Three Education Lot coffees from Yemen

By Evan Howe

Passenger’s Education Lot menu was created to be a home for coffees with particular characteristics that offer inspirational, and in some cases adventurous, encounters with coffees of unique context. As with our Reserve Lot offerings, these are coffees of impressive quality. But in contrast to the Reserve Lots, where the primary story is cup quality, Education Lots are are coffees that have been selected for inclusion because they:

  1. Highlight something of interest about coffee plant genetics,
  2. Showcase the quality potential of coffee production in unique microclimates,
  3. Provide a comparative or experimental exploration of coffee processing, or
  4. Represent a coffee producing region of historical significance.

As with the Ciwidey release from earlier this year which featured a coffee from the Indonesian island of Java, our three newest additions to the Education Lot menu meet the fourth condition from the list above: they represent a coffee origin that is hugely significant to the history of coffee.

Yemen is the country where coffee arrived after its very first migration: from its birthplace in the highlands of southwestern Ethiopia, across the Red Sea, and ultimately to the Arabian peninsula. While it is not clearly known how coffee came to make this initial journey, whether by trade, or perhaps in the pockets of pilgrims making their way from Ethiopia to Mecca, it is certainly the case that coffee was well established in Yemen by the 15th century and Yemen was the first place that coffee was cultivated for trade and export out of the hugely significant port city of Mokha. As with the Indonesian island of Java, the massive importance of Mokha to the nascent international coffee trade is indicated by the fact that “Mocha” is a word that has often come to serve as a generic term for coffee itself.

While Yemen was the dominant force at the beginning of the coffee trade, and even as recently as the 1950’s produced approximately 65,000 tons of coffee annually, its production has plummeted closer to 9,000 tons in recent years as the country has navigated prolonged political instability, brutal civil war, and a widespread humanitarian crisis due to population displacement, acute shortages of food and water, and a worsening economic climate that has been exacerbated by continued fighting and the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite these unimaginable challenges, coffee continues to hold great economic and social significance for the people of Yemen and a small group of visionary exporters and traders continue to work against huge obstacles to improve the livelihoods of Yemeni coffee farmers.

Fatoum Muslot, the daughter of prominent Yemeni exporter Ali Hebah Muslot, founded her own coffee export business, Pearl of Tehama, in 2015. Despite facing significant obstacles as a female business owner operating within a domestic coffee trade that remains largely male dominated, Fatoum has built an impressive operation and works tirelessly as an advocate for the communities of smallholder farmers that she works with. Passenger’s three Yemeni Education Lots, the first coffees that we have ever purchased from this hugely significant coffee producing country, were carefully prepared by Fatoum’s team.

Tasting Yemeni coffees is an incredibly unique, even slightly wild, experience. Plant genetics, processing approaches, and the challenges of Yemen’s arid climate provide some of the reasons for their compelling flavor profiles. The arabica varieties that are represented in these particular lots (Dawaeri, Jadi, Tuffahi, Audaini, etc.) are completely unfamiliar to our team. Many of them are unique to specific micro-regions of Yemen as a result of an incredibly long-standing history of cultivation and producing areas that are often fairly remote and isolated.

Coffee farmers in the producing regions of Sana’a and Sa’ada, where Passenger’s lots were cultivated, plant and care for their coffee trees on traditional open terraces (conserving water and reducing soil erosion) that cover steep mountainsides rising well above 2000 masl. In Fatoum’s description, the beautifully terraced fields of coffee look like “hanging gardens”. As with the vast majority of coffees produced in Yemen (where water is a scarce and precious resource), our lots were dry processed in the traditional way: following harvest, most producers simply spread the ripe coffee cherries on the roofs of their homes to dry in the sun.

Three Education Lot coffees from Yemen