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Yemen’s ancient crop for the modern world

From the November 2018 issue.

Despite being the country responsible for coffee as we know it today, Yemen might have faded into oblivion if it weren’t for a few enterprising individuals and an increasing appetite for specialty coffee.

Mokhtar Alkhanshali hangs up the phone. He seems pleased: “It was an emergency call from Yemen. We’re sending some samples out for our new harvest, and it’s really difficult to get coffee airlifted into the United States. Most airlines or delivery companies won’t do anything from Yemen because of the war that’s raging. It’s [one of] the only regions in the world that outsiders are too afraid to source coffee from.”

Alkhanshali is one of maybe a dozen entrepreneurs pursuing Yemen’s coveted but inaccessible natural Arabica coffees. He’s one of even fewer who can actually get coffee out of the country right now. This logistical challenge, largely due to the country’s civil war that has been going on officially for the past three years – and unofficially for many more – is only one of many that he and other players in the Yemen coffee industry are up against.

The laundry list of challenges, however, is not enough to deter these enterprising individuals who know the long history of coffee in Yemen. They have seen the quality the region can produce and the prices it can command in the global market.

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