December 2, 2012 by Beans Ahoy
Yemen has been producing coffee for over 500 years, but just in the last 3 years coffee production has almost halved. I have great things to say about Yemen’s coffee growing and they have without a doubt produced in the past what I would say is one of the top 5 coffees in the world. The coffee I am referring to is what they call the Yemen “Gold Bean” for its yellow hue. This colour is actually caused from a genetic deformity in the bean, and has to be hand sorted when the coffee is being processed. This coffee easily scores in the 90’s, but getting hold of it is becoming increasingly difficult.
Part of the problem with Yemen coffee generally is the hardness of the bean which makes it quite hard to roast well. Having said that Yemen coffee does actually provide a decent margin of error when roasting. Lighter roasts exhibit much more complexity in the flavour but can tend to disappear in the cup slightly, leaving a flat taste, whereas darker roasts extract more chocolate and nutty tones. All in all it is an interesting region for coffee, but I think I prefer the darker roasts of Yemen.
However! There is one big gripe I have with Yemen coffee and that is it’s processing. It seems the workers thought it better to go on lunch when it came to sorting the beans. There are big ones, small ones, skinny ones, fat ones, medium ones, giant ones, tiny ones. There is no consistency in bean size whatsoever. This is not unusual though. Almost all Yemen coffee I have had exhibits this large size variation.
“So what” you may say. “You’re just going to grind it anyway”.
There’s a problem with different size beans though. The problem is that they all roast at different speeds, and what can happen is that you get a mixture of over roasted and under roasted beans in the same packet. Not a good taste.
When I opened the Yemen Mocha from Sea Island Coffee, I thought, “Oh no”, “Here we go again”. There is a lot of variation in the size of the beans, but rather interestingly there is little difference in the colour profile of the roast. It is almost as if the beans have been separated through a grate, roasted based on size, and then remixed.
The taste was, if anything, slightly disappointing. There was the definite taste of over-roasted charcoal, mixed with an under-roasted, astringent, almost pyrazine type flavour. This is not a new problem with Yemen coffee though. Yemen has been having a lot of problems with their coffee industry with the ongoing violence in the country, quality issues, and even export problems. What I fear Yemen has done though is to cut corners to save costs at the expense of quality. Never a good move in the specialty coffee market.
If you are going to drink this coffee then I would suggest an espresso (Contrary to belief, an espresso is not in fact a roast or bean type, but a way of making coffee. Fine grind with steam forced through). It will drink better than as a drip or French press coffee. In fact that suggestion extends to a lot of coffees of the region at the moment such as Ethiopian and Kenyan.
A stronger taste. Difficult to assess through the roast variation caused by bean size, but definite smoked hickory, with hints of chocolate showing through later in the mouth full. A little bit confused on the tongue, some charcoal mixed with an astringent taste. Typical of many Yemen coffees at the moment. Probably going to be better enjoyed as an espresso. A bit of a let down as many Yemen’s have been. Probably as good as the Yemen’s will get at this point. 6.1/10.0