Yemen’s capital embraces speciality coffee amidst wartime hardships

In the midst of war-torn Yemen’s battered landscapes and tributes to fallen soldiers, an unexpected trend is emerging in the capital city—a flourishing wave of specialty coffee houses, serving top-rated pour-over brews.

Yemen, one of the most impoverished countries in the Arabian Peninsula, has a deep-rooted history with coffee.

Legend has it that Sufi mystics along Yemen’s western coast were the first to brew coffee beans back in the 15th century.

Despite this long-standing tradition, Yemeni entrepreneurs have traditionally focused on exporting their finest coffee to wealthier markets overseas.

One prominent figure in Yemen’s coffee journey is Mokhtar Alkhanshali, whose daring attempt to ship a container of specialty beans during the early stages of the war gained attention through Dave Eggers’ best-selling book “The Monk of Mokha.”

However, the war’s impact on blocked ports and export restrictions has led some Yemenis to shift their focus inward, giving rise to a vibrant cafe scene reminiscent of places like Brooklyn and Paris, amidst the war-ravaged streets of Sanaa.

Rashed Ahmed Shagea, the founder of Durar Coffee, noticed the decline in Yemeni coffee exports during the outbreak of fighting in 2015.

In response, he opened a warm and welcoming coffee shop in central Sanaa, offering customers the chance to savor beans from various regions of the country, surrounded by Yemeni art and locally-made wood furniture.

Their goal was to find alternative ways to support Yemeni farmers.

In a similar venture, Hussein Ahmed established Mocha Hunters cafe in southern Sanaa in 2018.

Initially facing a lack of customers, the cafe has now become a popular spot, attracting both Yemeni locals and foreigners seeking simple yet flavorful options like pour-over drip coffee and qishr, a traditional drink made from coffee husks.

The emergence of specialty coffee marks a departure from the commercial-grade coffee commonly consumed in Yemen, which is often heavily laden with milk and sugar.

The cafe owners take pride in reintroducing good taste to coffee drinkers, emphasizing their unique offerings.

Despite the cafes’ local success, Durar and Mocha Hunters still heavily depend on their export business, which has been somewhat facilitated by a truce announced in April of the previous year.

Yemeni coffee enjoys a strong reputation globally, and the Yemeni diaspora’s longing for their homeland has further boosted sales abroad.

Looking to the future, entrepreneurs are optimistic about local consumption, especially if a lasting ceasefire were to bring economic improvements. Presently, more than two-thirds of Yemen’s population relies on aid for survival. Yemeni coffee enthusiasts are determined to revive the glory and authenticity of their country’s coffee culture, envisioning Yemen as a potential coffee hub in the Middle East.

Despite the challenges of wartime, the rising popularity of specialty coffee brings hope and a taste of joy to the war-hit streets of Sanaa.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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