It’s unreliable, unaccountable, frequently unattainable, and I love it so. It, in this case, is Yemen Mokha, the stuff of heirloom varietals grown in village gardens and courtyards and tiny greenspaces carved out of the walls and warrens of ancient Arabian cities like Sana’a and Ismaili, where folk have tread for more than two and a half millennia.
I savor roasting and tasting Yemeni coffees for the same reasons that commercial roasters despise them — they’re a complete crap-shoot. Yemen coffees are either left to dry on the tree, or dried — whole, cherry and all — on flat, sun-drenched rooftops. Dried coffees are stored in the husk and traded through a seemingly endless series of middlemen, mixing crops from untold numbers of family coffee gardens. The resulting beans tend toward the misshapen and bent, and are — by the standards of clean-as-a-whistle wet processors the world over — an unseemly mess.
Oh, but what a lovely-tasting mess these coffees can be.
I recently completed three roasts of a single lot of Yemen Mokha — back-to-back — making every reasonable effort to eliminate stray roast variables. Regardless, the results of each of those roasts is unique. Each cup is arguably unique.
All are to one degree or another earthy, with notes of leather and dust; richly hued with wine-toned fruit, or tawny port, or sour strawberries, or apricots. This one has aromas of pitch pine and cherries; that one’s all peat moss and smoke and that one yonder, it’s got a bit of musty goat-skin in it. (Yeah… I skipped that cup, too.)
And the final cup on the table? Butterscotch and sweet chocolate with a creamy body and a technicolor cherry on top. I swear… a sundae straight outta your best blue-skied childhood memory of summers past.
Which is all to say… next time someone asks you what coffee you want with you onna desert island, you could do worse than to say, “I’d like to make that Yemen Mokha, please.” ‘Cause chances are, you’ll never have the same cup twice.