Yemeni ‘coffee hunter’ exports Mokha’s famed beans to US, Japan

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Yemen’s famous coffee farms have been replaced by khat farms in recent years after coffee had an agricultural and economic priority.

Gradually, those coffee beans exports disappeared and weakened after it flourishing for centuries in Yemen. After all, “Mocha” gained its name after the Yemeni port city of Mokha, known for having been a point of contact between coffee lovers and farmers in Yemen.

In 2015, production fell from 55,000 coffee bags to 8,000 bags in exports, which urged farmers to seek replacement of coffee seeds with Khat or other crops.

Al Arabiya interviewed one young man who is trying to restore the original spirit of coffee by exporting the Yemeni origin beans to the world. Hussein Ahmed is a certified coffee connoisseur and holds the international taste certificate for coffee from the American Coffee Quality Grader.

But Hussein prefers to be called the “Coffee Hunter”.

Love story with caffeine

Hussein says that the secret behind his love for coffee comes from the smell of the beans which reminds him of his mother.

“I grew up in a family that loves coffee. Since early childhood, my mother asks me to go to the market to buy coffee and I used to enjoy this. When I was getting ready for school, my mother makes coffee and its smell filled the house. This scent was the source of my daily happiness. My mother’s coffee was my companion when I moved to Britain to study, where I visited a lot of coffee shops seeking to find the smell of my mother’s coffee. Unfortunately, I could not find the same smell which my mother used to prepare in my childhood,” Hussein told Al Arabiya.

“At this point I became more interested in coffee in Britain. Ten years later, I returned home in late 2007 and settled in Sanaa. I worked in the software industry, but I noticed that our economy depended on consumption only, so I decided to produce the best of the Yemeni production. Thus, I focused on coffee,” he said.

Hussein would go on to spend more than a year traveling between the mountains of Yemen and the valleys looking for the legendary Yemeni coffee, and documented information and data as much as he could.

Japan and his first coffee shop

“My Japanese wife, who came to Yemen with me, she could not adapt with the life in Yemen. So we decided to immigrate to Japan where we decided to export the Yemeni coffee to Japan. We started to send samples to Japanese labs and made high scores in the tasting sessions. This is when passion turned into business. After I settled in Japan and started working in exporting the high quality Yemeni coffee beans to Japan. I opened the first coffee shop specialized in the Yemeni coffee in Tokyo in 2011,” he said.

“In late 2013, I stopped the business and returned back to Yemen due to family issues. Then, I focused on exporting Yemeni coffee to the United States,” Hussein told Al Arabiya. “In 2014, I went to America for two years, during which I studied coffee tasting and got the international tasting certificate, and I established a trading company.”

Hussein revealed that there were some obstacles in the supply due to the instability of exchange rates, the difficulty of shipping charges, high operating costs, and the unavailability of oil derivatives and facilities for farmers.

How Khat contributed negatively to decline of Yemeni coffee

Hussein asserted that the major problem now in Yemen is due to the plantation of khat, which he said was a real environmental disaster as it drains most of the groundwater and goes to the fertile soil where coffee used to be grown on.

As for the future of coffee in Yemen, Hussein confirmed the necessity of developing the quality of the production, marketing and establishing a center to develop the beans. Returning the Yemeni coffee to the international market, Hussein also added that it was important to have fair prices for the farmers and stopping the bad and unfair trades of Yemeni coffee beans.