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Index / Food and Beverages /
Arabic: qahwa
Persian: qahwah
Hebrew: kahava
Turkish: kahve

Coffee farm
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Yemeni coffee farm in the mountains.

Coffee flowers
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Coffee flowers.

Roasted coffee beans
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Roasted coffee beans.

Coffee berries.
Fresh coffee beans, before roasting.

Coffee grinder in Yemen.
Traditional ceremony of serving coffee in Yemen.

A common name both for the tree, the seeds and the brew made from the seeds.
There are only two coffee producing countries in the Middle East and North Africa: Yemen, with about 11,000 tons a year and Saudi Arabia (Asir region) with an unknown production level . This makes for slightly more than 1% of the world production. Until early 18th century, Yemen was virtually the sole producer of coffee in the world.
There are more than 30 species of the genus, but only 3 are widely used for the production of commercial coffee. Of the 3, Arabian, Robusta and Liberian, the first is the one grown in Yemen.
The tree may grow to a height of 6 metres, and has shiny, green, ovate leaves. The soil for the trees must be rich and moist, with a consistency that secures a stable amount of water. The trees are sensitive to frost, and prefer temperatures from 13º to 26ºC. In Yemen, coffee trees are cultivated from sea level to altitudes of about 1800 metres.
The flowers of the coffee tree are white and bloom only for a few days. From the blooming of the flowers, and over a period of 6 to 7 months, the fruit develops. When reaching a deep crimson colour it is ripe. The fruits grow in clusters attached to short stems. The fruit has a sweet taste, with two whitish beans (seeds) inside. Only the beans, not the pulp, are used for the production of coffee.
The beans are dried and eventually roasted, usually in drums which are moved in order to avoid scorching. Temperatures range between 195ºC and 220ºC depending on how dark the roasted beans shall become. The roasted beans have colour ranging from black or brown. The roasted beans will be grinded, to a powder of different degrees of fineness.
The beverage brewed from the coffee powder is usually served hot, but may also be served cold. It is popular for both its taste and invigorating effect, caused by the caffeine, an alkaloid which is present in degrees of 0.8 to 1.5% in the Arabica variant. The caffeine level is higher with the Robusta variant.

The origins and the early history of coffee is not known, and entangled in legends. One story tells about the goatherd Kaldi who discovered that the coffee bean had an invigorating effect, after watching his goats eat it and become refreshed. Another story brings the suggest that the coffee tree was native to the Kaffa region in Ethiopia.
Between 7th and 15th century: Possible introduction of the coffee tree in southern Arabia.
16th century: Coffee production in Yemen and consumption reaches a level where it is exported to far-away markets.
1511: Coffee is prohibited in Mecca.
1532: Coffee is prohibited in Cairo.
16th century: The popularity of coffee forces the prohibitions to become empty and not effected.
1714: The French are able to bring a live cutting of a coffee tree to the West Indies. With this the Yemeni monopoly on coffee production and trade was broken, and it would have great impact on the economy of Yemen.

By Tore Kjeilen