Coffee from the central mountains of Yemen at the southwestern tip of the Arabian Peninsula is the world’s oldest continuously produced commercial coffee. Most of it is still grown today, as it was over 500 years ago, on terraces clinging to the sides of semi-arid mountains below ancient stone villages that rise like geometric extensions of the mountains themselves. In the summer, when the scrubby little coffee trees are beginning to blossom, misty rains temporarily turn the Yemeni mountains a bright green. In the fall, the clouds dissipate and the air turns bone dry as the coffee fruit ripens, is picked and appears on the roofs of the stone houses, spread in the sun on tarpaulins to dry. During the dry winter, water collected in small reservoirs often is directed to the roots of the coffee trees to help them survive until the drizzles of summer return.
Most Yemen coffees are still processed as they have been for centuries. They are natural-processed coffees, dried with the fruit still adhering to the beans. After drying the shriveled fruit husk is traditionally removed by millstone, which accounts for the rough, irregular look of many Yemen beans. The husks of the dried coffee fruit, neatly broken in half by the action of the millstones, are used to make a sweet, lightly caffeinated drink Yemenis call quishr. The husks are combined with spices and boiled. The resulting beverage is cooled to room temperature and drunk in the afternoon as a thirst-quencher and pick-me-up.
Yemen Growing Regions
Regional names for Yemen coffee are as irregular as the beans themselves. For example, when I was working in Yemen, coffee traders might say they had an Ismaili coffee available, but it was seldom entirely clear whether they were describing a coffee from the Bani Ismail growing district, beans from a variety of coffee tree they called Ismaili, or both.
Matari, Haraz, More
Given that caveat, this much can be said about traditional market names for Yemen coffee. The most famous traditional names are associated with regions close to the highway from the capital Sana’a westward down to the main Red Sea port Al Hudaydah. The two best known are Matari (also Mattari) and Haraz (also Harazi, Haraaz and other variations). Matari properly describes coffee from Bani Matar, a very high-altitude growing district just southwest of Sana’a. Hirazi (or Harazi, Haraaz and other variations) is produced in the next set of mountains west of Sana’a. Occasionally a coffee may appear on specialty markets marked Hayma or Haymah, from a region west of Sana’a and just north of Bani Matar. The market name Sanani usually describes a blend of coffees from various regions west of Sana’a.
Coffee is grown many places elsewhere in western Yemen, including the southwest, near the city of Taiz, and northwest, toward the border with Saudi Arabia, in Sa’dah Governate. Or at least it was, before the latest round of savage and pointless proxy wars. The tall, elegant, multi-floored mud-brick buildings of Sa’dah in the north struck me as one of the most poetic spectacles I have ever seen. May buildings, coffees and people survive.
Yemen Coffee Ratings and Reviews
The Yemen coffee reviews below are listed in reverse chronological order by review date. Only reviews published in the past five years are displayed. Click here to view older reviews of coffees from Yemen. Older reviews may no longer accurately reflect current versions of the same coffee.
Deeply spice-toned, richly layered. Black currant, clove, dark chocolate, tangerine zest, cedar in aroma and cup. Very sweet with winey acidity; creamy-smooth mouthfeel. The long, chocolaty finish is supported by notes of black currant and clove.
Price: $35.00/8 ounces
Lyrically sweet, stunningly deep, engagingly complex. Dried black cherry, black sage, wild honey sandalwood, honeysuckle in aroma and cup. Juicy-bright structure with malic (green-apple-like) acidity; luscious, satiny mouthfeel. Integrated, multi-layered, flavor-saturated finish.
Flavor-saturated, vibrantly aromatic. Pomegranate, clove, date, rosewood, tangerine zest in aroma and cup. Deeply sweet structure with balanced, fruit-toned acidity; satiny-smooth mouthfeel. Complex, sweet-tart finish, balanced and long.
Richly spice-toned, fruit-forward. Goji berry, amber, dried ginger, cashew, freesia-like flowers in aroma and cup. Sweet in structure with high-toned acidity; plush, syrupy mouthfeel. The flavor-saturated finish consolidates to notes of goji berry and amber.
Price: $13.95/4 ounces
Sweetly fermenty, complex. Grappa barrel, goji berry, pipe tobacco, gardenia, pink grapefruit zest in aroma and cup. Sweet-toned with fruit-driven acidity; creamy mouthfeel. The finish centers on notes of grappa barrel and pipe tobacco.
Crisply fruit-forward, sweetly tart. Goji berry, cinnamon, carnation, dark chocolate, hazelnut in aroma and cup. Deeply sweet structure with crisp acidity; plush, satiny mouthfeel. Gently fruity finish centered around notes of dark chocolate and goji berry.
Deep yet soaring, vertically complex. Dried black currant, dark chocolate, sandalwood, ginger blossom, tangerine zest in aroma and cup. Richly sweet-savory with deep, vibrant acidity; viscous but buoyant mouthfeel. The long, lingering, multi-layered finish thoroughly honors the promise of the cup.
Price: NT $500/4 ounces
Focused, gently bright, complex. Dried goji berry, vanilla bean, clementine, baking chocolate, fresh-cut oak, lemon verbena in aroma and cup. Balanced structure (sweet, tart, savory) with richly pungent but juicy acidity; plushly syrupy mouthfeel. Deep and multi-layered in the finish.
Resonantly floral and fruit-centered. Date, orange blossom, dark chocolate, agave syrup, pungent cedar in aroma and cup. Sweetly and roundly bright with deep savory-juicy acidity; plump, creamy mouthfeel. Coherent, complex, lingering finish.
Big, nuanced, multi-faceted. Fresh black currant, bergamot, pink grapefruit, sandalwood, maple syrup in aroma and cup. Deeply sweet with bright, juicy-tart acidity; crisply satiny mouthfeel. Delicately sweet, citrusy finish with sandalwood undertones.
Sweetly pungent, chocolate-driven, richly earth-toned. Dark chocolate, lavender, cedar, persimmon, sarsaparilla in aroma and cup. Balanced, pleasingly bittersweet structure with bright acidity; satiny mouthfeel. The finish consolidates to notes of dark chocolate and sarsaparilla.
Quietly complex, gently bright. Macadamia nut, baking chocolate, magnolia, blackberry, cedar in aroma and cup. Sweet-toned structure with gentle, round acidity; full, syrupy mouthfeel. The resonant finish centers around notes of crisp chocolate and cedar.
Elegantly fruit-toned, richly sweet. Dried black cherry, pipe tobacco, almond, vanilla, honeysuckle in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart structure with gently brisk acidity; very syrupy-smooth mouthfeel. The finish consolidates vanilla and cherry notes supported by pipe tobacco.
Sweetly bright, intense, perfumy. Passionfruit, banana, chocolate fudge, cedar, lily in aroma and cup. Juicy and lactic tangy-sweet in structure; creamy-smooth in mouthfeel. The sweet but gently drying finish consolidates to suggestions of chocolate, fruit and lily.
Price: NT $760/4 ounces
Chocolaty and richly wood-framed. Dark chocolate, fresh-cut pine, magnolia, pink peppercorn, golden raisin in aroma and cup. Sweetly tart structure with pert acidity; crisp, velvety mouthfeel. Richly drying, chocolaty finish.
Fruit-centered, sweetly herb-toned. Cherry, lemon-thyme, tiger lily, wild honey, fresh-cut oak in aroma and cup. Sweetly savory with brisk acidity; full, syrupy-smooth mouthfeel. The crisply sweet finish consolidates around notes of honey and oak.
Very sweet, richly savory. Honey, tiger lily, fresh pipe tobacco, ginseng, date in aroma and cup. Richly sweet structure with juicy-tart acidity; Syrupy-smooth mouthfeel. Finish leads with notes of pipe tobacco and flowers.
Delicately perfumed, sweetly fermenty. Green grape, rum barrel, rhododendron, cocoa nib, oak in aroma and cup. Sweet-tart structure with juicy acidity; syrupy-smooth mouthfeel. Sweet ferment suggesting rum barrel animates the crisply cocoa-toned finish.
Subtly complex, fruit-toned. Raspberry coulis, freesia, almond nougat, cedar, lemon verbena in aroma and cup. Sweet-tart structure with vibrant acidity; crisp, silky mouthfeel. Berry and cedar-toned finish.
Crisply spice-toned. Molasses, dried cherry, clove, cashew, grapefruit zest in aroma and cup. Sweet-toned structure with brisk acidity; lightly syrupy mouthfeel. The finish consolidates to notes of molasses, clove and cashew.