The Haraaz region, in the northwest highlands, is extremely isolated. The way of life in the region is traditional. What the people lack in modern conveniences is made up for by sheer resiliency and intelligence. Centuries of conflict have left their mark on the land and the people.
The region is a vibrant, agricultural island in the midst of harsh rocky mountains. It is rich in its variety of flora and fauna, with coffee farmers clearly proud of their rich heritage. The verdant mountain terraces exist in complete harmony with nature and have a unique micro climate that provides the ideal conditions to produce some of the finest coffees of Yemen.
Farmers are rewarded through an incentive based program that encourages coffee farming and quality production in favor of growing qaat. This program has resulted in a turn-around in the abandonment of coffee in this ancient region and higher incomes for farmers. Coffee is grown on 3000 year old man-made terraces carved out of the mountain, hand-picked, and sun-dried.
About Yemeni Coffee
It's impossible to talk about the history of coffee without talking about Yemen. The coffee tree was first discovered in Ethiopia, but the roots of the coffee industry are deeply set in Yemen. Almost every story of the history of coffee throughout the world branches out from Yemen. There has been some talk in the last few years that Yemen may also hold a key to the future of coffee. The harsh climate and minimal cultivation practices have helped the coffee in the region develop a natural resiliency and disease resistance that other varietals are lacking.
Coffee's consumption was first recorded in Sufi monasteries back in the 15th century. Coffee would be banned by one ruler and blessed by another. The Ottoman empire tried to control the trade of coffee by blocking any exports of the raw fruit or seeds. If you tried to take it out of the empire un-roasted or un-boiled there'd be serious consequences. This didn't stop one Sufi man, on pilgrimage to Mecca, from smuggling out a few seeds against his stomach to begin the story of coffee in India. The Europeans prized the drink highly and finally the Dutch stole a load from a ship in the Port of Mokka. The Dutch spread coffee to the East Indies and gave it as a gift to the King of France who, through another act of thievery, helped to spread coffee to the West Indies. At one time in history almost all of the world's commercial coffee production could be traced back to one variety of coffee stemming from Yemen. These prized Typica varieties that we have grown to love (Jamaica Blue Mountain, Java, Hawaiian Kona, the original Colombians, Guatemalans and Veracruz, Mexican coffees, and more), and even the Bourbon varieties that naturally evolved from Typica, all originated from coffee cultivated in Yemen.
The world of coffee owes a great deal to Yemen. The situation in Yemen is as complex as its coffee. Today the country is facing more conflict. The people are smart, tough and beautiful and they are survivors. There may still be as many as 75,000-100,000 small coffee farmers spread out through the country. Despite this number, annual production is still very low. Trade is increasingly difficult but the story and the coffee are worth sharing.