UAE residents looking for ways to do their bit for Yemen in the current military conflict are being called upon to support the country’s coffee farmers. A coffee boutique on Dubai’s Al Wasl Road is serving up Yemeni coffee to help the farmers in the war-torn nation — particularly women. The café, Mokha 1450, is hosting a special event on Saturday to support the Talok Women’s Coffee Association (TWCA). The women are responsible for Yemeni Sabree, a speciality arabica blend named after the mountains near Taiz on the south-western tip of the Arabian peninsula. The all-day event offers the chance to learn a little more about Arabian coffee and to contribute to the TWCA book of support. The TWCA is the first 100 per cent female-owned and operated coffee cooperative in the world.
“We’re hoping to highlight some positive aspect of Yemen and show support for the female farmers of the TWCA as the Yemeni people are living through a terrible situation right now and many of them feel somewhat forgotten by the outside world,” says Garfield Kerr, who co-founded the coffee boutique with business partners Kim Thompson and Matt Toogood, who run RAW Coffee Roastery in the UAE. “Through many initiatives, the UAE has contributed a lot of resources and we are hoping to do our part as well to raise funds and help them rebuild their lives.”
The UAE has joined hands with Saudi Arabia in a military campaign seeking to contain Al Houthi rebel forces in the country, at the request of its last elected president, Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi. According to the UN WHO, about 5,564 people have been killed since the start of the campaign and roughly 26, 568 have been injured.
While the war isn’t physically destructive to the majority of coffee farms, which are all over the country, it has nonetheless halted coffee exports as traditional trade routes have closed to traffic, Kerr tells GN Focus. There has been progress towards reopening these routes in recent weeks, but farmers continue to be affected by the conflict.
Kerr’s most recent order is an example of how the trade is affected. He tells how Fatima Khabeer, the head of the TWCA, had to ask her father Shaikh Khabeer to send his men to the coffee warehouse near Talok, about 45 minutes from Taiz. “The coffee was retrieved and brought to the shaikh’s house at great risk to their personal safety. It was then processed there, but the work was done over a much longer period of time than needed as there were days when the violence prevented travel even over small distances, since the women lived at multiple locations in varying distances from the shaikh’s home,” Kerr says.
It was then sent north to Sana’a, where it was placed on trucks to be delivered in Dubai four days later. “However, the recent cyclone has disrupted the delivery again, so when it gets here, most likely by the end of this week and in time for the event, it will definitely be a momentous event and a cause for much celebration as it will be a great display of the strength on the part of these incredible women in Yemen.”
According to a 2013 USAID report citing Yemen’s Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, women provide about 75 per cent of the total labour required for agricultural activities in general. The women of the TWCA are all farmers, but they also process the coffee by husking, sorting and grading it.
Thompson and Toogood roast the coffee in Dubai themselves, Kerr says, since speciality coffee (see box) has to be consumed not too long after roasting and since Yemen does not presently have the ability to roast coffee to speciality level.
Kerr says he and his partners work directly with female farmers in Yemen, Kenya and Ethiopia, processing their coffee and investing in their infrastructure including refurbishing their coffee-processing facility and improving operating efficiencies. An example is a recent trip to Ethiopia. Mokha 1450 partnered with a local social development organisation to sponsor a trip for some of Yemen’s most promising farmers and an agronomist to travel to Ethiopia to learn best coffee farming and processing practices. “That learning trip yielded incredible results as the farmers organised additional coffee cooperatives and produced the first raised coffee drying beds in Yemen — all a direct result of that trip,” he says.
But perhaps the finest tribute the café can pay these women is in its name: Mokha or mocha is the original port city on the Red Sea that served as the world’s major marketplace for coffee from the 15-18th century. It was where the Portuguese — followed by the Dutch, the French and the Danish — were first introduced to the drink that is now a morning staple for people all over the world.
A cup of Yemeni Sabree ranges from Dh20-25. Mokha 1450 is at Aswaaq Community Mall on Al Wasl Road. Call 04 321 6455 or visit Mokha1450.com
NEED TO KNOW
What's Specialty Coffee? The term was used first in 1974 to describe beans of the best flavour, produced in special or ideal microclimates and are considered distinctive for their full cup taste and little-to-no defects. According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, coffee which scores 80 points or above on a 100 point scale is graded speciality. Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya and Panama are famed for their speciality coffee, but Yemen, the birthplace of coffee, is yet to make a mark.