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The Delight of Yemen Coffee, which was Introduced by Sufis and Its Fate Now

Yemen is known worldwide for its rich history of coffee cultivation. Amid continued political turmoil, the drink has become an increasingly important
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The Delight of Yemen Coffee, which was Introduced by Sufis and Its Fate Now

Yemen is known worldwide for its rich history of coffee cultivation. Amid continued political turmoil, the drink has become an increasingly important symbol for the nation, with the brewer leading the way to exporting the country's finest produce.

"Coffee can be a unifying force in Yemen and act as an important mediating tool that unites people from separate parts of political divisions," said Faris Sheibani, a leading Yemeni coffee exporter.

Faris Sheibani is the CEO of Qima Coffee based in London. He wanted to point out that everyone in Yemen from Sadaa in the north to Yafa in the south celebrates their coffee culture.

“Coffee grows throughout the Yemeni landscape and can act as a unifying force,” Faris . said

“The flip side of the coin is that when you operate from different areas of Yemen, you sometimes face pressure from the various groups that control the region to serve their interests or pay homage to their political ideology. And for me, that's what makes it so difficult to operate in Yemen," he explained.

Faris insisted that business entities should not have political affiliations. "A business must serve business interests," he said. “The only political position I have is that Yemen should be run by Yemenis because, in principle, because they are the people living in this land, only they have the best interests of the country at heart. Whether Yemen should be separated (to the north and south) united or the federal state should be left to Yemen to decide," he said.

Until the early 1700s, Yemen was the world's only producer and exporter of coffee. Coffee was first consumed in 1450 by the country's mystic Sufis who drank it to stay awake for meditation throughout the night. The Yemeni people spread the country's coffee culture around the world.

The industrial revolution in Europe prompted the cultivation of smuggled Yemeni coffee seeds in Sri Lanka and the archipelago. Farmers and slaves in these countries were forced to grow and sell coffee at exploitative prices to the Dutch and French East India Company.

In 1800, Yemen produced 6 percent of the world's coffee but its market share continued to decline as global coffee prices fell.

Yemeni farmers are giving up more and more land for the more profitable production of the narcotic qat crop and today Yemeni coffee, despite its quality and taste, accounts for less than 0.1 percent of the world's total coffee.

But Qima is determined to reverse this trend. The company works in partnership with about 2,500 smallholders and offers the highest prices in Yemen's coffee trade history.

Faris has also started working with coffee farmers in Colombia and Ecuador and has formed local teams in both countries. "We look at our experience in Yemen and we can see a very beautiful narrative in improving our operations," he explained.

"Yemen is where the coffee trade started and hundreds of years ago, the world looked to Yemen to see how coffee should be traded," Faris continued.

“Three hundred years later we have successfully implemented one of the most progressive and fair coffee business models in the world in Yemen, and now want to implement the same business model in other countries. It is a scalable, fair and transparent model for farmers.” he explained again.

At the age of 13, Faris Sheibani's grandfather started selling coffee and tea from a small hut. This humble endeavor grew into a business that eventually became one of the largest and most recognized industrial groups in Yemen, known for its charitable work as well as its business success.

His grandfather, and later his father, attributed business success to one driving principle that represented the company's ethos: “we are not makers of commerce, we are makers of life.”

Qima also collaborates with the world's leading coffee research institutes to conduct research on the genetics of Yemeni coffee.

In 2020, their research efforts led to the discovery of a new and unique genetic coffee strain in Yemen, known commercially as Yamania.

The Delight of Yemen Coffee, which was Introduced by Sufis and Its Fate Now

The taste and quality of this new genetic group was assessed by an independent jury of coffee tasting experts and was found to be one of the highest quality coffees in the world, with a score of over 90 points on the specialty coffee rating system (scores achieved by the top 1 -2 percent of coffees). world).

What is perhaps even more interesting is that the tree that has these genetics is surprisingly resistant to climatic stresses, growing in conditions of temperature and rainfall that are well outside the typical ranges for coffee cultivation.

Considering that recent scientific research has concluded that 60 percent of wild Arabica coffee species may become extinct in the coming decades due to climate change, the fact that Yemeni coffee trees appear to exhibit extreme climate resilience could make Yemen a very attractive country for the world coffee community.

Qima's business has grown steadily and great progress has been made in the markets of China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan. "We see consumer behavior in China changing," Faris said.

"You see people shifting from drinking the high-quality tea that their parents drink, to the high-quality coffee and we are in the right place at the right time to capture that," said Faris.

About 30 percent of Qima's highest quality offerings go to China and Faris believes that in the next decade it will become one of the leading coffee consuming countries.

Over the past 15 years, the European market is growing at more than 1 percent per year while the Chinese market is growing at 10 percent per year. Qima has also developed a strong brand reputation in South Korea where it recently established offices.

“When I enter a specialty coffee shop in South Korea and introduce myself as Qima, nine out of ten they will have heard of us before and that is a very positive indicator of our progress,” he said.

In Yemen, Faris is very concerned about natural resources, such as coffee, which are used to fund political conflicts. He sees this phenomenon as the biggest risk facing the Yemeni coffee industry today.

The various conflicting groups in Yemen need to respect that people will stop buying Yemeni coffee if they think they are funding the conflict by doing so.

“Over the past five years, we have worked very hard to make coffee a means of peace in Yemen's conflict-torn climate. It is the only thing coming out of Yemen that has managed to avoid conflict and politics. And it is a vehicle for people around the world to connect with Yemeni people and humanity," Faris said.

"Someone sitting in New York, London or Beijing, can connect with a farmer in Yemen through this drink and that makes it a very powerful vehicle for presenting alternative narratives and changing perceptions. The last thing we need is coffee being dragged into conflict and for that to happen." become another victim of the Yemen war," he said.

However, Faris does not deny that the future of Yemen's coffee industry will be challenging, but he remains hopeful about what lies ahead.

“We always knew Yemen would be a difficult country to navigate, in the throes of a very complex conflict, with new groups and political narratives emerging almost every week, all while facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. But coffee can be a simple, underrated, globally relevant unifying force that at least gathers everyone around the table,” he concludes.

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