Yemen

Posted by tobysadmin in Coffee Trails

Ghotul Akbar Nooruddin Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili is the man who first bought coffee to the western world, but the guy who picks usp from the airport gives his name as ‘Jack’ then takes us to the hotel without speaking.

The next day we meet the Al-Hamdani brothers, who run a family-owned business in the capital, Sana’a. The boardroom consisted of worn-out cushions on the floor and plenty of qat, a stimulant leaf commonly chewed in this part of the world. The room had no windows but smoking was encouraged. After some qashir (a drink made of dried coffee skins) it was time to try and explain that I was in the market for this great coffee, but without the usual cocktail of defects.

I tried to demonstrate by spreading a handful of beans across the glass coffee table.

I proceeded to pick out the defect beans and say firmly, ‘No, not this one nor this one… over-ripe, under-ripe, no.’ The head brother looked interested. Finally as he sat at his desk among his many laptops and fax machines he looked me in the eyes, grabbed my hand firmly and said, ‘Yes, I will deliver this to you.’ It was as good as a signed contract.

We made our way to their collection station near Boan in the Bani Mattar; a very high-altitude growing district west of Sana’a. This district produces some of the most famous Yemeni coffees. The collection station was small, and the noise of the old huller was deafening, and forced us to make our way into an old stone building.

We sat in the dark until our eyes adjusted. Suddenly it was show and tell time for the Al-Hamdani’s prized selection of guns. I got hold of one and noticed it was heavy and old. I made a comment about it being an antique, which I think was taken as a criticism because more guns came out, a varied collection including machine guns with oddly taped cartridges.

It was explained to me that the old guns belonged to their father who they pointed to in a photo on the wall – hanging next to a picture of Saddam Hussein. Our hosts decided we should all do some target practice outside, at which point I thought it might be a good time to take my leave.

Toby Smith, Founder