The world’s first coffee was planted, cultivated, and brewed in Yemen over 500 years ago. The words “mocha” and “mochaccino” that we often find on today’s coffeehouse menus are derived from the name, Al-Mokha, a port-city located in Yemen. This port, having witnessed the shipping of tons of sterile coffee beans, had controlled the world coffee trade for almost 200 years, solidifying its place in its industry’s history. In keeping with tradition, the cultivation of Yemeni coffee beans has remained, unchanged, for centuries: terrace-grown, hand-picked, and sun-dried. Unfortunately, Yemeni coffee is no longer exported in the same quantities. Despite its highly admirable quality, its cultivation is not considered to be up to international standards. The plantation of Yemeni coffee has also significantly declined over the years and been replaced by the Qat* tree, which continues to rapidly flourish across Yemeni lands.
Like its international counterparts, the London Coffee Festival and the New York Coffee Festival, the Chocolate and Coffee Festival—Yemen’s first–was held this year on October 1 st in the capital city of Sana’a. Hosted by the Ezhar Organization (EOD), the event’s main objectives were to revive the Yemeni coffee industry and retain its value.
The festival did much to highlight the role of Yemeni coffee in building the economy. This was achieved by activating the coffee market, inviting different producers and farmers from all around Yemen to display and support their products. Simultaneously, guests (consumers) were provided multiple opportunities to sample the variety of flavors Yemeni coffee had to offer. Prominence was afforded to the food industry by the event, especially for those involved with the manufacture and production of chocolate and coffee products. Lastly, the festival, keeping in line with other similar international events, held a barista* competition, much to the amusement and fascination of guests.
“The Yemeni coffee is a national product and should be prioritized to all other products. Similar festivals should be done regularly in order to regenerate the value of the Yemeni coffee and raise awareness on the importance of its cultivation,” said Sameeha AlMutwkel, Chief of the EOD.
Although the idea of the festival was not initially encouraged or supported by civic community members and institutions, the EOD voluntarily took on the financial and coordination responsibilities for the event and led the Yemen’s first coffee festival to remarkable success. Coordinators and attendees, alike, declared the festival to be the first of its kind and were delighted to have its main goals accomplished!
According to the EOD, this festival was only a start. Similar projects and workshops will be planned and held to highlight the significance of Yemeni coffee and further encourage its production.
*A barista technically refers to someone who has been professionally trained in preparing espresso, it may also be used to describe anyone with high-level skill in making espresso shots and espresso drinks, such as lattes and cappuccinos.
*Qat is a flowering plant traditionally used, as a mild stimulant, by the Ethiopian, Somali, and Yemeni communities. In Yemen it is a national phenomenon.