Most agree that the original coffee plants were native to the western regions of Ethiopia. Coffee was recorded as a beverage as early as the 6th century, utilized by the Ottoman Empire. It was in Yemen, however, that these plants were finally cultivated and developed into the beans and beverage that we know today. History records Sufi monasteries on the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula processing Yemen coffee over 500 years ago. The Yemen farmers to the advantage of the unique terrain of their country, which has conditions of climate and environment that were not considered ideal growing conditions for other plants. For 200 years, Yemen was the only source of coffee. Originally the primary mode of travel was by camel, but later, this Arabic Coffee was named after the Mokha Port which is on the coast of the Red Sea, from which these were eventually shipped. By 1650, coffee became popular in Europe, spawning the beginning of coffee shops and café businesses.
The production process for Yemen Coffee beans has stayed the same for over 500 years. Small family farms plant on terraced fields carved into the Yemen landscape. The coffee plants are raised in the old way, without any use of chemicals. Once the fruit, referred to as “cherries” are ripe, they are hand-picked. The beans are not removed from the fruit, but dry-processed together. The fruit goes through a special drying period in caverns, and in some cases, on rooftops.
Once the fruit is dried, it’s easy to separate the beans from the husks, which are discarded. This leaves a very irregular and rough seed, which is the hallmark of Yemen coffee beans. The millstones that grind the beans are mostly turned by donkeys or camels. Even when grinding is powered by small gasoline engines, progress is slow with small output batches. Only the more aged and richly flavored beans are exported since they fetch a higher price. The territory in which this ancient coffee variety is cultivated is in a high altitude and drought-prone land. While these processing factors add to the rarity of these low production crops, it also accounts for the unique character of Yemen Coffee’s special flavor profile.