To adequately introduce Yemen as a coffee producing country requires almost a thousand years of history. Every coffee drinker on Earth has Yemen to thank for basically inventing it all: coffee as a commercial crop, smallholder value chains, international trade, and of course how to tastefully drink coffee in the first place.

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Yemen Coffee Beans


The origin of modern coffee is often mis-begun as a story of Europeans “discovering” an exotic new stimulant in the 17th century after a Turkish defeat in Vienna left behind the coffee they carried. However, centuries prior to Europeans catching on, Yemen was already importing and cultivating landrace coffee from Ethiopia, securing regular shipments grown and dried in Harar via Somali traders and even their own Sufi clergy, who found it useful as a stimulant during all-night devotions. Already by the early 1400s the coffee trade reached across the Arabian peninsula. By the 1500s Yemen was producing it themselves, in the form of terraced gardens on impossibly high and arid slopes across the country’s western mountains, often surpassing 2200 meters. Yemeni coffee farmers were the world’s first to engineer new environments to meet the needs of the important plant, and vice versa. Coffee farms here, particularly the older terraces of the Sana’a Governorate, remain some of the world’s most dramatic and iconic agriculture of any kind. 500 years of breeding and adapting coffee in Yemen’s uniquely drastic mountain climate has positioned Yemen as not only one of the most devoted national producers of coffee despite the odds, but also one of the most significant to the modern history of the plant. Genetic studies concluded by World Coffee Research confirm: nearly all the arabica coffee in the world, excluding the coffee grown in Ethiopia, descended from the early coffee farms of Yemen. And Yemen still has genotypes unseen anywhere else. 

Yemen’s coffee, like its cultivation style and climate, remains niche. Many buyers have a profound respect for its history and cup profiles, so much so that they’re willing to overlook flaws if need be to fulfill the origin’s place on their menu. All of Yemen’s coffee is produced as a sun-dried natural, cultivated, processed, and stored in staggeringly high and dry conditions. In the cup Yemen’s coffee can present heady aromatics of spice, perfume, fresh cut flowers, or fortified wine. It also tends to have a wide range of fruit profiles, from freshly cooked jam, to wine, to unsweetened dried fruit, to a faintly tart herbal tea. Earthiness is a Yemen hallmark as well, and has its own recognizable spectrum ranging from sweet milk chocolate all the way to a gamey or leathery balance. It’s difficult to describe Yemen’s coffee profiles to the uninitiated. Most people are startled by the flavors they find, some in life-changing ways, some not. On the whole Yemen struggles to produce consistently specialty grade coffee, but there are very consistent millers investing in farm management, premium programs, and centralized cherry drying determined to change this for the long term. 

Coffee is grown throughout Yemen’s western mountains, close to the country’s edge along the Red Sea. Coffee is almost exclusively produced by smallholder farmers, whose farms are not only remote, but sparse: 1,000 coffee trees per hectare is often the most a farm can support, compared to 4,000 or more per hectare in Latin America. As a result Yemen’s coffee is mostly sold as regional blends, with names like “Sanani”, “Hajjah”, or “Khulani” that derive from a particular governorate. Millers compete by having connections to their preferred farmers, helping to set standards for picking and processing, and then presenting top quality regional blends that stand out–in very rare cases perhaps even a single farm will sell on its own. 


Similar to Ethiopia, much of Yemen’s arabica stock is comprised of heirloom cultivars selectively bred over hundreds of years. Raising young coffee trees in Yemen, not only at high elevations but also one of the highest latitudes to produce specialty coffee, is a matter of hardening them for a lifetime of vicious elements and water scarcity, and the current genestock is unlike any other coffee producing country on the planet. Dawaery, Audaini, Tuffahi, and Jadi are common names for various arabica types, but of course there are untold cultivars throughout the country. Since typica and bourbon both originated in Yemen, it’s impossible to draw the traditional lineage that we do elsewhere. The coffee is literally something completely unique. Add to that the fact that dozens of farms are often blended to make even the smallest lot, and it becomes even rarer that isolated cultivars are available on the market, not unlike what we’ve come to love (and lament) about Ethiopia. More and more, the heirloom arabica here is being referred to using the umbrella term Yemenia. 

October to March is the dominant harvest period. And they typically begin to  ship in November and continue through the following spring.

All of Yemen’s coffee is hand-picked and sun-dried, traditionally on raised rooftops, but within select groups, raised screen beds are sometimes used. Coffee is still predominantly processed by farm, although central processing stations for whole farming communities have been established in the past few years in an effort to consolidate technique and increase quality. Notably, in Yemen the coffee’s dried husk is perhaps more valuable than the seed itself–used to make a hot or cold infusion that is drunk throughout the day.

Yemen’s coffee requires huge adversity to realize. Despite a long tradition of growing coffee and a deep cultural connection to the practice of farming it, infrastructure lacks the commercialization of many other prominent countries. There is also a strong culture of middle eastern consumption that values its own coffee perhaps more than anyone. Combine the high costs of production, the lack of reliable overland transit and export logistics, the overall scarcity of its coffee in the first place, the huge amount of demand from around the globe and among Yemeni coffee drinkers themselves, and you end up with a very justifiably expensive coffee compared to many other countries. It’s worth pointing out not the uniqueness of the coffee as an easy reason to pay the prices established, but the impact of doing so: Yemen continues to suffer from protracted conflict that has cost many lives and displaced over 3 million people. Two-thirds of the country is in need of food or medical aid, including an estimated 65% of coffee producers in the western highlands. With over 1 million citizens relying on the coffee business in Yemen (about 1 in 30 people), stable profit margins go a long way.