yemen Coffee Processing, from whom we buy, has a sophysticated sorting machines in Sana'a. others are said to do the hand-sorting in Hodeidah city with tropical climate.

4. exporters
there seems to be only 3-5 reliable exporters such as: AL Kbous mainly selling to Wataru Japan
Al-Haj M.A. Sowaid selling to VSC (to STBX?) Yemen Coffee Processing selling to VLO and other buyers in Euro/USA. Al-Hamdani having their own buying station close to Bani Matar but rather small in export volume

5. smuggling
there is some stories about smuggling of coffee from neighboring countries resold as yemeni origin cert.
the such smuggled coffees are rumored to be Harrar of Ethiopia and Mbuni (natural) of Kenia. the port used for such smuggling is said to be Aden of ex-south yemen.
it is possible that those 'Matari' coffee sold with such grading as No7, No9 are such smuggled/resold ethiopian/kenian coffee.

6. Yemen Coffee Processing
we started to buy from this exporter since 1995. their establishment is rather new at 1988. they had intended the coffee production and export business on a joint venture with a italian partner but, due to unknown reason, such italian partner backed off leaving Yemen Coffee forced to continue with the investment of about 1.6 mio ud$ for the sorting and roasting machinery.
this company is family owned and diversified into a travel agency and some import of product such as tires etc. the advantages of this exporter over the other competitors are definitely the only sophysticated sorting machinery and the location of such processing plant and warehouse at the altitude of 2700 meter a.s.l. on a hill just outside of Sana'a making the storage condision almost perfect until the loading into the container, which is also done at the same warehouse under close supervision by the manager.

7. Yemen Coffee Association
an association of the participants to the yemeni coffee industry has been formed backed by USAID last april.
the members are representatives of those exporters, collectors/intermediaries and some big(?) producers. although i didn't get much detail about their activity, the main purpose is the 'education' of the farmers to improve the quality of the coffee at farm level, i.e. picking of only red ripe cherries etc, and also to facilitate the direct access of the exporters to the farmers skipping the intermediaries.
but i saw it quite contradictory to have such collectors/intermediaries into the association in spite of such purpose. also traveling to the coffee producing areas, the farmers don't seem to be in need of or interested in such oversee aid. contrary, the farmers appeared to be quite satisfied and even proud to continue their traditional coffee producing culture which has been 'sustained' over various centuries.

m. hiroike



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 Jambir 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 Rounded Shape of Shibriqi Mokha Shibriqi coffee cherry is smaller than Tufahi, and has a very rounded shape

Yellowing cherries 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 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 Saih Valley Coffee Family He wanted a picture with his little boys and girls...

Qat, the edible part 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 Typical Roadside View in Yemen Qat in the foreground, town, and terraces for agriculture.

Al Hagarah 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 "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 Links:

Sweet Maria's Travelogue - November 2007 Yemen Coffee "Haj"

David Roche (CQI) and Steve McCarthy Article

USAID Yemen Coffee Assessment by Daniele Giovannucci

Yemen: Comments from A Japanese Broker

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