Bab al Yemen, Sana’a – 13th century main entrance to the walled Old City. Photo courtesy bigstockphoto.com. Yemen is steeped in coffee tradition and the home of the infamous sea port Mocha. Although Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, Yemen has their own story as to who made the first cup of joe.
THE HISTORY OF YEMEN MOCHA COFFEE
The first authentic account of the history of coffee was written by Abd-Al-Kadir in 1587. The famous manuscript is preserved in the Bibliotecheque Nationale, Paris, and catalogued as “Arabe, 4590. A popular tale in coffee history goes as follows: In the year of the Hegira 656, the mollah Schadheli went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Arriving at the mountain of the Emeralds (Ousab), he turned to his disciple Omar and said: “I shall die in this place. When my soul has gone forth, a veiled person will appear to you. Do not fail to execute the command which he will give you.” The venerable Schadheli being dead, Omar saw in the middle of the night a gigantic spectre covered by a white veil. “Who are you?” he asked. The phantom drew back his veil, and Omar saw with surprise Schadheli himself, grown ten cubits since his death.
The mollah dug in the ground, and water miraculously appeared. The spirit of his teacher bade Omar fill a bowl with the water and to proceed on his way and not to stop till he reached the spot where the water would stop moving. “It is there,” he added, “that a great destiny awaits you.” Omar started his journey. Arriving at Mocha in Yemen, he noticed that the water was immovable. It was here that he must stop. The beautiful village of Mocha was then ravaged by the plague. Omar began to pray for the sick and, as the saintly man was close to Mahomet many found themselves cured by his prayers. The plague meanwhile progressing, the daughter of the King of Mocha fell ill and her father had her carried to the home of the dervish who cured her. But as this young princess was of rare beauty, after having cured her, the good dervish tried to carry her off. The king did not fancy this new kind of reward. Omar was driven from the city and exiled on the mountain of Ousab.
Omar had been in exile for a long time, and he was starving. He cried out in despair and a bird brought him a branch with red berries on it. Omar tried to eat the berries, but they were too bitter. He threw the berries in the fire. The fire made the berries too hard, so Omar decided to boil them. Omar loved the pleasant smell of the beans as they were boiling. He decided to drink the brown concoction. Omar found the drink revitalizing and told others about it. Word soon reached Mocha. The exile was lifted and Omar was ordered to come home and bring the berries with him. Omar shared the drink with others. People said it cured a variety of ailments. Coffee was hailed as a miracle drug and Omar was made a Saint. A monastery was built in Omar’s honor.
The earliest credible evidence of humans interacting with coffee was during the middle of the 15th century. Monks in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen were drinking coffee. Sufis used coffee to keep themselves awake during their nighttime devotion and long hours of prayer. It’s not known when people starting drinking ground coffee. The City of Mocha was a major trade center for the Mocha style of coffee bean. The green coffee beans are known for their distinctive flavor. One historian said Mocha became an important port due to an Ottoman law. The law required all ships entering the Red Sea to put in at Mocha, and pay duty on their cargoes. It’s commonly believed that Marco Polo learned of Mocha coffee during his travels through the Arab World. In 1595, Spanish Jesuit missionary Pedro Paez was the first European to taste Mocha coffee. Mocha was the major marketplace for coffee from the 15th century to the 17th century.
Yemen Mocha coffee is grown and processed today as it has been for centuries. Seedlings are grown on terraced hillsides. The dryness of the air and soil results in a small, hard bean. Yemen’s entire crop is processed by the dry method. The beans are allowed to dry completely on the tree before picking and hulling. This dry method is believed to be responsible for the unique taste of Yemen coffee. It’s described as fruity, winy and spicy.
Please leave your thoughts and comments below.