While the odds might be stacked against coffee in general, Yemeni coffee might take home the gold medal for overcoming hardships to make it to your cup. Its climate is dry and unforgiving and its people beleaguered by war, disease and famine. Yet Yemen is blessed with unparalleled history, uncommon elevation, and unusual access to a wealth of genetic diversity. Out of all of this comes a distinctive coffee that defies convention at nearly every turn.
This exceptional selection from Al-Haymah, just southwest of the country’s capital city of Sana’a, comes to us from a company called Pearl of Tehama run by Fatoum Muslot. Mrs. Muslot is the daughter of Ali Hibah Muslot; Royal has been buying coffee from the Muslot family now since 1984. Elsewhere on the blog you can read an extended interview with Fatoum to hear more of her story in her own words.
The coffee farming community in Al-Haymah is tiny. This lot represents the work of about 23 farming families from 6 sub-districts who average 600 trees each, some have as many as 2000, some as few as 200. Mrs. Mouslot has worked tirelessly to improve practices and traceability for her coffees, down to providing the names of each of the individual farmers who grow each lot of coffee she has supplied this year.
Yemen’s contributions to the history and culture of coffee are impossible to overstate. It is where the crop was first commercially cultivated. Sufi Imams would bring coffee into popular use during late night vigils in Yemen’s port of Aden in the mid 15th century, which served as the gateway to coffee for the rest of the world.
As with so many “discoveries” through the course of history, a confluence of serendipitous conditions precipitated its popularity. The world was globalizing and the Islamic world was unifying and emerging from a centuries-long cultural renaissance. 15th century Yemen had recently undertaken major agricultural developments under the Rasulid dynasty, including the introduction of irrigation technology; coffee could be cultivated with ease by independent local smallholders. The peninsula lent the species its name, Arabica, and established its own unique consumption trends including q’shir, a brew made from the dried cherry skins and husks with spices. Innovations like roasting, grinding, and the ibrik (or cezve) coffee pot were soon to follow.
We’re pleased to present this sustainably sourced Yemeni coffee to the American market with all its glimmering dried fruit flavors in both 10kg Crown Jewel boxes and 60kg Ecotact lined bags.
A special-looking Yemeni coffee by the physical readings, as so much that has been exported to the US in recent years tends to be pretty poorly graded. This Al-Haymah, however, is nicely dried and the mill did a nice job of sorting out the broken beans. Yemeni coffees across the board tend to be small and a little low in density; this coffee is no exception.
Yemen, apart from Ethiopia, boasts the world’s greatest genetic diversity of varieties, and was once thought to be the origin of the species Arabica – so named by Carl Linnaeus for the peninsula that supplied the world at the time. Coffee does grow wild in parts of Yemen, and the landrace varieties are not well documented. The country is the origin of both Typica – the genetic parent of nearly all the world’s Arabica – and its small-berry mutation, Mocha/Mokka, not coincidentally the same name as the old port city through which it would have reached the rest of the world.
Fatoum Muslot identifies this lot as mostly Jadee (also spelled “Jaadi”) landraces. Landrace, a term also employed recently by Getu Bekele and Tim Hill in their excellently documented exploration of Ethiopian coffee varieties, indicates that the coffee is a “wild” heirloom plant, not a selection or breeding crafted in a lab.
Yemen coffee is as much as a delight to roast as it is a mystery to me. In my professional experience, not many have crossed my cupping table and I am grateful for every chance I get to roast these coffees. Looking at the green, the low density reading and is familiar, but the moisture content is a little higher than the coffees I remember roasting last year. Also in my experience, Yemen coffee is incredibly sweet at darker roast levels. Ikawa Roast (1) is a very long roast with a higher than normal end temperature than I usually roast for the Ikawa analysis. For contrast, I chose one of my dependable roast profiles that I use when I want more developed flavors in a coffee. Ikawa Roast (1) tasted like blackberry and dark chocolate and was extremely sweet without a roasty bitterness. Ikawa Roast (2) had a nice acidity like cherry pie but tasted slightly underdeveloped with sweet cereal grains and honey.
With such a unique coffee I was curious to see how the two different Ikawa profiles would play out in the Probatino. This coffee hit first crack extremely late, at almost 403 °F, which is the highest first crack temperature that I have experienced on the Probatino. With that in mind, I adjusted my expected end temperatures accordingly. Probatino Roast (1) with an end temperature of 415 °F cupped on the table as a very light roast. There was a sparkling acidity like strawberry lemonade most likely due to the short post crack development time which was just over a minute. I decided to take Probatino Roast (2) much darker, close to second crack. With an end temperature os 428 °F and 1:45 minutes of post crack development time, this coffee had several positive hallmarks of a dark roast, but no carbon aftertaste. The acidity and the jammy fruits were still vibrant and there was even a delightful note of cardamom to add complexity. This coffee needs more time in the drum, but make sure to watch your heat just before and after first crack. With its high water activity and low density, this coffee accelerates quickly after first crack.
Unless otherwise noted, I follow a set standard of operations for all my Behmor roasts. Generally, I’ll use the 1lb setting, manual mode (P5), full power, and high drum speed until crack. Read my original post and stats here.
For this week’s Crown Jewel selections, I decided to try something different. Instead of manipulating heat application using the profile/power level buttons, I opted to open the door of the roaster while maintaining 100% heat application. This was for a number of reasons. I have seen this technique used on many forums, and while the Behmor manual does not directly endorse this method, it isn’t outwardly condemned. I have used this technique very sparingly in the past, but not explicitly. So I gave it a shot, this time with more intention.
This Yemen seemed a good candidate because I wanted to achieve better internal development while maintaining some of the acids. My goal was to reach first crack slowly and gently. With high heat, I knew that this coffee may have a tendency to rush through first crack, and that was the last thing I wanted in this case.
The plan worked out swimmingly as far as I could tell. I began opening the door slightly (about a 2 inch aperture, for 10 seconds at a time) just as I sensed first crack coming on. This happened to be about 1 minute before first crack. I rolled into first crack slowly, and while there was a distinct beginning to true cracking, it was consistent and gentle – not a cascade of popping. My internal and external numbers from the ColorTrack were much closer than in previous roasts. I achieved 14.4% roast loss, but I do feel like this coffee’s flavor profile is positively accentuated by more developed roast levels.
On the cupping table, this coffee fared very well. Acidity was maintained, and there was definite deep sweetness. Upon cooling, a touch of baked flavor came out, but this wasn’t apparent until nearly 45 minutes into the cupping. This is a classic coffee with plenty of room to break out into the third wave market. Take a look at Sandra’s brew explorations below, there’s plenty to love about this unique and sweet coffee.
Like many younger coffee professionals, I only started hearing about Yemeni specialty coffee in the last couple years. I’ve had the honor of tasting it several harvests in a row now, and can attest to this origin’s unique character and consistently improving quality. On the cupping table this Al-Haymah offered plenty of dried fruit, especially dates and blueberry, as well as some caramel and almond. There was also a certain dustiness reminiscent of cannabis that is unique to this region and improves the resulting cup.
Filter coffee seemed like a good starting point, but I wanted the coffee to spend a bit more time in contact with the water to maximize extraction, but didn’t want to go for a full immersion brew. The Saint Anthony Industries ceramic C70 cone brewer has a narrower angle than the V60, and the taller column allows the coffee to dwell in the brew water a little longer. This was my device of choice, and it seemed to pay off. With minimal adjustments I was able to produce a cup full of sweet figs, dried berries, hibiscus, almond, and tobacco.
I felt it was important to pull this coffee on espresso as well; there’s a contingent of people who remember what coffees from this origin tasted like a decade or two ago and may be curious to see how this latest crop from Fatoum Muslot holds up. Once again, I experienced the delight of an easy dial; with just a few modifications I was able to pull a 1:1.5 shot full of raisin and currant sweetness, grape and raspberry top notes, and a foundation based in a thick mouthfeel, nut butter and dried dates.
I’ll confess that I was surprised at how delightfully this coffee brewed on different devices and ratios – for some reason I was sure it would be tricky to dial up the fruit sweetness while dialing back the mild dustiness it showed from time to time. Instead, it was easy to dial and was inherently tasty across brew methods. This is on top of the fact that it’s very exciting to witness the resurgence of high quality coffee from Yemen. Purchasing, roasting and brewing the coffee makes one feel like they’re participating in an exciting and delicious moment in history.