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The Yemeni Coffee Industry

Posted by Meera Nair on

A country in the Middle East, Yemen is not as widely spoken of as other countries that produce and distribute coffee on a global scale.

But Yemen played a crucial role in the spread of coffee as a caffeinated beverage to the rest of the world.

Once upon a time, Saudi Arabia and the US were the major importers of Yemeni coffee, but over time, due to the war-ridden state of the nation, its coffee exports became inaccessible and expensive.

Today, Yemen doesn’t export nearly as much coffee as it once did. But still, their coffees are something to be relished.

Let’s understand more about Yemen’s coffee history and traits.


Zabid is considered to be the first city in Yemen where coffee was brewed and consumed.

In the 15th century, coffee cultivation started in Yemen; many Sufi monks took initiative to begin coffee farming in the mountainous terrains of Yemen and also partake in the trade of the crop.

Yemen maintained a stronghold on the coffee trade globally for as long as 200 years. 

Around the 17th century, coffee exports made up such significant revenue for Yemen that more and more people got into the cultivation of coffee crops.

As coffee began to be grown in other countries around the 18th century, at more feasible conditions and using cheaper labour, the cost of coffee became such that Yemen gradually began to lose its place at the head of the table.

yemen coffee history and basics

Moreover, growing political tension in the nation in the 20th century led to a further decline in coffee cultivation.

The unfortunate fact is that today, not even a percent of the world’s coffee comes from Yemen.

Did you know that there’s a Yemeni port city called Mokha, which gives its name to the mocha coffee you know of?

Coffees produced in Yemen tend to have a decadent nutty, sweet, chocolatey flavour. Most of what’s available today in coffee shops as mocha coffee is just inspired by the flavours of the Yemeni coffee, and isn't actually brewed with Yemeni coffee beans


  • Traditionally, in Yemen, something called qishr is prepared with the husks of dried coffee cherries, ginger, and cinnamon.

    It is consumed as a hot beverage, not unlike black tea. But these days, qishr is also made with dried coffee grounds as they are more easily available than coffee husks. Qishr has less caffeine and a spiced flavour.

  • White coffee is a trend that originated in Yemen and has now gained popularity the world over.

    It’s a unique take that has to do with how the coffee beans are roasted and ground. In a white coffee, the beans are roasted for a much smaller duration at 325 F. At the end of this roasting process, the beans are rather tough.

    The resulting brew is of a pale, beige colour, probably where the name white coffee comes from. It’s less bitter, has a bright acidity, and has a nutty taste.

    In Yemen, white coffee is served with hawaij, which is a mix of spices such as cumin, pepper, cardamom, etc.


yemeni coffee flavour

A lot of coffee grown in Yemen is of the Bourbon variety, which gives it the fruity-chocolatey flavour.

These dry-processed coffees are full-bodied, with a wine-like acidity, and have a complex flavour profile with some earthy notes.

Sanani is one of the regions in Yemen where coffee is grown. The coffees from here are fruity, medium-bodied and less acidic.

The Yemeni coffee experience is one that many people would appreciate, but unfortunately, it isn’t as easy to come by.

Courtesy of the National Yemen Coffee Association, a platform that enables Yemeni farmers to participate in a global auction, there are some prized bags of Yemeni coffee making their way to various parts of the world.

One thing's for certain though. Yemen has made its mark on the coffee industry. With the spread of coffee consumption and the popularisation of mocha coffees, the nation can rest assured to have influenced a part of the coffee world to such a great degree.

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