Yemen Al-Maghariba

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Last year—around this time of year, actually—Ashley and I took a long road trip from Chicago to Nashville for my birthday. Of course we were going to do all the touristy stuff, like seeing the Parthenon and the Grand Ole Opry, but it was my birthday—we were going to do a coffee crawl too.

The shop that stood out the most—that shined like a national guitar, as Paul Simon sang—was CREMA. I loved the coffees that I tried from them while I was there, and I loved the coffees that they sent me later in the year, I love the people there, and I’m excited about what they’re doing in the specialty coffee industry.

A couple weeks ago, I came home to a package of coffees and a lovely handwritten letter that got me even more excited about the work that CREMA is doing. They write:

We wanted to say thank you for the write-ups and the positive feedback about our coffees. We painstakingly try to improve our coffees and we appreciate when people notice. This is why we do what we do…These [coffees] represent the future of CREMA roasting, as they are all direct trade or relationship sourced coffees. We are really excited about all of these…

And so am I. So before I go any further with this review, I just want to say thanks to Rachel and Sean and Winston and the rest of the awesome folks at CREMA for their generosity, and many congratulations on the huge step forward you’ve all taken in your sourcing standards!

Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re a supping a cup of Yemen Al-Maghariba, from CREMA in Nashville, Tennessee. Feel free to pull up a chair.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking “Yemen…? Really? Yemen??” Yeah, man—Yemen. I have never had a coffee from Yemen before (well, besides a green coffee that I roasted myself and really botched), and as excited as I am about this coffee coming from CREMA, and as excited as I am about their improved sourcing standards, I’m even more excited about trying something new—when you’ve been reviewing coffees for as long as I have, you don’t really get the opportunity try new things.

This coffee hails from the community of Malala in Yemen. It was grown in a special micro-lot from the Rayyan Mill in the capital city of Sana’a. The Rayyan Mill personally sources coffee from communities in the Bani Isma’el district of Yemen. They then run them through one of the most up-to-date mills in the entire country. The coffees are current crop and particularly clean.

Only twelve bags of Malala came out of Yemen this year, so we are fortunate that CREMA got their hands on this rare coffee, and even more fortunate that they were gracious enough to send it to me.

(Again, folks, really—many, many thanks.)

the basics:

origin: Bani Isma’el, Yemen
farm: Al-Maghariba
elevation: 1250 – 1500 meters above sea level
cultivars: heirloom varietals
process: natural
certifications: standard

the coffee:

The aroma of the Yemen Al-Maghariba comes booming out of bag and the cup equally. This is a very aromatic coffee with big scents of dusty dark chocolate that completely take over the nose. Pushing their way in behind the chocolate are notes of vanilla and almonds.

Up front, the flavor is pretty unique. Once again, dark chocolate is the dominant flavor; it’s bittersweet and it has a slightly earthy texture—I’m even picking out flavors of oak and roasted nuts in the finish of each sip. Those flavors make it for a moderately big-bodied cup; however, there are also some Earl Grey tea-like elements to it (particularly lavender and bergamot aromatics that tickle the roof of the mouth) that make it a bit more of a lighter, airy, aromatic brew.

As it cools off, the flavor gets fruity and fleshy and sweet, but the individual notes aren’t obvious or forward. This cup is really making me work for them. Instead of being able to taste them sip after sip or even slurp after slurp; no, when I take a drink of this coffee I have to take a big sip, then hold the liquid over the palate, even swish it around to the sides of the tongue. The longer I hold it on the palate, the more flavor I get out of it.

This coffee is becoming more and more reminiscient of Earl Grey tea the cooler it gets. Now I’m getting a slightly zesty burnt orange peel, lots of bergamot, dried fruits like currants, cranberry, and raisin, and even tropical strawberry, sweet maraschino cherry, and a mellow mango acidity. What I really, really love about the coffee at this point in the cup, however, is the creaminess of the mouthfeel and profile, which is due to this amazing flavor of vanilla bean ice cream.

Medium body; creamy mouthfeel; mango acidity; dry finish.

the bottom line:

The Yemen Al-Maghariba, from CREMA, is certainly a unique cup of coffee—which is exactly what I was hoping for for my first experience with a Yemenite coffee. I would’ve felt really disappointed if this cup were bland or average.

There are a few things about this coffee that are important to note: first of all, it’s a difficult and challenging cup—I didn’t think there was much going on in it the first couple of times I brewed it, but there really is; secondly, this isn’t a coffee that you just idly enjoy—this is a cup that forces you to engage with it; furthermore, slurping didn’t really reveal all the complexities in this cup—I took big sips and pushed the coffee all over my palate—the longer I let it sit and melt over my palate, the more I got out of it.

This coffee has a lot of great things going for it, you just have to work for them. The cup will really reward you, though, the more attention you give it and the more time you spend with it.

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