On a coffee trip
This blog post is a guest post written by Siris Hartkorn and Nabil al-Sharafi who lives in Yemen and has the company The Yemen Journey. It describes their journey to the two families that produce our Khawlani coffee.
Sa'ada and Haraz are the two coffee areas in Yemen that are most famous for their unique flavors and special coffee. For many years the focus has been on Haraz, an incredibly beautiful mountain area where you can easily reach from the capital of Yemen and with farmers and villages who have learned to tell the story of their coffee and sell it to international customers.
That's not the case. The area is severely affected by 16 years of armed conflict, it is far from the capital and very difficult to get to. The farmers in Sa'ada are isolated and grow their unique coffee in silence in an area that only a few dry visit.
We decided to travel to Sa'ada, in our hunt for the best coffee - no matter how far and isolated the area. We wanted to tell the story of farmers in Sa'ada, who continue to nurture their coffee trees and pick the red berries for the sound of fighter aircraft and bomb attacks, isolated and forgotten of the world.
We left the capital Sana'a early in the morning in our Toyota Hilux, Yemen's most popular vehicle because the car can climb steep mountains and rocky roads that have never seen asphalt. We traveled north towards Sa'ada.
As we approached, the traces of the war became clear. Houses along the road had been destroyed by air strikes, the road was often destroyed as well. But there was also a completely different mood. A budding atmosphere of people, markets with fruits, vegetables and sheep, and new buildings that shot up at a speed that seemed comparable to the rush with which they had been destroyed.
For those of us who know about the resilience of the Yemeni population, even this was surprising. Nowhere else in Yemen has experienced a similar destruction, but despite the very hardship and the daily danger, the people were keen to live and thrive.
When we arrived in the afternoon to the village, where we would sleep at night, in the northwestern part of the region, we were received with a hot hospitality that you only experience in Yemen. After a feast of a lunch, we were invited in and sit in "Mafraj" - a room with soft pillows along the wall. And while all the men in the village started their daily ritual of chewing khat, the mild drug leaves as most of the population chewing, the discussion began.
What areas of SA'ada had the best coffee? How had the war affected the trade with Saudi Arabia which was very close? Who had a brother who has a wife, or who has a cousin who grows coffee? After a few hours, some kind of consensus spread. The Bani Bahr region has the best coffee in Sa'ada, the best and most natural cultivation. And it was far better to export to Denmark than to try to sell to Saudi Arabia, where they do not appreciate the quality. One of the men had a son, Abdullah, who knew a worker on an agriculture that was just the right thing.
Even if the summer was on the way, the cold mountain air in Sa'ada can penetrate all the way to the bones, and after a biting cold night wrapped in our blankets, we got up with the sun again and took off with Abdullah, towards Bani Bahr. From the capital to the village the road had been ok, not always paved (or black as we say in Yemen), but they worked pretty much and were not too uneven. But the trip was the village of the remote Bani Bahr area was a completely different story and our Hilux came to the test as we slowly climbed over one steep mountain after another. High above sea level, the areas were very different from the green mountains of Haraz. It was rocky and naked landscapes sliding past, with the traditional yemenitic gingerbread houses that rose up to the sky from the steep hillsides, as if they were cut out of the rocks, and looked out over the terraces with fruit trees, coffee and khat - the little oases which miraculously grew in the dry mountain climate.
After driving for half a day - not far in kilometers, but slowly without real roads - we picked up Abdullah's friend. He was waiting for us in a small village and was going to guide us the rest of the way to the farmer. When we had crawled up to 1889 meters altitude-and was so far out so no one would just pass by-we finally saw the contours of the yard Jalat al-Enab in front of us. We had found it, but the question was whether he would sell his coffee to us? How the harvest had been? How did they cultivate the coffee? And would the quality be as expected?
The two brothers
The farmer turned out to be one of two brothers, Ali and Faisal, and they greeted us with great curiosity. They were certainly not used to guests from the outside, and it took a long time before they understood that we were not an NGO who came to make a project, but were normal people who lived in Yemen and were in search of the best coffee in SA ' Adas to send it to Denmark where coffee lovers could taste and appreciate their unique coffee.
They lived in a small stone house on the edge of the mountain and the harvested coffee beans were already dry on the roof of the house - the most normal meeting to dry the coffee in Yemen, where there is a lack of water. They took us to the coffee field itself - a green oasis of tall coffee trees that grew in the narrow valley. They explained that it was difficult to find workers for the harvest because the war continued to engulf all young men, so every year they had to train new workers in how they should gently choose and pick the red, mature coffee berries. We climbed the ladder in the coffee trees which seemed infinitely high and very different a little coffee bushes you see in Haraz.
As the coffee growing in the mountains of Yemen has never been refined, it remains the original varieties that grow in the remote pockets of the highlands. The local varieties are among the oldest genotypes in the world. And the coffee trees and the coffee we saw at Jalat Al-Enab were definitely very different from something we had seen before. In the discussion with Ali and Faisal, we came to the conclusion that it was a local variety of Oudaini variety of Arabica.
Finding Ali and Faisal's farm was far from easy and we were both relieved and encouraged when we experienced that their cultivation methods were completely natural. The only fertilizer they applied was livestock manure. And they wanted to sell to us. In Sa'ada, we learned that the coffee is being sold per Read, a read was 200 Tamaniin, and we had understood that a Tamaniin was two kilos. Since the yield of green beans after peeling would be approximately 1/3 of the weight of the berries, we agreed to buy four loads or what we thought were 1600 kilos of dried coffee berries. Of course, it was dependent on the quality of a taste test.
We were very pleased that our mission had succeeded and started the return trip to the capital while we could hear the fighter aircraft flying over Bani Bahr and the distant sound of the front line bombing. We waved goodbye to Ali and Faisal, and took a try to the coffee with us - very excited about what the taste test would show.
We got shelled, toasted and tasted to try already the next day, by one of Yemen's only and best certified coffee makers, Hussein, and was pleasantly surprised when he gave it a very high character and very praise. He himself was a pioneer in buying and exporting special coffee from Yemen, but he never managed to get out to Sa'ada and he was both impressed and fascinated by the unique aromas that the coffee from Jalat Al-Enab had.
But the journey was far from over. When we received the first loads and sent them to a special coffee grinder for peeling and sorting, we discovered that the weight was not the expected 400 kilos per read. At first we were upset and thought they had cheated with the weight and we started calling and getting answers back from villages in Sa'ada, Haraz, Al-Jawf and other parts of Yemen. It was found that the target unit is not standardized across Yemen. And a tamaniin is a space target and not a weight, so while a tamaniin could be the same as 2 kilos of grain or sugar, it was much less for coffee berries. We were also on a journey ourselves and learned along the way.
We immediately ordered further loads so we could reach the agreed 500 kilos. And at the same time, we were excited when we found out that the quality of the coffee carriers was high - more than 30% were quality bears. The rest - the smaller and broken berries, the pearl beans, the coffee shells and even the dust, were sold locally. Nothing goes to waste in coffee production in Yemen. The small and broken berries are peeled and sold locally, while the shells are sold at a higher price as they are used for the national drink called Qishr made of coffee shells and ginger.
Now that the coffee was shelled, hand -sorted and packed, we were ready for the last part of the trip. As both the airport and the ports are closed due to the war, the coffee had to take the truck in a truck over land to the east, over 1000 kilometers across front lines and control items before arriving in neighboring Oman. From here the coffee could be passed on to Denmark. This last part of the journey was not only challenging but also nerve -wracking, as there is no schedule or tracking from the coffee leaves the capital Sana'a and until it comes to Oman. As the transport costs and risks are high, the support of Warfair, which both funded and accepted the risk.
As we write this blog, the coffee is somewhere close to the border of Oman. If all goes well, it will soon cross the border and take the last part of the journey. The hard work of Ali and Faisal's and their dreams will be rewarded when the coffee comes to Denmark and offers Coffee Collective's customers a taste of jalat al-enab and Yemen.
Since the blog traveled the coffee safely and ended up in Copenhagen, where it was sold in a collaboration between Warfair and Coffee Collective. Yemen Journey subsequently provided the two families with "Bednets" hits with stretched nets to dry the coffee so they can further improve quality. The long -term plan is to invest further in the families and the area. The coffee can be purchased as Khawlani coffee at Warfair.