Introducing our Yemen Matari Micro-lot

When you drink a cup of coffee, you become the last participant in a long process. For us in Mississippi, that process usually starts thousands of miles away (and more than likely quite a few years ago). That Guatemalan coffee you have was grown in mountains that you and I may never see. It was cared for by farmers who may have knowledge passed down through generations, and it was picked by people that we’ll never meet. It was processed and evaluated and imported and roasted and finally sent to your local café. Most people only consider the last bit – the roasting and the spectacle of watching a barista hand-craft that perfect pourover or Chemex. Don’t be fooled. That coffee came a long way.

Photo Credit Emily Hamblin: Featuring Clinton Cups an Espresso Cafe manager Josie Deel

This year Cups customers have a chance to become the last link in an incredible chain of coffee consumption. You may have already seen it on the shelves, and you may have even tried it, but I want to let you know how that bag of Yemen Matari came to be in our stores. It’s an incredible story, and we’ve all been looking forward to sharing it for months now.

Chances are you don’t know much about Yemen. Don’t worry – I don’t either. It’s a poor country in the Middle East that’s been ravaged by war and political conflicts. It’s also where coffee was first cultivated commercially. You know by now that coffee originated in Ethiopia. It was eventually transported to Yemen, where growers maintained a tight control on exports in order to keep other countries from creating competition. It was eventually smuggled out illegally and spread to the rest of the world. Over time, coffee production in Yemen decreased. In recent decades the production of coffee has suffered due to lack of water resources and the widespread preference for growing narcotics. There’s also a lack of infrastructure, making it harder for growers to sell their product. All of this shows you why you don’t see Yemeni coffees very often.

A few years ago, a coffee lover named Andrew had a great idea. He had spent some time in Yemen, and he had heard that great coffee was still being grown in the remote mountains. He knew that there would be a market for Yemeni coffees here in the States if he could just get it here, so he packed up and went to Yemen. He spent months searching the mountains for good coffee, meeting farmers and learning how things were done there. Then he brought some samples back home and went to work learning everything he could about coffee production and processing. Once he had learned all he could, he moved his whole family to Yemen to open a coffee mill.

It took a while to get everything set up, especially due to the lack of infrastructure in the remote coffee-growing regions. Finally, there was enough good coffee to take to the annual conference of the Specialty Coffee Association of America in Seattle. If only it were that easy. Just before Andrew and his business partner were ready to leave Yemen, there was a round of Saudi Arabian airstrikes. Airports had been bombed, and there was no way for U.S. citizens to evacuate the country. Andrew’s partner was arrested as a rebel spy but then quickly released. Desperate to get out of the country and to Seattle, the two men drove to the port city of Mocha (historically a port very famous for exporting coffee) and hired a fisherman to take them and their coffee across the Strait of Grief and to Djibouti. The trip took seven hours, but the men and the coffee were safe. They continued to Seattle, where they proudly showcased the exotic coffee that they had worked so hard to bring to the world. Coffee professionals were astounded at the high quality and intriguing flavor profiles. Orders started coming in immediately.

Andrew and his team returned to Yemen determined to keep specialty coffee flowing to a wider market. It hasn’t been easy. Their warehouses are frequently shaken by local bomb blasts. At times the coffee has had to be smuggled across rebel lines in order to arrive at port safely. Despite the high risk and the huge workload, Andrew believes that there is much good that can come from a resurgence of specialty coffee in Yemen. By bringing Yemeni coffee to the world, he is helping to instill pride in farmers while also ensuring a good income for those who work hard to produce good crops.

I met Andrew this year at the SCAA conference in Atlanta. We didn’t chat long, but I was fascinated by his story. A few weeks later, I received a package from Andrew at my office. I opened it to find samples of five different coffees from all around Yemen. I couldn’t wait to roast one of the samples and see what all the fuss was about. Luckily, the rest of the Cups staff was just as excited, which is why you’re able to enjoy locally roasted Yemeni coffee now.

So what does it taste like? It’s unlike any of the other coffees on our shelves now. The fragrance is bright and exciting with full notes of red fruits and fresh pastry. The taste is clean and crisp with notes of grape and strawberry. It reminds me of some of the more exotic Ethiopian coffees I’ve had, but with a good bit more balance. It ends with a rich buttery aftertaste, and the flavors get more interesting as the coffee cools.

Next time you’re looking for a bag of locally roasted coffee to enjoy at home or in your office, you should stop and think about the long journey the coffee has taken to get from origin to café. Our Yemen Matari will be on the shelves throughout the holiday season. Now that you know the story behind it, I think you’ll enjoy this excellent coffee even more. 

Written by Austin Moore Oct. 2016