Introduction by Evan Gilman
Yemeni coffee is dear to our hearts, and when 36466 – Yemen Mocca Sanani landed we were more than thankful. The current situation on the ground in Yemen is less than ideal for anyone – let alone coffee tradespeople – and to see this coffee on our cupping table was assurance that at least something was staying the same.
The unique nature of Yemeni coffee exists for a litany of different reasons. The geography demands cultivars that can withstand extreme drought and still produce fruit. Coffee farmers frequently dig individual pits for each plant in order to shield the coffee from the elements, and to conserve water that might otherwise evaporate.
Due to the harsh climate as well as natural and human selection, Yemeni coffee is some of the most genetically diverse outside of wild grown Ethiopian types. Another factor in its unique profile is the likelihood that these cultivars were brought to Yemen more than 1,500 years ago, effectively separating them from endemic Ethiopian coffee.
The beverage culture in Yemen uses the pod (the dried cherry) of the coffee plant more than the seed, for a beverage called qishr. The best qishr results from pods that have not been dried to a crispy state, but rather semi-soft and pliable for easy removal from the seed. This practice results in coffee that has been dried fully but rehydrated to remove the fruit, or coffee that has been stored at a medium-to-low moisture content until hulling and export.
This, as you may have guessed, causes the coffee to have a unique flavor. Deep rustic fruitiness, extremely thick body, and curious ethereal notes are consistent across these coffees. These attributes may have as much to do with the processing method as they do with the terroir; this area of the coffee world is ripe for a deeper look. It’s rather difficult to study Yemeni coffee at this juncture, however some people are doing just that.
So while drinking 36466 – Yemen Mocca Sanani, keep in mind the deep and cultivated history of Yemen. We think you’ll taste it in the cup.
36466 – Yemen Mocca Sanani isn’t a terribly pretty coffee, and basically breaks all the green grading rules. The moisture and water activity are high. The density is remarkably low. The screen size is widely spread out and generally small. The green coffee is mottled green and yellow; there are some partial beans and some discolorations. And the fragrance isn’t what you’d expect from a clean washed mild Central. That’s kinda the point, though. Yemen is blessed with unparalleled history, uncommon elevation, and unusual access to great varieties; it is cursed by famine and war and unforgiving climate. Out of all of this comes a distinctive coffee that defies convention at nearly every turn.
Roast Analysis by Jen Apodaca
Our 36466 – Yemen Mocca Sanani is an unusual and exciting coffee to roast. The high moisture and low density, I charged the drum low and waited for my rate of rise to drop to 10 degrees over 30 seconds before increasing my gas (except in the case of PR-0179 that was already set to 3 gas). I have been roasting coffee for 11 years and this is the first time that I have had the chance to really explore how a nice coffee from Yemen reacts in the roaster. I wanted to take full advantage of this opportunity and observe a number of roasts and compare them on the cupping table.
The three roasts in the graphs were some of the most successful roasts of the day. PR-0177 and PR-0179 are both relatively short roasts when looked at side by side. The major difference between the two was the end temperature. PR-0177 was pulled from the drum 5 degrees before second crack, while PR-0179 was pulled from the drum during the start of second crack. PR-0180 was also quite nice on the table and was roasted to the start of second crack as well, but with an extended overall roast time.
One of the most interesting things I found is that the roasts were much darker than most coffees taken to second crack. I have roasted coffee up to and through second crack many times and have not roasted this dark before (70 colortrack!). Surprisingly, there was no carbon or scorched flavor notes in the cup. All of the cups on the table tasted of sweet prunes, dense chocolate cake, and even a hint of cherry and pineapple with a heavy, syrupy body. The 36466 – Yemen Mocca Sanani was made for roasting dark and is incredibly sweet. I hope you get the opportunity to roast this coffee and taste it for yourself.
Brew Analysis by Evan Gilman
For the 36466 – Yemen Mocca Sanani, we focused specifically on how the different roast levels and methodologies provided by Jen affected the finished product, specifically in filter-brewed coffee.
It was immediately apparent that this coffee was less soluble than some other coffees we have worked with (see Table 1); this may be one reason why people prefer Yemeni coffees to be brewed in a full-suspension method like a French press or an ibrik where it is easy to add agitation.
What this means for filter drip is that we need to do whatever we can to get the tasty bits dissolved. Our effective variables include increased temperature, agitation, finer grind settings, and an increased ratio of coffee to water. My first course of action was to grind the coffee finer. You can see the results in Table 2; it worked!
Since I wanted to maintain a heavier mouthfeel, I decided against using more water and chose more agitation. A finer grind was also an option at this stage, but I thought adding one different variable would be illustrative. See the results of more agitation in Table 3; unfortunately, this time it didn’t work.
So what’s left? I decided to make the grind even finer, since that worked the first time around. Just to give you perspective, I normally wouldn’t grind below the ‘8’ setting on a standard set-up EK43 when grinding for Chemex. For the brew represented in Table 4, I set the grind to ‘6.’ Lo and behold, optimal extraction was achieved.
This rebel of a coffee broke many rules before getting to me, and it followed through by breaking more rules. Perhaps we should take a hard look at the ibrik as an example of how to brew Yemeni coffee. There must be a reason people grind so fine, agitate so thoroughly, and bring the coffee near to boil three times… was it all in the pursuit of a higher dissolved solids percentage? Probably not – but it did take a significant amount of work to get the most out of the 36466 – Yemen Mocca Sanani!