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The History of Yemeni Coffee

posted on: Mar 16, 2022

By: Menal Elmaliki / Arab America Contributing Writer

You casually scroll down the coffee aisle at the local supermarket and look at the large variety of coffees grounds. You see the word “Arabica,” and wonder where this comes from. Arabica coffee makes up about 60% of the world’s coffee production. This label signifies a long history of coffee as it was originally cultivated in the mountains of Yemen.

Coffee is very diverse and throughout the world it is consumed differently. In Morocco, due to its history of French colonization, coffee is called, ‘au lait,’ meaning served with milk. In Yemen and the Gulf, it is served in a small glass cup and is brewed with cardamon. In Turkey, coffee is dark, very strong and served with sugar.

This coffee bean has journeyed throughout the world but what do you know of the origin of this magical bean?

The History

There is the famous story of Yemeni scholar Abdul Hassan Al- Shadili, the man often attributed with the discovery of coffee in Yemen. Abdul Hassan was having difficulties trying to stay awake for the night prayer. One night, he was given enlightenment in the form of a dream, where an angel had showed him a bun tree and showed him how to make coffee.

Coffee was “recorded as a beverage as early as the 6th century.” Coffee plants are native to Ethiopia and was supposedly first discovered in the 11th century. This cherry like fruit was nicknamed the “magical fruit.” Coffee was first cultivated in Yemen and it wasn’t until the 15th century where the coffee drink we now know and love today was developed.

This magical fruit was given the name “qahwa,” قهوة. Qahwa is short for qahhwat al-bun which translates to “wine of the bean,” and in Europe coffee was nicknamed “the wine of Arabia.” Coffee became the perfect alternative to wine since wine was prohibited in Islam.

In Arabic, wine or خمر‎ (ḵ-m-r), means to cover over, and coffee has many similarities to wine. Medieval Arab Lexicographers like Ibn Manẓūr, referred to qahwa as a type of wine since it dulls one’s hunger and gives one a state of arousal or stimulation. Qahwa connects to the verb, قها qaha, which means to have no desire or appetite.

The Arabs having tried coffee, felt as if they were dancing with the devil. It had awakened them out of their lethargic state and drinking this new brew had aided them. They were able to concentrate better and for a longer period. Interesting enough, the Arabs knew of the side effects of coffee and because of this, it was first used only out of necessity like study.

In the 16th century, coffee had become a lucrative monopoly for the Ottomans. Once coffee was commercialized, it quickly became popular and was sought after throughout the Middle East. The quench for coffee increased and was then exported to parts of Europe and America off the port of Al-Mokha, Yemen.

The word coffee was curated in about 1600s and it is defined as a “drink made from the ground and roasted seeds of a tree originally native to Arabia and Abyssinia.” It comes from the Turkish word for coffee, kahveh, and the Turkish word comes from the Arabic word qahwa.

The Dutch had smuggled coffee seeds from Yemen and by the 1650s it had spread throughout Europe. Due to coffee’s popularity, it had promoted a cafe culture as coffeeshops began to grow. Coffee was known as koffie in Dutch before it became coffee in English.

As you know the first coffeehouse was opened in 1555, Istanbul, during the “reign of Suleiman the Magnificent.” It was “founded by a two merchants from Damascus,” and it offered more than just coffee; candy and other sweet beverages. Eventually the popularity of the coffeehouse had left a sour taste in the mouth of Ottoman officials. The Empire had banned coffeehouses for sometime, they feared a crowd of men from day till night would encourage rebellion. At that time, coffee was thought to be sinful. This innocent bean was the perfect stimulant to aggravate and heighten the temper of man and possibly prompt revolt.

In modern day, coffee from Yemen is often overlooked. Due to circumstances of war and organic cultivation, it is both expensive and a scarcity.

Yemeni coffee has a richness of flavor, a unique and distinct fruitiness, as well as hints of raspberry and jasmine notes. Much of Yemen’s coffee is grows on mountains.

What was once used only for studying, coffee has slowly transitioned over time and it has now become a stable in every culture. Traditionally, Yemenis coffee is often drank in the morning and served to visiting guests.In Yemen, the history of coffee is a rich as its coffee and each region is notorious for its unique coffee flavor.

Further north of Yemen, in Al-Hayma, coffee has a more floral taste while in the region of Anis, coffee is deeply rich with hints of chocolate, notes of honey comb and dried fruit. In the region of Haraz, coffee is known for its winey taste and like Anis coffee, it has a fruity note.

Here is simple recipe to make this classic Yemeni drink.

All you need is

  • 6 teaspoons Yemeni coffee beans
  • 2 Teaspoons Ginger
  • 4-6 Sugar
  • 1 Cinnamon stick


Boil the Yemeni coffee grounds, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, in 1 cup of water. Once boiled, remove from heat, let it rest and then let it boil again. Repeat this process 3 times. Once finished you can pour the coffee into a small finjal or cup. Before you enjoy your morning brew, take a moment to savor the unique coffee flavor.

You can purchase Yemeni coffee here,

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