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Village coffee from Yemen

February 14, 2008 | 10:36 am

Yemen coffee has been described as the wild game of coffee -- you never now what you're going to get. No two beans in a sack may taste the same.

The problem is the disorganization of the coffee market in Yemen. Small farmers in remote mountain villages haul a few sacks of beans to small brokers by donkey, and they in turn sell the coffee to bigger brokers in Sana, who sell it abroad. As a result, beans from various places, which might have distinctive flavors, automatically get mingled.

To many people, the dominant flavor in Yemen coffee is one usually described as winey. It's due to the fact that a lot of the farmers store sacks of coffee beans on the floor of their stone huts until they need some ready cash. It's actually a fermented flavor, and Yemen connoisseurs enjoy it. But the resulting coffee often has a somewhat thin and tart flavor.

Peet's Coffee has just started exploring the possibility of importing single-village coffee. Yemen coffee is always in short supply, and the few sacks of village Yemen imported by the Bay Area-based roaster got bought up right away. Fortunately, we had a taste of one of them, from Meqaab Village.

It was an eye-opener (no caffeine reference intended). Instead of being winey, it had moderately rich notes of prunes or perhaps raisins, with an authoritative smoky quality (thank that old Peet's dark roast), and it was smooth and round in the mouth. Maybe this is what the first Yemen coffees were like, when coffee first set the world on fire 300-odd years ago.

This was just an exploratory venture. Based on the Meqaab, though, there are great possibilities in well-handled Yemen coffee. If Peet's can get a regular supply, there may be village Yemens in our future.

-- Charles Perry

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