Unlocking the Treasure Trove of Yemeni Coffee

Speeches Shim

Tuesday, June 22, 2021
To revitalize Yemen’s coffee market and rebuild its potential as a valuable export product for high-end markets, USAID helps Yemeni coffee farmers understand the techniques and requirements of coffee tasting and grading.
Photo: ERLP

“Any business or trade in the world depends on a set of rules and standards. Coffee is no exception. If Yemenis learn those expectations and keep up with the taste trends, we can get fair prices and elevate the coffee sector to create new export and employment opportunities.”— Abdullatif Al Jaradi, Certified Coffee Quality Grader 

Coffee lovers around the world can appreciate the smell of freshly ground and roasted coffee, along with the pleasure of the first sip of dark, warm brew. For expert tasters, however, the first mouthful of coffee is a far more complex experience. Known as “cuppers,” professional tasters will carefully slurp a spoonful of coffee and run it across the tongue to identify the distinctive notes of flavor and body, using terms such as “full-bodied,” “fruity,” or “exotic undertones.” Among international buyers, their opinion can make or break a coffee’s reputation—relegating it to the ranks of an ordinary brand or elevating it to the coveted top position of a highly prized, and priced, gourmet variety.

Among professional tasters, Yemeni coffee stands out as being among the best in the world for its flavors, sweetness, mouthfeel, and aftertaste. In foreign markets, it can retail for $60 or more per pound. However, the high reputation of Yemen’s coffee has suffered from inconsistencies in quality in recent years. USAID is working with coffee farmers and traders in Yemen to revitalize the country’s coffee market and rebuild its potential as a valuable export product. USAID is helping farmers increase productivity, improve quality, and strengthen marketing. USAID also assists coffee farmers and traders establish new connections with foreign buyers to put Yemeni coffee back on the international map, and reap more favorable prices for producers and sellers.

Since December 2020, USAID’s Economic Recovery and Livelihoods Program (ERLP) has been assembling hundreds of coffee farmers from different districts in the Ta’izz Governorate to demonstrate the techniques and requirements of coffee tasting, and to help them understand the critical elements that determine its value in high-end markets. The sessions are the first of their kind in Yemen, and they are led by one of the few people in the country to be certified as a Coffee Quality Grader by the Coffee Quality Institute, Mr. Abdullatif Al Jaradi.

Mr. Jaradi introduces session participants to the quality standards employed by international buyers, who rate coffee beans on a graded scale of 1-5. The highest marks are reserved for the most flawless and distinguished beans, and only the top two grades, “specialty” and “premium,” are selected by international buyers to be featured in gourmet shops, cafés, or coffee houses. Mr. Jaradi explains to the participants how the harvesting of coffee cherries—picking them by hand and only when they have achieved the bright red color of ripeness—along with how they are handled and stored postharvest affect their quality. “The farmers need to understand the ways we can determine if this coffee has been efficiently processed or not, and if the grower took care of the cultivation and harvesting details,” says Mr. Jaradi.

So that participants can compare the differences in taste and quality for themselves, Mr. Jaradi takes them through a cupping demonstration using four varieties of beans. They roast, hand grind, and brew the beans, sampling them from the small tasting cups that give the art of coffee tasting its name. Mr. Jaradi also introduces participants to the Coffee Tasters’ Flavor Wheel, used by cuppers worldwide to describe different flavor elements (e.g., fruitiness, sourness, spiciness, sweetness), and how components such as the coffee’s body, aroma, or level of acidity are taken into account to evaluate its grade and merits.

To ensure that high-grade Yemeni coffee makes it into international markets, USAID identifies potential foreign buyers to expand the pipeline of sales opportunities. Since September 2020, USAID has connected 300 coffee farmers in Ta’izz to new buyers. The team facilitated a sales agreement worth nearly $70,000 between a New York-based specialty coffee importer and local coffee processor Mokha Story for more than 3,000 kg of specialty coffee beans. USAID also helped secure a $75,000 deal for 10,000 kg of Yemeni coffee with Mokha Story Jeddah, a large trader/retailer of high-quality Arabic coffee in Saudi Arabia. Both contracts will be renewed if the quality of the first shipment proves its worth. In addition, companies in Germany and South Korea have confirmed their interest in purchasing coffee from USAID-supported farmers based on green coffee samples.  These are important first steps to greater market access and increased sales.

There is a popular song in Yemen that says, “Yemeni coffee, oh pearl, oh treasure above the tree. Whoever grows you will never be poor or suffer humiliation.” For smallholder farmers in Yemen, coffee has traditionally been regarded as a crop that could be stored, then sold at the price offered by the local buyer when money from short-term crops has run dry. With USAID assistance, coffee growers now are discovering and literally developing a taste for its potential high value, not just as a treasured beverage, but also as a golden opportunity to lift up their livelihoods and usher in a brighter future.

USAID’s Economic Recovery and Livelihoods Program (ERLP), addresses critical economic stabilization challenges in Yemen. At the macroeconomic level, it restores economic stability, enhances fiscal management, and increases international trade flows. At the microeconomic level, ERLP helps small producers create their own businesses, strengthens private sector performance and competitiveness, and creates jobs and new market linkages for sustainable livelihoods.

 

Last updated: January 05, 2022

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