Yemen coffees are the stuff of myth and legend. Mocha — the long silted-over port on the Red Sea– is still synonymous with coffees of the region, and with coffee itself.

The coffees of Yemen are notorious and strange; dry-processed as a rule and round in body, their aromas are wild and heady, their flavors variously fruited, chocolatey and winey. When they’re good, Yemen coffees are without parallel. When they’re bad, they can be stunningly awful. (A particularly notable sample of Yemen coffee inspired me to record, “flavors of monkey sweat” in my tasting journal.) Still, they’re most always intense, and intriguing.

For years Yemen coffees have languished… Crippling taxes, water shortages, altogether too low world coffee prices and the encroachment of ready-cash crops, like Qat, have led to a decline in production, and general quality.

After years of relative neglect, the Yemen Ministry of Agriculture has set its sights on renewing the place of of Yemen coffee on the world’s table. Through water projects (dams and irrigation systems) and a sustained effort to reverse the encroachment of alternative crops on traditional coffee lands, Yemen hopes to restore its prideful place in the annals of coffee.

Let’s just hope that the Ministry minds the lessons hard-won by the agriculturalists of Central America and Kenya: don’t be swayed by the temptation of high-yield varieties. Instead, celebrate Yemen’s place as the cradle of coffee by planting and maintaining your own heirloom varieties… they are, truly, coffees like no place else on earth.

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