Yemeni Coffee: Past, Present, & Future
Over this past summer, I conducted research virtually with Dr. Heather Sharkey of the Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations (NELC) department, as well as three other PURM students. During this time, we assisted Dr. Sharkey in her preparations for a new book that would convey Middle Eastern history through fifteen foods. In addition, to connect the overarching topic with our personal interests, we each prepared individual projects focused on an ingredient prominent in Middle Eastern history.
When I learned that the global coffee trade originated in Yemen, I was curious to learn the background on Yemeni coffee and if it was still prominent today. Sadly, though once thriving, the Yemeni coffee market is suffering due to the country’s severe crises in the form of civil war, food shortages, water scarcity, and has been further devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Through my research, I discovered coffee’s deep roots in Yemen and determined the factors that have resulted in Yemeni coffee’s legendary reputation among connoisseurs. When surveying the industry’s current state, I also learned that khat, a stimulant plant that when chewed produces amphetamine-like effects, has posed a major threat to coffee's cultivation in the country. As khat is widely used in Yemen and produces a regular crop, it is seen to have more domestic potential than coffee, and thus deemed more reliable. Unfortunately, in addition to causing widespread dependence among civilians, khat is occupying a major portion of Yemen’s valuable cash crop land and draining much of the country’s limited water supplies.
Thankfully, there are multiple companies, such as ‘Al-Mokha’ and ‘Port of Mokha’, working to share the treasure of Yemeni coffee with the world, while also concurrently incorporating humanitarian initiatives in their work. In conclusion, though the Yemeni coffee market faces several challenges today, I believe my research has determined that the industry has immense potential and could help rescue Yemen and its people from the current catastrophe.