Yemeni Coffee (Mocha) History
The coffee tree was discovered in Yemen as part of Yemeni nature with its magnificent trees and one-of-a-kind atmosphere. However, there is no definite date to indicate when Yemenis began to plant the coffee tree and take care of its enticing fruit. It is most likely that they did so in ancient Yemen during the era of the Kingdom of Sheba in the first millennium BC, which stretched between Arabia and East Africa.
The coffee tree was found in the ancient lands of Sheba (present-day Yemen and Abyssinia), and therefore a debate emerged among coffee historians over its origin: Yemen or Abyssinia? However, the coffee tree first appeared within the limits of the ancient Kingdom of Sheba; therefore, it makes no difference where it first appeared or was discovered.
Yemenis used coffee at various points in history, but we only know that they started using it the way we know it now after roasting it no more than 1000 years ago. They could have also served other purposes. The venues where Yemeni coffee was served were called “cafés,” but recently they were renamed “coffee shops,” and the word spread worldwide.
Coffee was linked to the traditions of Yemeni Sufi worshippers, who used it to stay awake and pray at night. Al-Shadhiliyya, who were associated with their Sufi sheikh, Ali bin Omar bin Ibrahim Al-Shadhili , were also known for using Yemeni coffee, which was brought from the sheikh’s residence in Mocha to other locations in the Arabian Peninsula, the Levant, and Egypt. The coffee was named Shadhiliyah in his honour.
Following the expansion of coffee from Yemen’s Mocha to Mecca, Medina, Egypt, the Levant, and Istanbul in the 14th and 15th centuries AD, some jurists prohibited drinking it, while others permitted it. In the 16th century AD, Abd al-Qadir al-Jazairi al-Hanbali published “Umdat al-Safwa fi Hel al-Qahwa,” in which he authorised its use.
Europeans didn’t know about coffee until the 1600s when they first discovered it to be used as medicine. The Dutch doctor Leonhart Rawolf described Yemeni coffee in a book on his travels to parts of the Arab world in 1573 as a drink almost as black as ink that is very good for many ailments, especially those of the stomach. They drink it in a pottery cup called “Hisi” passed from one person to the next, taking audible sips. It is made up of water and the fruit of a shrub called coffee.
The Ottomans brought coffee from Mocha to Europe and the rest of the world in the 16th century when it had become a commercial commodity in many countries. The colonial powers contributed to the spread of Yemeni coffee seedlings to different parts of the world, as the Portuguese, Spaniards, Dutch, French, and British introduced them to their colonies. The Portuguese brought coffee cultivation to Brazil, and the Spaniards to Central America. The Dutch carried coffee seedlings to Sumatra, Indonesia, and Sri Lanka, while the French took coffee seeds to the Caribbean.
There are two major types of coffee in the world: Arabica, which refers to Arabic coffee and Yemeni coffee specifically and unmistakably, and Robusta (Abyssinian coffee). Both Arabica and Robusta are Yemeni coffees from Sheba.
Coffee has become a global beverage, with millions of people opening their eyes in the morning to its enticing aroma. Foreign companies competed in marketing and serving it, and suitable labels were placed independently for each cup of coffee, but the name of the initial coffee, Mocha, was preserved by all companies serving it, each delivering it in its own way.